Southwest Design Firms Navigate A New Environment
ENR Southwest's annual survey of design and engineering firms reveals that revenue for the region's largest companies held steady in 2014.
Overall, the 63 firms that participated in the survey earned a combined $734.69 million in design revenue in 2014 from projects located in the Southwest. The total was down from $799 million for the previous year. However, 12 firms that participated last year declined to provide information this year, including HDR, last year's top-ranked firm.
According to design firm executives, the post-recession marketplace has become a "new environment."
"We have to be far more nimble, far more service oriented and far more cognizant of the business side," says Pat Edwards, vice president of Burns & McDonnell in Phoenix. The engineering firm's regional revenue in 2014 rose by nearly 85% over the previous year.
Las Vegas Fortunes Brighten
The Silver State's biggest city may become a construction boomtown once again, and not all of the activity might be tourism related, says Andy Cohen, co-CEO of Gensler, ranked 14th in total Southwest revenue.
"In Nevada, projects that were stalled in the Great Recession are coming back to life with refined purpose and focus," he adds. "The cautiously optimistic attitude of owners and developers blended with the state's push to attract corporations to Las Vegas is creating an uptick in design and construction. It's an exciting time."
Some of Gensler's recent Las Vegas projects include the SLS Hotel and Casino and the Golden Gate Hotel and Casino.
To remain competitive, architects look for ways to boost value and efficiency for clients.
"We are constantly pushing the envelope on design innovation, focusing on performance-based design that is all about the user experience," Cohen says.
Edwards says the backlog of delayed infrastructure projects is finally starting to move in a positive direction.
"We are seeing a great deal of deferred maintenance," Edwards says. "It is a very significant amount of work that is going to have to be done to bring our infrastructure back up to speed."
But the additional work means that recruiting quality engineers to fill expanding staff rosters could be the biggest need moving forward in the Southwest. Finding engineers with five to 10 years of experience—the sweet spot for productivity and affordability, Edwards says—is becoming increasingly difficult, although that has slightly diminished as the petroleum boom has waned, he adds.
As for the solar industry, which has kept many design and construction firms busy over the past six years, Edwards says the end of federal subsidies will not bring a drop in development. Rather, with prices falling for solar technology, the solar market will continue to shine, he says.