California’s growth in the design sector continued to pick up speed in 2017, especially in transportation. Nine of the top 10 design firms are working on transportation projects in California and Hawaii.

The 95 firms that participated in this year’s Top Design Firms survey reported $5.39 billion of combined revenue in California during 2017, a 10% increase from $4.87 billion the previous year.

California’s transportation market remains strong, particularly in highways, local roads, transit, aviation and maritime, says Amy Gilleran, regional director at HDR Inc. in San Francisco. Ranked No. 2 in the survey, HDR saw design revenue grow 42% in 2017 to $358 million, with nearly half of it from the transportation market. 

The firm’s California transportation projects include the MidCoast Transit project for the San Diego Association of Governments and improvements to Los Angeles’ Union Station for LA Metro. HDR is also the lead designer, with HNTB, for Los Angeles World Airports’ new Automated People Mover, to be delivered under a $4.9-billion public-private partnership.

But despite the sector’s strength, “without consistent federal funding there is a heightened focus on self-help. State, regional and local agencies have realized that future system improvements will be largely self-determined,” Gilleran says.

Hawaii’s transportation sector is also growing, with construction of the current section of the $10-billion Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation Airport Guideway and Stations. Stantec (No. 3 in the survey), is working on the 20-mile project that also includes the Pearl Harbor Naval Base transit station.

ENR California Top Design Firms 2018

More Power

California’s power sector—generated both by renewable and conventional sources—is also sparking growth, says Renita Mollman, vice president and general manager at Burns & McDonnell. Ranked sixth on the list this year, the firm is currently working on the $259-million Sycamore-Peñasquitos 230-kV transmission line project in San Diego County, set to be completed this year.

Mollman points to the state’s aging power infrastructure, especially on the distribution side, as well as electrification as the state continues to push more toward all-electric vehicles. “There’s a demand for distributed generation and you have all these different sources of power generation now and you have to work all those into the grid,” she says.

Education and research projects are also prominent in the surveys. Top firm AECOM’s largest project to break ground is NASA Ames’ 288 Biosciences Laboratory. SmithGroupJJR’s largest project is the Joan and Sanford I. Weill Neurosciences Building with Mark Cavagnero Associates Architects. In addition to the survey’s main ranking, there are numerous breakout charts, including rankings for each state.

Dewberry’s focused effort to expand in California has generated 60% growth in design revenue to $17.45 million. The company has locations in Sacramento, Long Beach and Costa Mesa and most recently opened an office in Pasadena.

“We have been growing our architectural practice,” says Rachel Vandenberg, vice president. “The firm has focused on public safety and the correctional world in the past and is branching out into more core strengths such as commercial and health care.”

California’s design sector will continue to grow if upcoming elections continue to support infrastructure spending, Gilleran says. She points to the state’s SBI funds and passage of  additional local measures such as Regional Measure 3, a Bay Area traffic relief plan.

“California has incredible market potential, and 2018 is looking good,” Gilleran says.