Walbrook office and retail project in central London will be 60,600 sq m.
St. Louis-based HOK set all-time firm records in fees and contracts in 2007, with more than a year’s worth of backlog. It is a success that CEO Patrick MacLeamy credits in large part to the firm’s expanding global business. “We were founded in the U.S. and people think of us as a U.S. firm, but more than 41% of our backlog is now offshore,” he says. “A great deal of that is coming from the Middle East, China, India and U.K. This is a really good market for us.”
For large U.S.-based firms like HOK, the weak U.S. dollar can be a benefit abroad. “We’re essentially an export service, so a devalued dollar helps us overseas,” MacLeamy says. “We’re now cheaper wherever we go. Clients don’t come to us because we’re cheap, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.”
But for firms with localized operations around the world, the dollar valuation benefits can be minimal, says Bruce Johinke, global director of markets at New York-based Parsons Brinckerhoff. “We’re not really a U.S. company,” he says. “We’ve got 1,600 people in Australia, but probably only three Americans there. It’s a local company. Where it helps is when we need to deliver skills from the U.S. to other parts of the world. Unfortunately it has the reverse effect if we need to bring skills into the U.S. from outside.”
Some U.S.-based firms may be challenged to expand into new markets as well. Johinke says that firms looking to gain a foothold through international acquisitions are hampered by the currency issues.
Regardless of what countries a firm works in, labor and resource shortages remain global issues. Stuart Graham, CEO of Stockholm-based Skanska, says that labor shortages are limiting the Swedish company’s growth po tential.
“We’re not in a very good position to expand our markets because we have a tough enough time servicing the markets we’re already in,” Graham says. “To some extent we can bring labor in, but there aren’t many markets that aren’t busy. In the past, we’ve taken people from Poland to work in the Nor dic region, but now we have a shortage of workers in Poland.”
Ray Landy, president of Los Angeles-based DMJM H&N, says that while “the feeding frenzy is rampant” for work in the Middle East, firms struggle to fill demand for staff. “With AECOM (DMJM’s parent company), there’s a need for...ith a credit crunch and fears of recession in the U.S., mega firms are finding it is a good time to be global. Development throughout much of the Middle East and eastern Asia continues at a relentless pace, while economic strength in many non-U.S. markets keeps a steady flow of projects in the pipeline.