Creating opportunities and fine-tuning operations
“This has been a year to regroup, refocus, repurpose, retool,” SpawMaxwell’s Spaw says. He credits the company’s All Hands on Deck program—empowering all staff to look for opportunities and develop business—with contributing to the company’s success. The firm has retrained teams to estimate and bid in a tight market and has competed for more public sector, higher education, civic and mission-critical work.
“It’s all about embracing change and having a model that can adjust to the rough times,” Spaw says. “We’re doing all those things and trying to keep the spark of hope alive. And we’ve been fairly successful with this approach.”
Speed-Fab Crete of Fort Worth has focused on manufacturing of precast bridges needed for public projects. David Bloxom, president of Speed Fab-Crete, calls it the firm’s salvation. The company formed its SFC Bridge Systems to more formalize its three-sided concrete arch-bridge products division.
McCarthy has entered the wastewater market.
“We had experience in other parts of the country and have drawn on that to win some work in that arena this year,” Peck says. The company received a contract to build the $47-million Westside Water Treatment Plant for the city of Fort Worth. “We have a great wastewater group in Phoenix, and we were able to leverage their knowledge and expertise to win a pretty cool job,” Peck adds.
Ziegler Cooper Architects of Houston has shifted focus to its corporate interiors division to help companies “right size.”
“Because of the conditions we are in, owners and developers are looking at their current assets, and if they have vacancies, spending money on those assets,” says Kurt T. Hull, a senior principal with Ziegler Cooper.
The company is working on upgrades to public spaces at two Houston buildings—Travis Tower and One City Centre—for Behringer Harvard Holdings of Dallas. It is also designing a phased improvement to the three-building Post Oak Central complex in Houston for Crescent Real Estate of Fort Worth.
Ziegler Cooper’s worship place studio had a phenomenal year, principal Scott Ziegler says, with a half-dozen church projects in varying stages of construction. For instance, the firm is designing a new high school for Pope John XXIII High School in Katy.
Jim Manskey, a principal with TBG Partners in Dallas, says his firm “has made a concentrated effort in being more diligent in expanding practice lines. That will be beneficial coming out of this thing.”
The company shifted a majority of its work from mixed-use and hospitality projects to municipal work, including planning open space and parks and trails for the city of Coppell and donating urban design and master-planning streetscapes and trails for the city of Temple.
Healthier market sectors
“Our core markets didn’t suffer as much,” JE Dunn’s Ariss says. “Those markets would be health care, higher ed and the public work. It had an impact, but it wasn’t as profound as if we were just in the commercial and hospitality business.”
Hawkins also reports continued health-care projects, driven by population demographics and the need for more facilities. HKS designed the $151-million, 512,000-sq-ft Hamon Tower at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas for Texas Health Resources and the $53-million Presbyterian Hospital of Flower Mound.
Architect Cryer cautions that health care has started slowing as hospital systems worry about the possible effects of reform legislation. But higher education continues to spend to increase capacity. PageSoutherlandPage designed the $60-million, 132,000-sq-ft College of Health Sciences and School of Nursing at University of Texas El Paso, which Vaughn Construction of Houston broke ground on last fall.
SpawGlass in Austin has refocused attention on its clients. About 70% of its work is in the public sector. In 2009, the company started a new $70-million, 598,000-sq-ft campus for Austin Community College in Round Rock and a $40-million University of Texas at Austin Student Activities Center.
“We haven’t seen a decline in our business volume,” says Pat Williams, president of SpawGlass, adding that the firm had projects in the pipeline as the economy turned.
Williams adds he was surprised by the rapid decrease in construction prices and infusion of competitors, indicating that 20 or 30 companies may be bidding on a job that one year ago would have attracted only six to 10 firms.
“The message has gotten to the owners who can secure financing and move forward that one of the best ways to save money is to move fast, while the prices are still depressed,” Williams says.