But the really big infrastructure projects continue to struggle to gain traction. "Political leaders have to understand that infrastructure is an investment, not just a onetime cost," says Price. He cites as an example California's proposed high-speed-rail project, for which Parsons Brinckerhoff is the program manager. "The project is slated to start in Fresno County, the poorest county in California. Just imagine the positive impact that project would have on Fresno's economy."
Also, financial pressures on owners potentially have paved the way for the future success of CMs and PMs. "States, counties and cities have been forced to cut facilities staffs. Once projects begin to flow again, agencies will have to decide whether to hire new people and carry their salaries, benefits and legacy costs just to execute short-term projects or simply hire third-party professionals," says Price.
The uncertain domestic market has led many CM firms to look elsewhere. "The one major topic among CMAA members is the international market," says D'Agostino. He says many firms are finding opportunities in the Middle East and that CMAA is now in the process of translating its standards-of-practice materials into Spanish. Interest also is growing for translating these materials into Portuguese. "There is so much interest in Brazil, but it is a tough market to penetrate," D'Agostino says.
Hill International is one CM firm that has seen great success in the international market. Hill's most recent major push has been in Latin America. Last year, Hill acquired a 400-person Brazilian project management firm, Engineering S.A., Richter says. "Brazil is a very tough market to get into. You need to have local licenses, local experience and be able to work in Portuguese. The only easy way to get into that market is through acquisition," he notes.
The drive among owners to cut costs has given a boost to some CM firms. "Wherever there is intense pressure on costs, companies and institutions increasingly turn to program managers and construction managers. This is not so much a geographic issue as a market-sector issue, and it doesn't happen all at once within a sector," says Todd C. Burns, president, project and development services, Jones Lang LaSalle. He says that once a few owners in a sector use professional service firms successfully, others follow.
Burns cites the health-care market as an example. "Years ago, some hospitals would hire star architects to design beautiful facilities that carried a hefty price tag and often were not designed to deliver quality health care. There was always plenty of money to cover mistakes and inefficiencies," he says. Now, health-care providers increasingly recognize that hospital design has to meet the needs of doctors, nurses and patients, and it has to be economical. "To make all those pieces come together, you need an experienced program manager," Burns says.
Claims resolution is another area in which professional service firms are seeing more opportunities. "Our claims business is as big as it has ever been," says Richter. He says it is a sad fact of the soft market that parties are becoming more adversarial. "In a market like this, every dollar counts, and parties are more willing to fight over smaller disputes," Richter observes.
The big focus for CMAA now is training. "Our goal is certification, certification, certification," says Price. He notes that CMAA has certified over 1,800 individuals as CM professionals, and that figure could top 2,000 by the end of the year. Price says many firms understand that being able to provide CMAA-certified professionals is a differentiator to owners. "For example, Parsons Brinckerhoff provides job incentives for employees who become certified," he says.
The construction recession has taken a toll on the workforces of construction professionals, and some executives are concerned about finding enough people to do the work when the market eventually recovers. Price worries about how many people have been lost in this recession who will not be returning to the industry. "Once the market returns, will the work outstrip the available talent? That is why the industry should make a greater effort to reach out to minorities and women," he says.