Global Conversation with Ken Fulmer, President and CEO, Urban Engineers

Kenneth R. Fulmer, PE, is the current President and CEO of Urban Engineers, a multidisciplinary planning, design, environmental, and construction support services consulting firm, established in 1960. With headquarters in Philadelphia and with 15 total offices nationwide, Urban Engineers has grown from a staff of seven to one with 450 employees.

Could you elaborate on your role at Urban Engineers?

I am the President and CEO and have been with Urban Engineers for 25 years. Following my graduation from Drexel University, I came to Urban after having done a prior internship/co-op. I was familiar with the firm, formed a relationship, and came to work here. I was fortunate enough to be given exciting projects to work on, to see my career advance, and then, two years ago, I took over as President and CEO.

I am now responsible for managing all aspects of the firm's operations, including serving as the chairman of the board, directing the firm’s executive committee, aligning resources to support client needs and growth initiatives, overseeing the development and implementation of the firm’s strategic plan, and communicating vision.

What is an obstacle you face in your area of work?

Funding for projects can be a challenge, and public clients have to get creative to find the resources to fund projects. Public-Private Partnerships – commonly known as P3s – are one solution that has been explored to develop funding, as well as alternative or user taxes, like a new gas tax which was recently implemented in New Jersey, or Act 89, which provided critical funding for infrastructure needs in Pennsylvania.

With all projects that are being developed and implemented, the engineering profession is focused on minimizing the impact to the community. For example, SEPTA is an established, well-developed and expansive system, but an old system. It needs continuous maintenance, and SEPTA does a great job of sustaining the system. The same is true about PennDOT and the City of Philadelphia. It is important that improvements to these critical infrastructure resources are implemented efficiently and effectively, so they can be a benefit to the community, while minimizing impacts during construction.

What is an upcoming or ongoing project that you are excited about?

Talking about the Philadelphia region, SEPTA is embarking on the King of Prussia Rail Project, which is going to extend the Norristown High Speed Line into King of Prussia. That will be tremendous for the region, especially those who commute between the city and the popular suburban shopping area.

How did you hear about Global Philadelphia Association (GPA)?

I was introduced to GPA through Board Chair John Smith, who has had a long partnership and valued personal relationship with our firm. Over the last few years, I have learned a lot about GPA from John. We talked about how we could continue to support what GPA is doing. We champion various efforts of the organization, attend events, and highlight GPA’s accomplishments when we can.

What does the honor of a Globy Award bring to Urban Engineers?

I hope people see that companies of varying disciplines can support GPA’s efforts. An engineering firm may not be the first group people think of, but it just goes to show you that any firm can recognize the great work the organization does and support its initiatives.

What does Philadelphia’s designation as a “World Heritage City” mean to you and Urban Engineers?

For us, we are very proud of Philadelphia. We believe we are part of the fabric of Philadelphia and not because of the projects we complete, but through our engagement in the city in many forms.

When we see Global Philadelphia leading the charge to celebrate and promote the city, it means a lot. We believe it helps engage the city and state when implementing projects, resulting in an increase in tourism, and, from an engineer’s standpoint, it helps keep momentum for projects that will address city needs.

We are also proud of our office location with the “World Heritage Way” [530 Walnut Street] designation being at the doorstep of our corporate headquarters.

What do you think is the engineer’s role, or someone at Urban Engineers, to play in a “World Heritage City?”

I think that goes back to having a complex infrastructure in place, so we have to maintain – and in some cases – modernize it. All engineers are needed to maintain the city, as well as garnering support for these efforts.

The Comcast Tower and Dilworth Park [two projects that Urban Engineers collaborated on] are examples of modernizing the city and providing more public spaces. The Comcast Tower provides an image change to city skyline and the park as one of the defining global landmarks for our city. Projects like the I-95 Corridor Reconstruction and the I-676 Overhead Bridges may not be as noticeable to the cities visitors, but they are examples of crucial improvements that keep Philadelphia operating.  

What advice would you give someone who aspires to be an engineer?

I always respond to that question by first saying to work on your technical expertise, but, really, work on your communication skills. Engineers rarely perform their work isolated. They’re typically part of a diverse team. Communication skills are critical. They need to collaborate to complete the technical work, but also communicate a need to the government, city officials, state officials, and the community to garner support from all of the stakeholders involved in a project.


Interview conducted by Kyle Purchase on behalf of Global Philadelphia Association