There's a new giant in the No. 1 position of ENR Southeast's annual Top Design Firms ranking this year, and even though it's the firm's first time atop the charts, the company's success is anything but a big surprise. AECOM Technology Corp. soared past its Southeast competition in 2011 by grabbing a big share of the major projects throughout the region.

While many other Southeast firms struggled over the past year to eke out a mild increase, or else suffered a decline, AECOM surged, posting a gain of roughly 33% in 2011 regional revenue, the basis year for our latest ranking.

The design giant's monster jump to the top was probably inevitable due to its acquisition-fueled growth of recent years. But it was no fluke. The engineer-architect—which markets itself as "One AECOM"—has likely caused its competitors to at times think they're seeing double, so pervasive has its regional presence been.

In Broward County, Fla., for instance, the firm is serving as lead engineer for the $1.2-billion Interstate 595 Corridor Improvements design-build-operate-finance-maintain contract. It's also busy on another billion-dollar project, the Port of Miami Tunnel.

But AECOM's portfolio extends beyond South Florida and includes much more than transportation.

In Atlanta, the firm is designing and providing environmental services for a widening of State Road 20. At the Marine Corps' Camp Lejeune base in Jacksonville, N.C., AECOM is delivering planning and engineering services for a host of horizontal and vertical improvements to the base. And in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., it is leading the joint venture building the $202-million Broward County Courthouse complex.

AECOM was also the Southeast's top designer of water supply projects. In the thirsty Florida market, for instance, it's been able to draw in numerous water projects. In Davie, the firm is designing and building the $108-million expansion of the town's water and wastewater system. In Hialeah, it is designing, constructing and preparing to operate the city's $50-million reverse-osmosis water treatment plant. In the Keys, AECOM just landed a critical project that has been languishing for years—a rebuilding of the island chain's sewer systems, with a contract estimated at $70 million.

Overall, 2011 was a special year for AECOM in the Southeast. "Last year was big," says Gary Hullfish, senior vice president and the South region leader in Atlanta. But as industry giants do, AECOM doesn't plan to stop getting bigger. "We're going to continue to push for growth," Hullfish says.

The firm's "big" 2011, and its presence on numerous major projects, has earned AECOM Technology Corp. recognition as ENR Southeast's Designer of the Year.

Powerful Platform

There's no denying AECOM's massive size. But company executives emphasize that the firm's strength comes from its local offices and its "boots on the ground."

"Our platform is pretty unique," Hullfish says, adding, "We're in the community with our clients.

"But if we don't have a particular specialty within the local geography, we can pick up the phone and call any of our business lines and bring in experience," he adds. "It's a pretty powerful sell."

Or, as Mark Blanchard, vice president and national director in Sunrise, Fla., says: "We keep it personal with our clients.

"We will find a solution for our clients based on our global ability, but keep it at a very local level," he adds. "It's local project managers who are really providing the services to [clients]. That's a big part of our culture. We are involved, and we are here."