...market. Atkins last month won a competition to design three towers, up to 356 m tall, in Tianjin.
Mott’s international managing director Bill Rankin reports “some success,” but still finds China tough. “Our real aim is to grow as a local business,” he says. But that means buying a Chinese design firm “and that is not yet possible,” he adds. “With a lot of design institutes, it’s not clear what is for sale...other than an employment obligation.”
Hong Kong is slow, but Andrew Chan, Arup’s regional chairman, sees some revival. The proposed merger of the Mass Transit Railway Corp. with Kowloon-Canton Railway Corp. could boost infrastructure investment, he says. And “there is still a fair amount of building,” especially in Macao where a casino boom is under way, he adds.
Southeast Asia remains “wobbly,” according to Rankin of Mott, who laments the shelving of Bangkok metro’s next phase. Malaysia is still quiet, though the government’s promise for more privately financed infrastructure interests Mott. Singapore is a major target for Mott, among several firms attracted by the island’s casino boom.
Rankin is not alone in his cautious assessment of the region. “There has been some overall disappointment with Southeast Asia and our recent success there,” says Hitt of SMEC. “Some parts of the Asian economy are still rebounding from the late 1990s downturn,” he says.
Australia’s construction boom is continuing, says Robert Care, Arup’s regional head. “We are looking to recruit another 90 [people] in the next year or so,” he says. The volume of work is allowing Arup to sidestep Australia’s hard-fee bidding tradition, he adds. “We have been more selective,” and so are competitors, Care says.
For COWI, India remains a global center for digital mapping, although the firm is looking for local engineering work on an ad hoc basis, says COWI CEO Klaus Ostenfeld. Our Delhi offshoring center is thriving, says Renko Campen, chairman of Dutch-based DHV Consultants. But while Indian staff costs one-third less than the Dutch, China’s are one-third cheaper again, he says. He forecasts India’s linguistic advantage may not be enough to hold firms there.
The outlook for the Middle East is “terrific” says Odgers, although he believes Dubai’s construction market “is a bubble that’s going to burst.” And Mott’s workload “has doubled in the last 18 months,” says Rankin.
Many firms believe that high oil prices will continue into the foreseeable future. “In the Gulf, the oil price rise is seen as not just a temporary fluctuation but a new price benchmark,” says Hitt of SMEC. “On this basis, government agencies and private developers are prepared to bring forward investment projects which have been planned for years.”
But many firms worry about the unrest and volatility in the region. Denmark’s COWI “is doing well” in buildings and infrastructure in the Middle East, says Ostenfeld. But the Islamic uproar last year at the publication in a Danish paper of a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed caused concern. Some Danish manufacturers suffered local boycotts, but COWI’s clients were “very professional,” Ostenfeld says.
Though booming, the Middle East is a “very mature market,” says Atkins’ Clarke. “There are no excess profits or easy money to be made.” Having concentrated on real estate development, governments now are turning to infrastructure, he notes.
Europe is “a difficult series of mar-kets to penetrate,” says Clarke. “To the U.K.’s credit, it is by far the most open” and the most attractive, he says. Western Europe is a tough market, says Odgers. “It’s very hard to make money.” The Scandinavian market is “very hot” while in Germany “signs are positive,” adds Ostenfeld.
With EU cash flowing eastward, Campen reports booming business in the “fast growers” of Eastern Europe. In Russia, DHV continues work on the St. Petersburg flood barrier and has water supply engineering contacts elsewhere. For Mott, Russia is “a growth focus” but the geographical spread of work is “challenging,” says Stovell.