Engineering success

Matt Davis has worked for the Benton Township-based Wightman engineering firm since 1994 and has been its president since 2015.

BENTON TOWNSHIP — Matt Davis loves to be outside.

“Anything outdoors, the more remote the better,” he said.

Thus his activities include (some in the past) mountain biking, canoeing, trail running, back packing, competing in triathlons (swimming, cycling and running) and sky diving.

Even Davis’ day job takes him outside, though not as much as it used to. He started with Wightman in 1994 and has been its president since March 2015.

Started in 1946 by G.L. Wightman, the company provides expertise in engineering, surveying, architecture, environmental planning, inspection and testing, geographic information systems, interior design, high definition laser scanning and reality capture.

The company’s clients include Native American tribes, county and local governments, industrial and commercial clients, along with clients in education.

In addition to leading the company, Davis, 51, is responsible for planning, funding, design and construction of projects for its tribal clients, as well as municipal building, water, sewer, bridge, wastewater treatment and site-design projects.

The firm’s main office is on Pipestone Road in Benton Township, with other offices in Kalamazoo and Allegan. It became Wightman & Associates in 1971, when G.L. Wightman sold the company. Then in January of this year, the name was changed to simply “Wightman.”

The company is employee-owned. Davis said it has a total of 135 employees at the three offices, of which about 40 are owners. Ownership is offered to employees depending on “how you represent the company,” he said, and can include anyone, be they receptionists, engineers or whatever. They own different numbers of shares and don’t retain ownership when they retire or leave the company for other reasons.

Davis grew up in the Chicago area, but the mountains drew him to the University of Colorado in Boulder, he said. He graduated from there in 1989 with a degree in civil/architectural engineering.

Then it was back to the Chicago area, where he joined with his father and two brothers in the family’s real estate development company, which specialized in multi-family apartment complexes in the Chicago and the Fort Worth, Texas, areas. (The company is now run by one brother and specializes in commercial development.)

Davis was working with his family, “but that’s not really what I wanted to do,” he said. Plus he and his wife, Kathy, also from the Chicago area, wanted to raise their two sons in a less crowded environment. They have been married for 28 years.

“I think I sent out 50 to 60 resumes,” he said, before being hired by Wightman & Associates.

“It’s been a good place to call home,” he said of Southwest Michigan. Sons Gordon and Mitchell both attended St. Joseph High School and were on the swimming team.

Mitchell graduated three years ago from DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., in philosophy and economics and now works for the Charles Schwab financial services firm in Indianapolis.

Gordon graduated last year from the University of Michigan in chemical engineering and works in Bend, Ore.

Is their father disappointed that neither of his sons followed in his footsteps, careerwise? No, Davis replied. His sons are grounded, healthy, happy and have a solid work ethic, he said. “I feel good.”

After he and his wife became empty-nesters, they decided to move to Higman Park in Benton Township, close to Lake Michigan. Matt and some Wightman architects designed the house and he and Kathy moved into last September.

Wightman started working for the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians well before its first Four Winds Casino and Resort in New Buffalo Township opened in 2007.

Davis said the tribe had employed a Portage (near Kalamazoo) real estate firm, which needed surveying done of the site for the first Four Winds, so the firm hired Wightman to do it, in 1999 as he recalled.

That in turn led to questions about sewer and water and infrastructure, which were Davis’ field of expertise, and to more work on the first casino. He was project manager for the feasibility study, design, permitting, approvals and construction of onsite and off-site improvements, according to the company’s website. “Our firm showed our strength because we could take all the complex issues and distill them,” he said.

“One of my fondest memories at Wightman is going to the (Pokagons’) blessing of the land where the (first) casino is,” prior to the start of construction.

The Pokagon Band now has three additional Four Winds casinos, in or near Hartford, Dowagiac and South Bend, and Wightman has done “pretty much everything outside the buildings” at all of them, Davis said.

Wightman also has done various jobs at the Pokagon community near Dowagiac, including a 43-acre condominium development, community center and tribal headquarters.

Wightman also has done work for the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi at its Pine Creek Reservation near Athens, south of Battle Creek, including its government center and health center addition. It also did one project for the Lake Superior Chippewa Indians near Bayfield, Wis.

As Wightman’s fourth president, Davis has been overseeing a process that started before he took charge, changing to what he calls a team culture.

Previously, he explained, there were a lot of “independent people” who first met with a client, then prepared the proposal and ultimately oversaw the project.

But the approach now is to have people do what they do best. “It’s about understanding people’s passions, strengths.”