WSP USA Finds Success By Taking Local Approach
WSP USA is regularly found among the nation’s largest professional services firms, including placing 8th in this year’s ENR Top 500 Design Firms ranking. But thanks to what CEO Greg Kelly calls a “regional approach,” WSP remains closely connected to the clients and communities it serves. The local-facing strategy proved successful in the MidAtlantic region last year. WSP’s regional revenue climbed 43% in 2018 to more than $183.2 million. The firm’s No. 5 ranking on ENR MidAtlantic’s Top Design survey, up from No. 13 the previous year, contributed to its selection as ENR MidAtlantic’s Design Firm of the Year. “Our business model is to be local with clients,” Kelly explains. “We hire locally, and strategically locate offices where we can be active and involved in those communities.”
That includes contributing more than a half-million dollars nationally in 2018 to support a host of charitable organizations, including the March of Dimes, the ACE Mentoring Program, the Salvation Army and Habitat for Humanity, according to the firm.
WSP has many long-standing client relationships in transportation, buildings and environmental markets that predate the Canadian-based company’s 2014 acquisition of Parsons Brinckerhoff. The addition of Louis Berger in December 2018 accounted for $36.2 million of WSP’s 2018 regional revenue. It also set the stage for greater access to opportunities in the federal and defense sectors. Kelly says that the $400-million acquisition, which gives WSP 1,200 people in 20 offices across the MidAtlantic region, produced immediate results. Earlier this year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded WSP two five-year indefinite-delivery contracts (IDCs) totaling $283 million to provide general A-E services at military facilities in Europe. “Separately, neither of us might have won these projects,” Kelly adds.
He also notes that the integration of Berger into WSP remains an ongoing effort. “We spent a lot of time up front to make sure our cultures align,” he says. “But when you roll up your sleeves and work side-by-side, that’s when you know how well it’s going to pay off.”
The ever-changing transportation market remains a key focus for the firm. “It’s not so much where the ball is now, but where it will be in the future,” explains Jerry Jannetti, a WSP senior vice president. Because of reduced staffing at public-sector transportation agencies, he says, “they look to us to not only develop a design in accordance with plans and specifications, but also provide value-added services, such as finding ways to help contractors meet or improve upon project schedule.”
Abey Tamrat, capital projects program manager for the Maryland Transportation Authority, credits WSP for tackling a $58-million upgrade of sixteen 60-year old ventilation fans in the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel to mitigate smoke and fumes from heavy truck fires. WSP found that four existing air-intake fans, which were mainly spares, could be converted into ventilation fans, providing the needed fire exhaust coverage while maintaining the same internal airflow levels. “This may well be the first time a ventilation system has been reconfigured this way,” Tamrat says.
Responsiveness and timely collaboration are also critical, says Samuel Minnitte, who manages WSP’s operations in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Delaware. For example, WSP is part of the private development team tasked with revitalizing Baltimore’s historic Pennsylvania Station. The potential $600-million program aims to transform the 108-year-old facility into a modern transportation hub, surrounded by up to 1.6 million sq ft of new retail, residential and office construction. Because WSP has also worked with Amtrak, which owns the station and is contributing $90 million to the effort, “we know their priorities, information needs and processes for turning the redevelopment vision into reality while also enhancing the safety and efficiency of their operations,” Minnitte says.
Building in sustainability
WSP is also satisfying building and facility owners with increasing information demands, particularly concerning energy use. “They want evidence-based data to prove that the system is going to work,” says WSP senior associate Sean Hu, who specializes in electrical systems for health care, technology and other projects. Hu notes that health care is among the strongest of the MidAtlantic region’s building markets, as owners seek to bring medical services to local communities, eliminating the need for hospitalizations. WSP enhanced its presence in this area with the May 2019 acquisition of health care building systems specialist Leach Wallace, which has locations in Elkridge, Md., and York, Pa.
Then there’s Amazon’s impending development of a new campus in Arlington, Va., a potential construction boom that Hu says “will be fantastic in terms of new opportunities.”
WSP hopes to lead by example in its planning and design services, having recently set an ambitious goal of making its U.S. operations carbon-neutral this year by pursuing high-value offsets in areas such as office location and access and employee travel. Kelly says the goal, identified during development of the firm’s recently released three-year strategic plan, originated with WSP employees. “They told us this was something they wanted us to do,” he says. “We’re hopeful we can bring our experiences to clients that have or are considering similar programs.”
Being highly attuned to employee ideas and interests is among the ways Kelly hopes to attract and retain needed talent. “Competition for good people is the downside of a good market,” he says. “We feel our on-boarding and professional development programs will foster a sense of belonging from the outset that’s sustained throughout their careers at WSP.”
Those programs have to be effective, Kelly adds, given that the MidAtlantic market shows no signs of slowing in the immediate future. “There are good opportunities through the corridor,” he says, “and we need to be ready for them.”