Engineering safety: Comstock design couple helps build bridges that last

Paul Tourney's ability to make concrete decisions on a daily basis has been good -- make that very good -- for the business he and his wife started in 2000.

Today, Tourney's wife, Lilibeth, is president of Tourney Consulting Group, LLC., and he is vice president.

In the midst of a recession, they started Tourney Consulting Group, LLC, in the basement of their Comstock Township home. At the time they launched the business, the couple had a toddler and Lilibeth was pregnant.

The Tourneys' services are now so much in demand they plan to soon increase their current space by 8,000 square feet and double their staff from 22 to 44 employees.

Paul Tourney says the expansion is possible because sales have doubled during each of the last three years.

Projected sales for 2011 are In the $5 million range. Within the next five years, Tourney predicts sales of about $20 million.
 
The company is a materials engineering firm that focuses on the research and development of durable concrete systems. Its customers are the likes of the U.S. State Department, the United Arab Emirates, and Departments of Transportation in Rhode Island and Texas.

Nationally and internationally, those in charge of building bridges and foundations for structures are demanding concrete products that will last and they look to Tourney and his staff of scientists and engineers to design those structures in a way that they can be in service longer.

"I like to say that we use good science to make better business conditions," Tourney says, at his company's 20,000-square-foot facility while seated at a conference table built of recycled concrete and bits of glass.

Tourney Consulting Group is expert at figuring out how long a structure's life can be expected to last.

"We are helping people, organizations, and agencies to build structures to last longer at a lower cost," Tourney says.

Manufacturers of materials used in construction look to TCG to evaluate the service life of their products.

"We focus more on common sense assessments," Tourney says.

What are some of the jobs Tourney Consulting Group sees?

During a meeting in Salt Lake City with representatives from the Church of Latter Day Saints, Tourney was asked to design a parking structure that would last 500 years.

"They picked 500 years because they said they didn't want to come back and pay for it in their next life," Tourney says. "They wanted to come back and see it maintained."

Typically his customers in the business of building bridges want structures that will last 100 years.

"Large bridges in Europe are supposed to be designed to last 200 to 300 years," Paul Tourney says. "Often the structures in our country can only last 25 to 30 years. If we can extend that service life we will be able to lower the cost to our children of repairing and replacing those structures."

A good deal of Paul Tourney's time is spent helping clients understand the severe effects of the environment and how natural and manmade chemicals, seawater, or de-icing materials used on roadways affect the durability of concrete and steel.

The business is definitely built on teamwork. Tourney searches out new customers and educates them, while his wife oversees the company's daily operations.

The two met when they both worked for Grace Construction Products. Paul Tourney was based in the company's Boston offices and his wife was based at their Dubai offices, where she worked in marketing.

Lilibeth Tourney had relocated from the Philippines to Dubai with her family when she was 17-years-old. 

She says the move from Dubai to Boston was a culture shock. After the birth of the couple's first child, she wanted to get out of Boston.

"It was too much for me to take," Lilibeth Tourney says. "Paul told me he'd take me to the Midwest."

Paul Tourney is originally from Fort Wayne, Ind. Kalamazoo became home after he found a job with friend and colleague Carl Walker, owner of Carl D. Walker and Associates Engineering, a company that focuses primarily on parking structures.

In time, Tourney began to miss the traveling he had done while working for Grace Construction and he wanted to expand the range of his engineering expertise to all types of concrete structures. In 2000 he left Walker and Associates to start TCG.

Lilibeth Tourney says when the company began to outgrow the basement and the garage, she and her husband began approaching area banks for a loan. They secured funding through Kalamazoo-based First National Bank of Michigan. The funds  allowed them to move into Midlink and continue to expand.

In 2003, Paul Tourney left TCG to work for a software company leaving his wife in charge of the company they co-founded. Three years later he rejoined TCG as vice president.

Lilibeth Tourney says people are always surprised when they learn that she is the president.

"For me it was a very, very good distraction from my homesickness," she says. "It has become my root here and in the United States."

While her husband travels domestically and internationally in search of clients, Lilibeth Tourney said she's happiest at the company's Midlink headquarters.

"Paul's always looking," she says. "He knows so many people in the industry."

Even when he's not working, he's working, Lilibeth Tourney says.

"He has his camera with him wherever he goes," she says.

And he gives much more than a cursory glance to bridges or other structures made of concrete and steel.

Paul Tourney says he's been known to avoid certain bridges and parking structures because they appear to be structurally unsafe. He's actually gone into a parking structure only to drive out moments later in search of someplace else to park.

"I like to think of us as the CSI of Concrete," Paul Tourney says, "as in Concrete Scientific Investigations."

Jane Parikh is a freelance writer living and working in Battle Creek. She is the owner of In So Many Words.

Photos by Erik Holladay

Tourney Consulting Group, LLC., President Beth Tourney, left, and Vice President Paul Tourney

Glenn Schaeffer checks the corrosion test cells.

Concrete samples.
 
Glenn Schaefer walks through the mist room where concrete samples are tested for moisture corrosion. The group tests the samples using heat, pressure, and air current to evaluate its quality.
 
An ion migration test.

Becca Kronner, left, and Brooks Bucher test the corrosion of rebar.

Adam Rudy performs a petrography test in the lab.




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