Editor’s note: The following feature on Taliaferro & Browne is part of a three-part series on the potential for immigrant or foreign-born entrepreneurs to help reshape Kansas City’s startup ecosystem. Read more about how a Kansas senator’s Startup Act legislation could reduce barriers here. Check out a warning from a leading Kansas City tech CEO about coming challenges within the local talent pipeline here.
Taliaferro & Browne, a lead civil engineering firm in Kansas City, pulls from its diverse background to gain new insights on its projects, the company’s owners said — all with a first-generation American and a Kansas City native partnered at the helm.
“We consider this a melting pot of professionals,” said co-owner Hagos Andebrhan, who came to America in the early 1970s from the northeast African nation of Eritrea. “We pride ourselves on bringing the best people from around the world [to work] here. The success of the company is because we have people who are dedicated and driven.”
Co-owned with Leonard Graham, the firm specializes in civil structural engineering, land surveying and landscape architecture. Andebrhan and Graham bought the company from Will Taliaferro and Bruce Browne in 1992, growing to nearly 60 employees in the 25 years since.
“We work very hard every day, almost seven days a week,” Andebrhan said. “We learned early on that you’ve got to work very hard to achieve success, so we didn’t hesitate to invest the time and energy.”
Taliaferro & Browne has been the civil engineer of record for several major projects in Kansas City, including the Kauffman Center for Performing Arts, both the Arrowhead and Kauffman stadiums and the Sprint Center, as well as the streetscape along Troost Avenue, between 24th and 30th streets, the company said.
“I think I have a proud moment just about every day,” Graham said from the firm’s offices at Eighth Street and Troost Avenue. “When you can drive around and look at various additions to the city and know that you’ve had an opportunity to influence and design many, many things that have helped Kansas City be what it is today, those are proud moments that come all the time. I think that’s one of the reasons that I enjoy doing what I do.”
The firm’s civil engineering work also shows itself in such high-profile projects as Berkley Riverfront Park, Science City in Union Station, the Kansas City Power and Light District, The Paseo bridge, the Grandview Triangle, One Light Tower, and Two Light Tower, which is still under construction.
“We essentially touched most of the major projects that have been undertaken in the city in the most recent past,” Andebrhan said.
Besides engineering roads, bridges and structures, the firm also handles the design and construction of physical sites, such as parking lots, wastewater and other facilities that make a space functional — or, as Graham phrased it: “stuff that nobody really pays any attention to unless it doesn’t work.”
Taliaferro & Browne is expected to serve as the civil engineer of record for the landside portion of the project to build a new Kansas City International Airport, Graham said. The firm will oversee design and engineering of roads, drainage and utilities, he added.
Immigrant, pilot, husband, engineer
Andebrhan first came to the United States in 1970 in pursuit of an advanced airline pilot training program in Kansas City, he said. Andebrhan had been working for Ethiopian Airlines, operations for which were managed by Trans World Airlines, then-headquartered in Kansas City.
“At that time, it was the tail end of the Vietnam War, and there were gluts of pilots that had significantly more experience than me,” he said. “Getting on board an airline as a pilot here was difficult, so I had to change careers.”
The entire world wants to come to the United States, Andebrhan said. Just like everybody else, he had always wanted — even as a young man — to come to America so he could advance his education and training and improve the quality of life for himself and his family.
“I was driven to come to the United States, and when the opportunity came for my advanced pilot training here in Kansas City, I did come and happened to meet one the most beautiful women in the world, and stayed in Kansas City and raised a family,” Andebrhan said.
When the advanced pilot training program didn’t work out for Andebrhan, he met Taliaferro, who soon became Andebrhan’s mentor, he said. Andebrhan then gravitated toward engineering, attending University of Missouri-Columbia, where he met Graham. Both ultimately earned their master’s degrees at the University of Missouri in Kansas City, they said.
Diverse in strength and numbers
A native of Eritrea and a first-generation American, Andebrhan believes immigrants are vital for the United States, he said.
“Immigrants bring new blood, new ambition, new energy to the country,” he said. “If you now look at all the colleges and universities, for the most part, most of the advanced degrees are held by immigrants. Most educational instruction is done by immigrants.”
Taliaferro & Browne is no exception, said Ashli Harris, marketing coordinator for the engineering firm. While “diversity” and “inclusion” are sometimes considered buzz words, they’re concepts Taliaferro & Browne actually practices, she added.
“We pride ourselves on bringing different perspectives to make these projects come alive,” she said, adding that nearly a quarter of the staff is foreign-born. The firm includes talent from India, Iran, China, South America, and Africa, she said.
The firm’s recognition of the value of new perspectives continues to reflect Graham’s core identity as a native Kansas Citian, he said.
“I have always been very respectful of other peoples and other cultures and wanted to — and still want to — involve myself, with the sheer diversity of variations of thought,” Graham said. “When you’re here in the United States, you see things from a U.S. perspective, and sometimes you really don’t understand that there is a totally separate view until you get outside the country and you look at what everybody else is thinking about things that may be occurring in the country — inside the United States.
“It’s a totally different world, a totally different view, a totally different understanding, and surrounding oneself with people from different cultures is enriching in that it lets you know and understand that this is not the only place in the world. It’s a great place, but it’s not the only place in the world.”