Posted on Sep 22, 2021

For our in-person meeting of 22 September, in the second of a series of presentations on local Fort Collins companies with world-wide impact, Dave Stewart interviewed John Carter, Vice President and Senior Principal of CPP Wind Engineering of Fort Collins.  Mr. Carter began with a history of the company which was started as a university program in the 1950s by Dr. Jack Cermak at CSU. 

The need to pursue wind engineering as a subject was demonstrated by wind-related disasters such as the Tacoma Narrows suspension bridge failure (“Galloping Gertie”) and the John Hancock Building in Boston (the Plywood Palace). Dr. Cermak grew the enterprise (but still within the University framework) by ultimately constructing three different wind tunnels at CSU for actual physical measurements.  Significant faculty growth ensued, including Dr. Jon Peterka, ultimately a co-founder of CPP, so that by the 1970s the department was included as one of the five top engineering programs in the US. 
As they addressed more wind-related situations and added more capabilities, they had to address the two problems of how to grow the business along with the need to get the commercial work out of the University framework.  Their goal, rather than to make more money, was to grow the company by adding more and more capabilities so that they could continue to work on “cool” projects.  As they grew, they had to confront the problem of adding management and administration to support the growing technical staff.
Their current wind-tunnel capabilities include making building models including some 500 to 1000 pressure sensors to enable fine data collection in models with wind coming from some 36 wind directions.  Thus, in projects such as their study of the Marina Bay Sands project in Singapore, they have to spend several days getting everything hooked up and then only some four to five hours of actual data collection in the wind tunnel. 
Shortly after founding Cermak Peterka Associates in 1981, Dr. Ron Petersen joined the firm, renamed Cermak Peterka Petersen, to add dispersion modeling capabilities to provide quantitative advice with regard to how pollutants disperse in complex environments.  This field has grown from initially evaluating emissions from industrial facilities to include healthcare, life sciences, thermal dispersion for facilities such as hyper-scale data centers, as well as continuing research such as improving the model for offshore oil-rig plume dispersion.  In the world of wind loads on structures, the field has grown from looking at buildings to include the effects of wind on large solar farms and roof-mounted solar arrays, where moderate winds can produce damaging results similar to those of Galloping Gertie decades earlier. 
In the late 90s, they created a long-term plan aimed at diversifying the company both geographically and in terms of the services offered.  In implementing this plan, they expanded from some 20 employees to around 60, resulting in the need to bring in a business person to run the company.  By 2008, the increased amount of work led to the need to team up with another academic group in Australia that also had the need to divorce itself from its academic home.  With all of this expansion, including opening an engineering center in Toronto, Canada in 2020, they are now some 140 employees worldwide. Whereas, early on, they had been somewhat siloed in their internal interactions, now, with both size and recent improvements in electronic communication capabilities, they benefit from much more sharing within the company and around the globe. 
In response to questions: 
Mr. Carter felt that the company has succeeded more because of perseverance than because of luck. 
Although they have received numerous queries about internal air circulation as a result of Covid-19 spreading issues, they have done little modeling and have not received much in the way of quantitative requests. 
They have not done anything with respect to wind effects on animals.  However, Bob Meroney shared a story about putting sheep in a cold wind tunnel to provide stressed animals for veterinary research.