At 2:00 AM, Paul Becker got the news he had been waiting for. A lower level concrete building column supporting 550,000 pounds was successfully removed and replaced at the Boston Public Library. Becker’s team was responsible for designing the shoring and method of removal, as well as ensuring the structural integrity of renovations to the historic building.
After months of calculations and planning, they were able to construct shoring that would transfer loads so the column could be safely removed and replaced. The project illustrates the detail and dedication that are imperative in every job a structural engineer undertakes. Had Becker’s team faltered, the landmark would have been put at risk, as would public safety. Every job gets the same careful attention from Becker and his team at Becker Structural Engineers.
“Safety overlays everything,” he says.
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In his line of work, though, that can sometimes mean delivering bad news, particularly if it means bringing attention to a safety concern or violation. But, says, Becker, “You shouldn’t be hesitant to do the right thing, even if you have to take the hits and upset a client or contractor. You have to stay above the consequences and always do what’s right professionally.”
Becker learned the importance of safety, integrity, and honesty early on. He started his career in an industry where safety was paramount – nuclear engineering. Becker had been fortunate t0 get a job right out of college with the engineering company designing and building the Seabrook Station nuclear plant. Five years into Becker’s time at the construction site, the industry was facing financial decline on the heels of the Three Mile Island disaster. On a Thursday morning in 1985 Paul Becker showed up to work at his usual time of 7:00 AM. By 10:00 AM, he and 5,000 of his co-workers had been laid off.
Following the layoffs, Becker contemplated returning home to Pennsylvania but he’d become enamored of the outdoors life in New England. Becker joined many of his colleagues who stayed in the area, looking for work while spending a summer relaxing on the beach.
“It was the most highly educated beach crowd the world has ever seen,” Becker jokes.
Becker knew he would have to seek out other avenues for his career and began applying to jobs in New England, eventually landing at Structural Design Consultants in Portland. Becker remained with Structural Design Consultants for six years before heading back to the Mid-Atlantic for a stint. He landed in Delaware and he credits his boss Gary Gredell and the opportunities he had in Delaware for giving him the confidence to start his own business. Becker had worked as the firm’s Senior Engineer, and was being groomed to take over an office in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. But Becker and his wife decided Maine was where they wanted to settle and raise their family, which had grown to include their newborn baby.
Becker didn’t have a permanent job lined up; Portland was emerging from a recession and he was determined that if he wanted to be in Maine, his best option was to go out on his own.
Why Maine? To this day, Becker explains, “Maine is a perfect setting to grow a family. It’s a place you’re more able to have balance in your life and enjoy the downtime.”
Upon his return to Maine, Becker set up an office on Exchange Street and started looking for clients. He had never run a business, and readily admits he had no idea what he was getting into. But he was able to get small jobs, designing residential additions and small commercial projects.
“You have to be aggressive in getting projects. You can’t be afraid to ask folks for a chance and an opportunity to prove yourself,” says Becker.
Becker proved himself, building up his reputation and gaining trust. Eventually, his company was entrusted with larger projects. He identifies being hired by Paul Ureneck of The Boulos Company to work on the Pineland campus revitalization as a turning point in his company’s growth. Up until this project, Becker had two employees, and he was doing both engineering and marketing. He was selling during the day and engineering at night. Exhaustion became a close friend.
“The biggest obstacle was that there weren’t enough hours in the day…how little sleep could I get and still function?”
The Pineland revitalization project provided cash flow that allowed Becker to hire three more employees and prove the firm’s capability for performing large-scale work. In the two decades since, Becker Structural Engineers has been involved in landmark projects throughout Greater Portland and New England. The Portland Jetport, The Hyatt, The Casco Bay Ferry Terminal, and the Intermed building on Marginal Way are all projects on which Becker and his firm have worked. They have quite literally been involved in changing the face of Portland.
It’s a trend that Becker hopes to see continue. However, with the current development boom he would like to see an increase in taller buildings, particularly along major corridors like Franklin Arterial. “Like a European boulevard,” he envisions, “where we can provide access to more housing, for instance, to address the foreseeable shortage while being cognizant of utilizing our land resources.”
While firmly connected to Portland, Becker Structural Engineers continues to expand its geographic reach and is involved on projects outside of New England in places like Atlanta and West Virginia. Becker is working on growing that reach even further and deeper by developing relationships with companies and organizations that are likely to need structural engineering services and building upon the company’s experience with buildings, parking garages and bridges. The trick, he says, is to not be afraid to reach out. Most people are willing to have a conversation, and that is all it takes to start down the road to landing a job and building a relationship.
While his company continues to expand, Becker has no plans to move its headquarters out of Portland. The city, he observes, is a tight-knit network of people that choose to be pleasant and work together in order to succeed.
“It’s a very small community and so your reputation is everything. That keeps people at a more civil level than is often seen in larger cities,” he says.
Successful in Portland for over two decades now, what advice does Paul Becker have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
“Don’t try it unless you’re 110% committed to it. You’ve got to live, eat, and breath it for quite a while to be successful. There aren’t any shortcuts. I think that’s the key. Above all else, be honest with your clients and provide good value. Everything else will take care of itself.”
Paul Becker took a risk in starting his own business. But he did it so he could raise his family where he wanted to – Portland, Maine. Long hours, endless effort, and a stellar reputation propelled Becker Structural Engineers forward. The company has played a part in the safe construction of landmark buildings in Maine and across New England. Two decades after starting his business, Becker continues to put his full energy into his work. He’s a role model for entrepreneurs, putting hard work and integrity first, and continuing to expand his business. That’s why Paul Becker is a Maine Icon.