The California Company that Added the HILL to CH2M

Clair A. Hill & Associates (CAHA) was almost single-handedly put together by Clair Hill. Although Clair, a 1934 engineering graduate of Stanford University, had been a forestry student at Oregon State College (later to become OSU) for 2 years and worked in other parts of California both before and after college, he was attracted to return to the place of his roots. His mother’s family had come from Spokane to Redding by horse and wagon in 1885.

Clair opened an office in Redding in 1938 while also working as a deputy surveyor for Shasta County to make ends meet during the Depression. He reported that he had no intention of building his firm into a growing, diversified organization; he was “just making a living – I enjoyed working for myself.” In 1941 he was called to active duty in the Army and spent 5 years of WWII in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska, and the last 13 months of the war on Adak Island in the Aleutians on bomb disposal. He grew very fond of Alaska, later establishing offices in Anchorage and Juneau.

Following his Army duty, Clair returned to Redding and opened his office in a small house across the street from the county courthouse. At this time, Northern California was growing, the engineering opportunities were more promising, and he set out to upscale his organization. Early work was mostly surveying, which grew into photogrammetry, and water projects, including dams, reservoirs, and fish hatcheries.

The Hill organization compiled a formidable record of increasing responsibility as the years passed. The firm’s first big project was to provide water resources work for the Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District in 1949. At Beale AFB, north of Sacramento, the firm developed a residential area with 1,700 homes and all support services–in other words, the firm designed and oversaw construction of a small town. Major project work was conducted on the American River and for the Sacramento Utility District, Pacific Gas and Electric and the Bonneville Power Administration. Astute marketing, good talent and quality services kept Clair A. Hill & Associates growing and made it a dominant force among Northern California consulting engineers.

Clair attracted capable people from the area and before long was recruiting talent from farther afield at the Western universities. By 1950 the staff consisted of three engineers, an architect, and two survey crews. Les Shoupe and Chuck Hornbeck joined the firm in 1951, Harlan Moyer in 1952, and Jack Jensen in 1953. Several of these early employees later became owners of CAHA and subsequently became Key Employees of CH2M HILL when the two firms merged in 1971. At the time of the merger with CH2M, Clair A. Hill & Associates had 150 employees in three offices providing a wide range of engineering services.

The merger with CH2M was an amalgamation of two totally different management styles–CH2M with its consensus-style partnership and Clair A. Hill & Associates with its one-man show. But the merger resulted in a single firm greater than the sum of its parts. The ties between the two firms had grown strong during a 15-year period of association in various West Coast projects. The skills of one firm dovetailed with the other, and together the firms were able to reach new heights neither could have attained individually. Proof of this was the Lake Tahoe Advanced Wastewater Treatment Facility, the first wastewater tertiary treatment system in North America.

The union began in 1956 on a housing development in Brookings, Oregon, where Clair Hill first became familiar with CH2M’s reputation for sanitary engineering. A short time later Hill called CH2M to get help with the sewage sections of a new master plan for Hill’s home town of Redding. Other projects followed as Hill found CH2M’s reputation deserving and as he needed CH2M’s water, wastewater, electrical and mechanical expertise. CH2M reciprocated by using Hill’s specialties when needed. Clair A. Hill & Associates focused primarily on surveying, photogrammetry, water resources and structural engineering, including several major bridges and highways (PDF) for public sector clients in Northern California.

With the merger with CH2M, the 61-year-old Hill got career continuity for his 150 employees and more time to devote to his personal, civic and political interests. CH2M, with a staff of more than 300 in Oregon, Washington and Idaho, got a host of top talent in new engineering markets plus offices in California and Alaska. The merger was a clear-cut win-win situation for both firms.

Editor’s note: In response to “CH2M is Over the Hill: Engineering Giant Unveils New Name, Logo” (July 2015 issue), we received a letter from Penny (Irani) Garrett and cosigned by Louise Dibble, Linda Lack, Shirley McCarthy, and Doris Powers. “We have many wonderful memories [of Clair Hill]. I am fearful that there is a possibility that what this great man did for the small town of Redding and the State of California (and whose engineering influence ultimately was felt throughout the world), may be lost by no longer being recognized by having his name be part of the Corporation…I hope that his name will never be forgotten as you continue to grow and prosper, for indeed his mighty contributions helped to make CH2M what it is today.”

We agree, and value the merger of our firms and all staff as well as our readers. Clair, his contributions, and the contributions of Clair A. Hill & Associates are well documented herein on the Alumni History website. See the attached (PDF) for the full text of the letter.