Engineering and architectural firms across the Southeast are finding business opportunities as the region’s local and state economies drive private and public construction jobs. While the resilient and strong residential market continues to generate new projects across the region, investments in transportation-related infrastructure are funding activity in certain markets, say designers.
Across the Southeast, “We have not seen a slowdown in any geographic markets,” says Darren Conner, Dewberry’s Southeast president. Residential construction, including both single- and multifamily markets, is strong right now, he says. Power-related projects are continuing to generate business opportunities as well.
Dave Sweeney, president and CEO of Jacksonville, Fla.-based engineering firm RS&H, also reports a healthy market for designers.
“We are seeing opportunities for growth across the Southeast,” he says. “We have not seen a slowdown in opportunities in any of the metropolitan areas we currently serve.” Florida, Georgia and North Carolina, in particular, “have great opportunities in the pipeline for the services we provide,” Sweeney adds.
Dewberry’s Conner also sees some areas outshining others in terms of infrastructure investments.
“North Carolina and Florida appear willing to spend money on critical infrastructure,” he says. “We have been targeting our investments and growing in these two regions because of this and the strength of the markets.”
Sweeney also sees strength in transportation across the region.
“Our aviation and surface transportation [highways and bridges] market sectors have been very strong for the past 12 to 18 months, and we are seeing those trends continue with new work,” Sweeney says. “We work in a lot of different markets—including aerospace, defense, corporate, aviation and transportation— and we’ve seen activity in all of them as of late. There are opportunities to be had across the industries we serve right now.”
As the Southeast construction market thrives, attracting talent to match the workload poses a challenge, engineering executives report.
“The demand and competition for talent in the industry is as strong as we’ve ever seen it,” Sweeney says. “It’s a big challenge to recruit and retain key professionals. Like the industry, we want to continue our growth trajectory, so recruiting and retaining the best people to facilitate that growth is a top priority.”
That challenge extends across the range of positions, adds Conner. “We see an increased competition for technical talent at all levels from entry level to seasoned professionals.”
This year’s Top Design Firms ranking marks the first “top list” to reflect ENR Southeast’s geographic expansion, which became effective Jan. 1 of this year. That realignment officially added Alabama, Tennessee and Puerto Rico to the publication’s editorial coverage area. ENR Southeast had previously focused on the Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.
That geographic expansion contributed to an increase in reported revenue in the Southeast Top Design Firms ranking. For instance, in this most recent survey, the 110 participating firms reported total Southeast design revenue of nearly $4.5 billion in 2016. Last year, architectural and engineering firms reported roughly $3.9 billion from the publication’s former coverage area.
At the same time, a closer look at the data reveals that this year’s survey respondents collectively reported roughly the same amount of revenue from the states of Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas as they did a year ago: just over $4 billion.
Meanwhile, design firms reported approximately $457.7 million in revenue from projects located in Alabama, Tennessee and Puerto Rico.
On a state-by-state basis, survey respondents collectively reported the following 2016 design revenue totals: Florida, $2 billion; North Carolina, $857.6 million; Georgia, $703.1 million; South Carolina, $418.2 million; Tennessee, $244.1 million; Alabama, $202.2 million; and Puerto Rico, $11.4 million.
Finally, ENR Southeast’s geographic expansion enabled some firms—notably those with significant activity in Alabama and Tennessee—to vault up the rankings. Some of the big movers included Hargrove Engineers + Constructors of Mobile, Ala., which moved up to 12th this year from 59th; Burns & McDonnell, which improved to 19th from 42nd a year ago; Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood of Montgomery, Ala., which shot up to 20th from 81st; Merrick & Co., which ranked 38th this year compared with 86th last year; and Nashville-based Smith Seckman Reid, which improved to 43rd from 79th.
In addition to the main ranking, there are numerous breakout charts, including rankings for each state.