Native-American owned management firm says Aloha to Illinois, joins Tollway’s Partnering for Growth Program

Native-American owned management firm says Aloha to Illinois, joins Tollways Partnering for Growth Program

On the surface, there may not be a lot of similarities between Hawaii and Illinois. 

But when QRSE LLC was looking for opportunities to expand its engineering business beyond the Hawaiian Islands, it chose to open an office 4,000-some miles away in the Land of Lincoln.  

Recently, QRSE Founder and President Kai Nani Kraut identified the Illinois Tollway’s Partnering for Growth Program as a viable path to continue expanding her business in Illinois. 

She sees the program, which pairs smaller, diverse businesses like hers with mentoring firms that have experience doing Tollway projects, as a great way for her growing company to gain experience in the dynamic Chicago-area transportation market. Her business is the first woman-owned, Native American disadvantaged business enterprise firm participating in the program.

“Getting experience working here in this market will be beneficial,” Kai said. “We want to get local knowledge.”

The partnership has been a homecoming of sorts for Kai, who has strong Illinois connections, including earning an engineering degree from the University of Illinois and working previously for the Illinois Department of Transportation.

“I like Chicago, I like the area, I want to build our business in places I want to go to,” said Kai. Her brother—also an engineer who serves as executive vice president of QRSE—and father, Lee Kraut, both live in Illinois. 

QRSE has been growing in Hawaii since she launched in 2013. The company started with three employees and now has about 30. Kai has big plans to continue expanding the firm, focusing on growth in both Hawaii as well as in the Chicago area.

“I look forward to learning from our mentor the business side of their operation especially as QRSE is experiencing exponential growth. I want to get a better understanding of the processes companies use when they work with the Tollway,” Kai said. “I’m hoping that by working with larger, more seasoned firms, we can learn from them.”

Her firm is working as a subcontractor with Stanley Consultants Inc., which in March was awarded a four-year, $3 million Tollway contract to perform construction management services related to the Tollway’s shift to cashless tolling.  Much of the work covered by the contract will be occurring along the southern end of the Tri-State Tollway (I-294).