JSK Consulting is Engineering Projects throughout Polk and Beyond
Like some other small business owners, Matthew Johnson likes the size of JSK Consulting, the civil engineering firm he owns, but he’s open to expanding – if it makes sense.
“We’ve never gotten extremely big – I don’t want the firm to be a bureaucracy but a boutique firm that can cater to our clients’ needs,” Johnson said. “We build relationships, and that can be hard to do in a bigger firm environment.”
Johnson and Bruce Stanton started the company about 15 years ago. “I have always had the entrepreneur mindset. I like to work with people and I wanted to carve my own path.”
The origin of the name? J and S are the first letters of their last names, and K is the first letter of Johnson’s wife, Kerry. “I didn’t want engineering in the company name because I didn’t want to limit ourselves or paint ourselves in a corner. We do a lot more than engineering, like land-use planning. And, people can have preconceived notions about engineers.”
Stanton retired about a decade ago.
Johnson was born in Alabama but moved to Brandon in 1979. He attended Florida Southern College, where he double-majored in physics and economics with a minor in mathematics. He got his master’s in civil engineering from the University of South Florida.
He moved to Lakeland permanently in 1990 because he “liked the community and wanted to call it home.”
He and Kerry have four children; his son-in-law just graduated from Florida Polytechnic University and now works with Johnson as a civil engineer.
JSK started with two employees and now has about a dozen. The company works mostly in Polk County but “is very fortunate to work in different areas of the state, including Fort Myers and Gainesville,” Johnson said.
“I like to form partnerships with all our clients and work with them through the entire process, starting with looking at property, doing due diligence, meeting with the city and neighbors if needed, reviewing financial viability, and examining land use and zoning, then moving into the engineering section of the project. After we obtain all the construction permits, we will also oversee construction, but we won’t be onsite every day. Building a strong relationship, where we’re on a first-name basis, is more enjoyable.”
The company is debuting a revamped website in January 2024, updating it to showcase the “exciting, cool projects we’ve done in the last five or so years,” Johnson said. It’s been about eight years since the website was created.
Looking Back to 2023
Johnson, a former Central Florida Development Council board member, said he was in the same boat as many other small business owners as 2023 started.
“Every business owner has definitely been pushed, challenged to do things a little different than what we are familiar with because of COVID and its lingering after-effects,” he said. “This has made us rethink how we engage our team, recruit new team members, work around their needs and things they would like to do. It made us recreate the way we work together as a team – all for the better. There have been some frustrating things, but we’re working through them, and I think we have the best team we’ve ever had here.”
He’s focused on the culture at JSK. “Everybody will work for a paycheck, but people will give their hearts if they feel like they are wanted and appreciated. I really care very deeply about every team member.”
Plans for the Year Ahead
With a volatile economy, the type of project JSK will work on could be different in 2024, he said. “We’ll be moving away from some of the residential things and more into recreational, institutional and infrastructure projects.”
The company will spend a good amount of time building RV resorts.
“We’re working on eight RV resorts and amenities. That is a residual of COVID. It’s a niche market that a lot of civil engineers don’t work in; many don’t understand all the nuances of RV parks, like the angles of turning movements, where to put electrical hookups, access and more. Every site has to be extremely flat. We market ourselves as experienced in the RV world.”
It also will introduce the luxury garage/condo concept to Polk County. That concept, like the Wheelhouse in Ponte Vedra, features 25-foot-by-50-foot garage units people can develop as places to restore antique cars, host events and more.
“People buy the raw unit – the floor and walls, basically, then can come in and deck out the interior with a mezzanine, paintings, a bathroom. It’s a place where people of like minds can convene.”
Favorite Engineering Projects
Johnson said he “loves building things in the community that I can drive around and see – the enhancements that will be assets to the people who live in the community. I think, ‘I was blessed and honored to say I was part of that project.”
Some of those are on the FSC campus, including the new administration building on the east side of campus. “I do quite a bit of running around Lake Hollingsworth, and I look at that project and think, ‘What we do from a civil engineering perspective isn’t always the most eye-catching, but we did all the grading, stormwater management, parking lots and access around the project. I take care of all those things that are required like stormwater ponds and fire prevention – they are not the first things people see on really nice architectural projects. They’re below ground in front of the building. That’s part of what a great civil project is – it blends in well with the project.”
Giving Back as a Company
Johnson likes to introduce kids to engineering at an early age, which is why he participates in the Great American Teach-In. In 2023, he talked about engineering to elementary students in a Lakeland science and tech school.
“It’s the value of taking time to do things like the teach-in. If you can meet kids when they’re still in their formative years and introduce them to the field, you might hook them. I can tell them the road they drive on or when they turn the water on at home – all of those things are from some form of engineering, even though they don’t realize it.”