Commonwealth 245 West Michigan Avenue,
Jackson, MI 49201

Jul 10, 2023

Commonwealth Associates marks its 35th anniversary this year. From humble origins in downtown Jackson, Michigan, Commonwealth has emerged as a respected industry leader with 250 professionals and eight offices across the U.S.

“We’ve come a long way in terms of the services we provide, the offices we have opened, and the types of projects we’ve designed, but geographically, we are still based right where we started and where we intend to stay,” said Commonwealth President and CEO Richard Collins.

The company recently moved its headquarters into a historic bank building at 245 W. Michigan Ave. in Jackson. During renovations, they discovered an HVAC system control panel designed by a Commonwealth predecessor in the late 1950s. Architects preserved the control panel as a design feature and relocated it to the new office’s first-floor lobby.

Today’s Commonwealth evolved from a series of Jackson-based companies that first made history in hydropower generation in the late 19th Century.

After decades of mergers, acquisitions, and restructuring, in 1988, a group of engineers separated from Gilbert/Commonwealth and established a private employee-owned firm to found today’s Commonwealth. Julie Flager was hired in September of that year as Commonwealth’s first new employee and is still with the company today.

“I was a clerk, a receptionist, an environmental graphics designer, a secretary, and an engineering aide. I’m now a drafter/designer in the Transmission & Distribution group,” Flager remarked on her progression with the company.

Before the advent of computer-aided design (CAD), drafting and designing were performed on mylar and drafting boards. Flager now drafts plan profiles, permit drawings, structural drawings, and route maps using AutoCAD. It took much longer the old way, Flager said. “If there were any changes, we had to erase or start over.”

Flager also served as captain of the company’s Relay for Life team in Jackson for ten years and continues as a cancer cure team member today. Giving back to community causes is a Commonwealth tradition, no matter which community is home to a hybrid workforce that serves customers from coast to coast.

Chief Operating Officer Matthew Hales resides in Columbus, Ohio, and frequently works from the company’s office in nearby Gahanna. Hales has been with Commonwealth since 2012 and has been a civil engineer performing transmission & distribution projects since 2002. According to Hales, it was in the early 2000s when technology started to change the industry.

“When I started, you used to get assigned one project, which would last you about a year and a half. “Now, engineers are expected to be engineering several projects simultaneously, and it’s all because of technology,” Hales said.

GIS, site data, and elevation profiles are available digitally, significantly reducing site work. “You’re not doing a lot of field visits or boots-on-the-ground stuff,” Hales said. “The ability to engineer things hundreds of miles away—no, thousands of miles—and not even think twice about it is mind-boggling.

“Customer record drawings, existing facility data, and access to information are essentially instantaneous,” Hales continued.

“We eliminate months of extra time in our schedules to account for mailing 200 sheets of engineering drawings back and forth.”

One constant is the importance of open, candid communication. “Even if it’s through a video call or a phone call, it all starts with partnerships. You can’t change that part of the business,” Hales said. The firm’s agility and adaptability are also crucial. “What has helped us survive for so long is our ability to self-reflect and pivot,” Hales said. “When clients come to us and ask for something new, we don’t dig our heels into the ground and say, ‘no, that’s not how it’s done.’”

Instead, Commonwealth approaches innovative design requests with an attitude of, “Yes, we can do that,” Hales said. “Especially with the independent power providers and with solar and wind farms, our ability to understand and change will make us relevant thirty years from now.”

Another long-time employee, David Holmes, is a civil engineer in Commonwealth’s substation engineering group. Holmes appreciates many things about the company, such as career development, project opportunities, and flexibility. But one attribute stands out. “The best part of Commonwealth is the people,” Holmes said. “Everyone I work with is hard-working and genuinely cares about the company. We are serious when we need to be serious, but enjoy a laugh and joking around when we can. The work-life balance is outstanding.”

“The market we serve is undergoing a huge shift—easily, the biggest change in the thirty-five years of our existence,” Collins said. “The market we serve is undergoing a huge shift—easily, the biggest change in the thirty-five years of our existence,” Collins said.“The transition to renewable energy is the driving force. Commonwealth has transitioned as well. While we still excel and perform most of our work from our base group of services—substations, transmission lines, electrical system studies, and facility power generation—we have added solar and wind design, battery energy storage, and microgrids to our growing portfolio of services. It’s very exciting to see the growth, and I anticipate being a major player in the renewables market going forward.”

Thirty-five years of Engineering Excellence: Contact us today to see what Commonwealth can do for you.

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