Skip to main content

Charleston Business

Work for Boeing and the SC Ports Authority helped propel Live Oak Consultants to success

By Cindy Landrum

For Live Oak Consultants, success is measured by more than how much the North Charleston-based full-service engineering firm’s client list has grown over the past decade or the number of projects it completes.

“Certainly, we track those,” says Rick Owens, the firm’s managing principal, “but success for us is providing quality and professional service, treating our clients’ funds as if they were our own, and providing challenging and rewarding work for our employees.”

Owens adds, “If you ask each of us to lay concrete blocks, that’s not where our expertise is. But if we’re asked to help a mission in the area by doing design work so that a group can renovate a building to provide office space and a business opportunity, that’s easy for us.”

Owens, Lee Metz, and Clark Smith (along with a fourth partner who has since moved on) — founded Live Oak Consultants in 2008 after the firm they had worked for closed its Charleston office. It was a challenging time to be sure, but Owens says the firm received “a couple of large blessings” in the beginning in the form of construction support and design services work for the South Carolina Ports Authority and mechanical, electrical, and structural engineering work for Boeing’s North Charleston campus. The group added Jerry Ulmer as the fourth partner in 2010.

Unlike larger firms where senior staff may not be local, Live Oak Consultants’ principals live in the neighborhoods their clients call home and work on the projects they sell, Owens says.

“Our expertise is in complex projects and complex local projects,” he adds. “What differentiates us from other firms is the breadth of our engineering experience. We have civil, structural, electrical, mechanical, and security and forensic engineering expertise all in house.” 

The firm’s largest project was Boeing’s $212 million decorative paint facility, a two-bay 180,000-square-foot facility where graphics are painted on all 787 aircraft. The firm’s most technically challenging project was Boeing’s research and technology lab, Owens says. Live Oak received one of Boeing’s Supplier Performance Awards in 2017, something Owens believes reflects his company’s record of success and ability to develop lasting client relationships.

In addition to Boeing and the Ports Authority, Live Oak Consultants counts many well known companies and institutions among its clients—Bosch, the Medical University of South Carolina, the College of Charleston, GeorgiaPacific, Clemson University, Duke Energy, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Patriots Point, and Blackbaud.

Benefactors of Live Oak Consultants’ community involvement have included Metanoia, Low Country Orphan Relief, and Water Missions International. 

Owens also sees growth opportunities in land development and planning and security systems and design, services that are not typical for engineering firms and that Live Oak Consultants wasn’t offering five years ago.

He says, “With the success of our company, we feel the responsibility and the desire to use our resources to improve the lives of those in our communities.”