Money from the $1.2-trillion federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act has yet to reach most state agencies, but ENR Top 500 Design Firms report they are busy with value engineering projects up to the shovel ready phase. Owners appear revved up and ready to take advantage of federal funding, needing design firms more than ever to keep projects from getting stalled in a market plagued by shortages.
Below, executives of selected ranking firms share their thoughts on challenges and successes last year and ahead:
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Where has your firm seen the most success in retaining qualified staff amid labor shortages?
JENNA KNUDSEN, MANAGING PRINCIPAL
CO ARCHITECTS No. 268
"We encourage staff to propose initiatives in support of continual improvement. Going back 12 years, a group of women started a Women of CO employee group to provide mentorship and professional advancement among our women staffers. We’re more than 50% female."
RANDY GRASS, CHIEF STRATEGY OFFICER
POWER ENGINEERS No. 32
"When you are reasonably satisfied with your retention numbers, this is the time to double down. Don’t get complacent. Talk to your current employees, do a company-wide survey, find out what is important and work on it."
How do you anticipate that funding from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will change your work?
DAVID WHYTE, MARKETING MANAGER
KIMLEY-HORN No. 10
"We are seeing a definitive uptick in business with localities and regional and state agencies, all of which are exhibiting confidence in their infrastructure programs and asking for increasing assistance in delivering them."
KUMAR BUVANENDARAN, PRESIDENT/CEO
PRIME AE GROUP INC. Np. 261
"Because of how inclusive it is, once funding starts, it will be imperative that we are staffed appropriately to meet the needs of our clients. We foresee a bit of a juggling act—achieving parity where tactical utilization offsets anticipatory preparation."
What markets are proving to be the hottest for your firm? Any plans to delve into new markets?
KRAIG C. KERN, VICE PRESIDENT
WK DICKSON No. 398
"We have ventured into the energy market, specifically natural gas, because all of this rapid development needs new utilities and relocations, including gas. This has been very lucrative for us, and we have seen 25% revenue gains year after year for the last five years."
ABUL ISLAM, PRESIDENT/CEO
AI ENGINEERS No. 338
"Conventional transportation, bridge, transit, civil and facilities with storage capacity and residential work are proving to be hot markets due to an influx of consumer and infrastructure spending. We are expanding our portfolio to include private sector work to supplement our public infrastructure work".
In what ways would you say your firm has evolved the most over the past year?
SHANE JEFFERIES, DIRECTOR OF IT
MILHOUSE No. 383
"To accelerate our organization’s digital transformation over the last two years, we have focused on collecting pertinent data to drive business decisions, proactively automate strategy and better position the organization to increase positive business outcomes."
PATRICK SHEEHAN, PRESIDENT/CEO
"Besides accelerating our ability to truly work anywhere, we feel increased cross-company communications during the pandemic have only improved our ability to connect efficiently and effectively with each other and our clients."
What would you say is the number one request from owners?
BROCK HOSKINS, President and CEO
GARVER No. 102
"Since Congress passed the historic $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, our clients have turned to us for assistance in navigating the complex funding opportunities that it now affords – and understanding how those opportunities can fund their infrastructure projects.
We’ve also found that our clients need help figuring out how to efficiently deliver those massive projects."
BRUCE MILLER, Managing Director for the Americas
POPULOUS No. 107
"Owners want spaces designed to amplify that feeling of emotional connection and belonging that is one of the most incredible facets of the work we do. At Populous, we are always designing with both experience and revenue in mind. We see the two as coexisting on a happy continuum—we know people want to have great experiences, meaningful experiences, and that they prioritize that over other opportunities for how they spend discretionary income time and time again.