The leaders of regional design firms say they are seeing more work in nearly all market segments, with the possible exception of federal projects. The strongest sectors are multifamily, hospitality, offices, manufacturing, K-12 projects and water infrastructure; as Kevin Miller, a principal with Utah's GSBS Architects, notes, the improvement is "across the board."

Photo courtesy of Josh Allred, Architectural Nexus
The BYU Life Sciences Building in Provo, Utah, was designed by Architectural Nexus.
Image courtesy of (right) courtesy of CTA rchitects Engineers
Most design firms report strong market diversity, including an upscale private mountain residence designed by CTA Architects Engineers.

For the first time in years, regional markets are also more balanced between the private and public sectors. "So far, 2015 is shaping up to be a pretty good year for us. We are experiencing growth in each of our sectors and expect that to continue for the next couple of years," says Robert Morrison, president and CEO of Helena, Mont.-based engineering firm Morrison-Maierle.

Richard McComish, president and CEO of top-ranked Electrical Consultants Inc., Billings, Mont., says that the utility engineering and renewable-energy design segments are "experiencing transformational changes" from new regulations and "dispersed generation resource portfolios" among power providers.

Growth in the facilities and manufacturing sectors is being driven, in part, by lower oil prices, says Mark Lichtwardt, Burns & McDonnell vice president and general manager in the firm's Denver office.

But those prices have led to a decline in transportation funding in some areas, such as Montana. "We are strategizing on what kind of leadership and advice we can provide at the local, state and federal levels on the importance of funding infrastructure," Morrison says.

Design leaders agree that the biggest challenge facing their firms is finding and retaining good talent. "We are concerned about the availability of a future talent pool," says Rick Petersen, principal at OZ Architecture.

At Denver's RNL, John Yonushewski, principal and COO, says his firm has added 20 staff members in 2015 but also sees a smaller talent pool after the long recession. MWH Global's Bob Armstrong says that employee retention "requires creative approaches to staff development." Christine Coutts, a principal at Architectural Nexus, says, "Our recruiting efforts have been successful, but we'd love to see more graduates coming out of architecture programs across the country."