Southwest Design Firms’ Success Hinges On Innovation
ENR Southwest’s annual survey of architectural and engineering firms reveals that regional revenue continued to grow in 2018.
This year’s ranking includes 65 firms—the same number as last year—with firms earning a combined $1.19 billion in design revenue during 2018. That total is up nearly $100 million from 2017. Revenue for the top 10 firms increased to $545 million in 2018, up from $512 million in 2017, $433.61 million in 2016 and $357.68 million in 2015.
Many regional firms attribute their growth to an ongoing push for innovation, whether by streamlining workflow, pitching services to owners or managing relationships.
Troy Thompson, managing partner at SmithGroup, says innovation is a hallmark of top-tier commercial design firms. “Firms must continually explore, test and learn in order to innovate and solve the emerging challenges of our clients and our world,” he says.
SmithGroup is currently working with international design firm Corgan on the final concourse at Sky Harbor Airport’s Terminal 4 in Phoenix. Thompson says with every joint-design project, firms learn new skills.
“Collaboration through new design processes and partnerships collapses the relationship between design and making—between owners, designer and makers. These efforts provide more sustainable, efficient facilities while striving to save our clients time and money,” he says.
However, the internal support that drives innovation is critical, Thompson says, citing benefits SmithGroup has garnered from its technology in practice group, a team of 20 people who are part of the firm’s information technology team. Their task is to explore new ways for using technology to enhance good design.
Innovation is also cropping up in firms located outside urban areas, although the majority of rural clients want services completed with more traditional paper designs, according to Mark Woodson, the 2016 ASCE president and owner of Woodson Engineering in Flagstaff, Ariz. He adds, however, that to be responsive to the needs of all clients, his firm can use lidar or drones, if owners want those options. Woodson Engineering primarily works in northern Arizona, including Prescott and Winslow.
“We still do a lot of things the old way,” Woodson says. “But we have the toolkit when we need it.”