Jose Montoya picked grapes in California as a child and was one of eight children of a low-income Mexican family.
Tom Palmer worked on a farm in northern Arizona as a child and was one of nine children from a family of moderate means.
Today, Montoya, 44, and Palmer, 30, are co-founders of a fast-growing and successful Mesa-based civil engineering firm — the M2 Group — a company that began with three employees six years ago and now has more than 100 in three offices, including Hermosillo, Mexico.
The success story of Montoya and Palmer and their M2 Group is also a reflection of the growth in the Valley and the need for qualified civil engineers to help plan and direct residential and commercial expansion.
"The growth is creating a shortage of civil engineers in the Valley and Arizona," said Montoya, a Gilbert resident who lives with his wife, Leticia and is the father of five children, Limihi, 23, Mitzy, 20, Lib, 19, Limher, 15 and Midori, 11.
Montoya is president of the M2 Group headquartered at 4854 E. Baseline Road, Suite 104. He has been a registered Arizona engineer for 14 years.
Palmer is principal of the firm and lives in Mesa with his wife, Suzanna and four children, Keslee, 7, Kemilee, 5, Jackson, 2 and their new son, Lincoln, who was born Dec. 12.
"I’ve been a registered civil engineer in Arizona since my mid-twenties and I’ve been raising a family, establishing a business and working toward my bachelor’s degree since we started the M2 Group," said Palmer, who graduated Dec. 13 from the Ira Fulton School of Engineering at Arizona State University, the day after his son was born.
Montoya and Palmer met while working for a Chandler firm and decided it was time to start their own company.
"We saw the need for civil engineers," said Montoya, who selected the firm’s name by using the first letters of his last name and his wife’s maiden name, Marin, thus M2. "We figured if things didn’t work out in about three months then, well, we’d stop."
Their first office was a tiny suite at 955 E. Juniper St., Mesa, which barely had room enough for the two hopeful engineers, another employee and three computers.
The demand for their work mushroomed and, gradually, they hired more employees, moved to larger quarters and continued to expand.
Today, their new 10,400-square foot office in Mesa has 69 employees; 17 work at their 4,000-square foot office in Hermosillo and they are preparing to open a third office soon in Avondale that will employ 17 more.
"I never thought we would be so successful in such a short period of time,’ said Montoya. "I thought maybe we’d have twenty employees in about ten years."
What exactly does a civil engineer do?
Basically, they prepare plans to develop the infrastructure for land development. For example, before a large, empty tract of farmland is turned into a residential community or industrial site somebody has to develope a plan for basics such as sewers, water supply lines, electrical lines and roadways.
"The two major infrastructures are water and sewer lines," said Palmer. "Then, of course, comes what could be the most sensitive issue — winning zoning approval from the city where the development is being planned."
The M2 Group has established a cooperative working relationship with both their clients as well as key city departments, Montoya and Palmer said.
"The first step to consider is . . . does the community want you there?" said Montoya, whose assignment includes preparing the way for public hearings. "We spend a lot of time with our clients helping them prepare to win zoning approval."
Once approved, the company helps the developer plan and coordinate the basic construction.
Thus far, M2 Group has focused on projects only in the Valley and Arizona, including the Val Vista Classic development on 79-acres and the 930-unit project, Cooley Station homes both in Gilbert and smaller, commercial facilities like the Armored Self Storage facility in Chandler.
"Our plans are to keep working in Arizona and Mexico," said Montoya.
The co-owners said the shortage of qualified civil engineers is resulting in them hiring students and others who have a desire to become engineers, and then training them so they can qualify and eventually take and pass the state’s requirements to obtain a license.
"Hands-on training is our hallmark," the president said.
The company hired and trained a house painter and lumber hauler to become registered civil engineers.
"Both of them have become big successes," Palmer said.
Montoya’s life as a grape picker to a successful civil engineer began when his family returned to Mexico from California, where he received a civil engineering degree from the Universidad Regiomontana in Monterrey, Mexico. He graduated first in his class.
He later earned a masters in business administration from the Marriott School of Management at Brigham Young University.
"My father taught me how to pick grapes, then later he worked hard and was able to buy his own grapeland," said Montoya proudly.
Palmer learned basic engineering as an intern with a firm in his native St. Johns. He also worked as a technician on projects on the Navajo Nation and later passed state requirements to become a registered civil engineer.
How do these busy executives spend their leisure hours?
"I play basketball every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 5:30 a.m.," answered Montoya, who said he also enjoys chess, books and participating in church functions.
Palmer, when he’s not playing with his children, said he enjoys playing golf and trout fishing, a favorite pastime when he lived in northern Arizona.
"I also enjoy raising Indian Ringneck Parrots," said Palmer, who designed and built an outdoor aviary for his feathered friends in his Mesa back yard.
M2 Group Owners: Jose Montoya and Tom Palmer
Resides in: Montoya, Gilbert; Palmer, Mesa
Business: M2 Group, a Mesa-based civil engineering firm
Key achievement: Co-founders of the M2 Group, a company that began with three employees in 1998 and today has more than 100 and three offices, including one in Hermosillo, Mexico
Success philosophy: Focus on quality and timeliness. Also, provide training for employees and civil engineering students