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Bend Bulletin: Woman-owned Engineering Firm Helps Build Bend

Breaking the Glass Ceiling


Check out this great article about ColeBreit Engineering's CEO, Laura Breit featured in The Bulletin on October 1, 2023 and written by Suzanne Roig. In this feature, you'll learn about Laura's commitment to community and innovative and efficient engineering solutions, and also discover how she dared to break barriers and redefine what it means to be a woman in her field.


Photo Credit: Dean Guernsey, The Bulletin (Laura Breit, CEO of ColeBreit Engineering )

The first time Laura Breit walked onto a construction job site in Bend in her high heels and business attire, she got odd looks.


Business attire was the norm for engineers where she had worked. But in Bend, she found the workplace to be more comfort-based.


That was more than a decade ago when a fresh-faced Breit was making her mark in the field of mechanical, plumbing and electrical engineering. Today, she’s the CEO of her own company ColeBreit, a 55-employee engineering firm with offices in Corvallis, Medford, Bend and three locations in California.



She chucked her heels for boots and jeans, and has made a mark around Central Oregon, having worked on county buildings, school buildings, an apartment by Pilot Butte and the Leading Edge flight academy hangar in Redmond. Her company is doing the electrical, plumbing and mechanical engineering for The Jackstraw development near the Box Factory on Industrial Way.


“It’s neat to drive around and see the buildings we participated in,” said Breit, 44. “There’s a fair number of projects around town that I’ve touched. Bend is my home. I like that I can contribute to the community.”


After a decade of being in business, Breit’s firm has a full slate of projects here and across the country that engineers can point to. A woman-owned business, is a rarity among engineering firms, particularly firms in business for a decade. Nationwide, women owned only 22.2% of the businesses in the country in 2020, according to Lendingtree.com.


In Bend, there are 62 businesses providing engineering services, 96 in Deschutes County and 1,393 in the state, according to data for 2022 provided by Nicole Ramos, Oregon Employment Department regional economist.


Luann Abrams, the founder of CEOX, which works to place women in leadership positions, was not surprised by the low number of businesses owned by women. As a former aerospace engineer, she worked in a male-dominated industry that shaped her to become the woman she is today, Abrams said.


“Sometimes you don’t realize how difficult things were until you’re on the other side and you realize you were belittled, undermined and had to dodge additional barriers in your career,” Abrams said. “Now that I’m in my 50s, I can look back and say that some events weren’t OK.”


Like the time she went to her first business meeting. A recent college graduate, she was the only female in the meeting, and one of the men at the table commented on her legs.


“No one said anything,” Abrams said. “I was unprepared and didn’t know how to react. In that moment I wasn’t valued.”


Women are making strides into the corporate boardrooms and breaking the glass ceiling, said Katy Brooks, Bend chamber of Commerce executive director. But it’s a slow process.

“It simply isn’t even close to parity,” Brooks said. “It takes a sustained effort and commitment by men and women over time to see our leadership reflect our population. The lack of child care is a driving factor to women’s ability to stay and advance in the workplace.

“It may be the most important obstacle that holds women back in our country.”


Getting started


While Breit’s rise in the male-dominated engineering world has not been nearly as challenging, Breit did get her start at her father’s engineering firm, Axiom Engineering, which she later acquired. She worked at her dad’s firm for several years getting her experience before moving up north to Bend in 2007. She took a job in Bend working for a Portland engineering firm.


That’s who she was working for when she traded in her high heels and business attire for jeans and a button down.

Photo Credit: Dean Guernsey, The Bulletin

Breit said she’s always found the arena of math and problem solving to be a place she was comfortable in. It was a place where gender didn’t matter. She describes her job as the person who does all the calculations and drawings that the builders use.


It wasn’t until her 30s that she realized that she didn’t need to downplay her gender in order to get ahead, Breit said.


“It took a toll on my self-esteem and my view of who I was,” said Breit. “I remember feeling when I was young, even in my days in college, that I had to prove myself more because I didn’t look like an engineer. There was a barrier, but no one was intentionally getting in the way.

“It was just how the world worked.”


After six years working for someone else, Breit decided to branch out on her own and formed her company in 2013. She started with two employees at the time. Her firm specializes in mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fire protection, lighting and energy.


Projects around town


At the moment, the company is working on its largest project to date: The Jackstraw development, a 313-unit mixed-use project next to the Box Factory. The six-story building should be completed in 2025, according to Killian Pacific, the developers of the project.


Breit’s company was chosen because the developer wanted a quarter of the project’s contracts to be awarded to minorities and women-owned businesses.


“That was a leg up for us. This is a big contract for us,” Breit said. “We had a relationship with the mechanical contractor and they introduced us to the owners and general contractor.


“We have quite a bit of experience with mixed-use projects.”


The company is involved in about 500 different projects all in different stages of progress, Breit said. Among some of the larger ones is the new PacifiCorp headquarters at Juniper Ridge, which will be a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certified building in Bend, a winery in Napa, California, and a medical center in Seattle.


While there are not many female-owned engineering firms headquartered in Bend, there are a few firms with offices in town, she said. Not generally a collaborative group, engineering does require some mentoring that lasts about five years, she said.


“We’re the biggest here,” Breit said. “There is some competition from the bigger city and opportunity, too. Bend is my home. The industry is wide open. It’s a great career. But if you’re just looking for a job, this isn’t the right industry for you.”



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