When the recession hit, leaders at engineering firm Pennoni Associates could easily have been tempted to follow a safe, conservative strategy. After all, the firm, which has been in business for nearly a half-century, had played a key role in building many landmark structures in and around its Philadelphia home, including stadiums, bridges and skyscrapers. But Pennoni decided not to stand pat.

As many firms pulled back because of weakened markets, Pennoni went on the offensive, growing internally and through acquisitions. As a result, Pennoni revenue rose steadily, to $128 million last year—$107 million of which was from mid-Atlantic projects—from $94 million in 2009. Because of the track record of success it has built through rough economic times and the recovery, ENR MidAtlantic has selected Pennoni as its Design Firm of the Year.

Growth Strategy

Founded in 1966, Pennoni established itself as a multi-disciplinary firm with strong roots in municipal engineering. Over the years, it continued to expand its reach and now works in numerous markets, including commercial, education, emergency response, energy, federal government, health care, industrial, infrastructure and mining. In recent years, it has seized opportunities in the booming natural gas industry and is now designing road and pipeline systems in northern Pennsylvania to support the extraction of gas from the Marcellus shale formation.

"One of the things the company has done well is to come up with these out-of-the-box initiatives," says Joe Viscuso, director of strategic growth, whom Pennoni hired in 2012 from competitor Stantec to help guide its expansion plans. "Not only did we weather the recession, but we came out on the other side of it a stronger firm."

Acquisitions were part of the strategy. Pennoni's recent deals include the 2012 purchase of Green Stone Engineering, a Newark, Del., firm that focuses on water projects. That transaction enabled Pennoni to bolster its stormwater-management services practice, including coastal stabilization in the Rehoboth Beach area in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

Earlier this year, Pennoni bought B.D. Abel, a mechanical, electrical and plumbing firm in Wilmington, Del. Adding Abel, which specializes in testing laboratories' HVAC systems, has allowed Pennoni to pursue more health care projects, company officials say. Projects include the Buerger Center, a Children's Hospital of Philadelphia outpatient facility now under construction.

The firm also is benefiting from its 2011 acquisition of Patton Harris Rust & Associates. Acquiring the 175-person Chantilly, Va.-based firm has allowed Pennoni to expand in Virginia and Maryland, and increase its size by nearly 20%.

Pennoni is planning at least two more acquisitions this year, Viscuso says. It is eyeing sectors including telecommunications and pharmaceuticals. Absorbing companies poses a risk of saddling a firm with more overhead and debt, but Viscuso says Pennoni is picking small, lean firms and closing offices as necessary.