Southeast design firms continue to build on recent successes, growing in 2023 as populations grow across the region and federal investment continues to bolster infrastructure work. The engineering and architectural firms that participated in the ENR Southeast Top Design Firm survey reported almost $9.6 billion in revenue in 2023, up from just under $8.5 billion in 2022 and $7.3 billion in 2021.

“The Southeast market is thriving, propelled by several active sectors,” says Matt Ryan, CEO at S&ME. “The construction of interstates, local roads and bridges is pushing growth, while aviation booms due to high demand for both international and domestic travel.”

This year, S&ME ranked 15th on ENR Southeast’s Top Design Firm list, down three spots from last year despite growing regional revenue year over year from $147.2 million to $161.74 million.

Firm Revenue

Ryan attributes that success, a nearly 10% increase, to continued investment in and the flourishing of S&ME’s major market sectors of power, industrial, manufacturing, general building and transportation. The transportation sector accounted for nearly 40% ($3.8 billion) of the ranking’s $9.6 billion total this year.

This year’s survey ranked 125 firms by their total 2023 revenue in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Puerto Rico.

Claudia Bilotto, senior vice president and Southeast district leader for WSP, says that the firm’s success in 2023, including a sizable jump in revenue, was led by transportation work. She says the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act continues to bolster work in the region, while transit projects and work in the environment and building markets remains strong. In addition, the CHIPS Act has sparked an uptick in manufacturing projects.

Brook Bridge

The Florida Dept. of Transportation's Brook Bridge, designed by WSP, is one of the nation’s first flexible filler internal tendon-spliced girder bridges.
Image courtesy WSP

Bilotto says the firm also received a boost thanks to WSP’s acquisition of Wood’s Environmental Infrastructure business, which strengthened the firm’s offerings and contributed to a significant amount of construction, engineering and inspection (CEI) work in the Southeast. WSP was ranked third on this year’s list with $522 million in revenue, 42% of which came from the transportation sector. The firm was ranked No. 3 last year after moving up from No. 7 two years ago. The firm increased revenue by $69 million between 2022 and 2023.

WSP ranks fourth in transportation work, with $219 million for the sector, while the total for 92 firms reporting transportation work was $3.8 billion, up from 2022’s $3.2 billion and 2021’s $2.65 billion, which was a roughly $200-million drop from reported revenue in the transportation sector in 2021’s survey.

“As emerging markets such as electric vehicles steadily grow, our industry has effectively tapped into consumer demand, and [S&ME has] been at the forefront of many of these projects as they are developed and constructed,” Ryan says. “Second, the stability of both private and public sector funding has played a crucial role in our success.”

“The stability of both private and public sector funding has played a crucial role in our success.”
—Matt Ryan, CEO, S&ME

S&ME, he says, intentionally fosters relationships with a diversified client mix, and despite initial concerns, inflation hasn’t hampered growth in its key market sectors.

The Southeast is SWCA Environmental Consultants’ newest region and one in which the firm is rapidly growing, says Matt Zoss, vice president for the Southeast. Much of the firm’s 35% increase in revenue in 2023 stems from natural and cultural resource permitting for renewables and mining as well as work in Puerto Rico, where SWCA is performing Hurricane Irma and Maria disaster recovery services for the Puerto Rico Dept. of Housing.

SWCA was ranked 99 in this year’s survey, reporting $12.5 million in revenue, up from No. 114 last year, when the firm reported $9.42 million.

“We have seen the markets move from significant skyrocketing to steady development through the beginning of 2024,” Zoss says, noting that strings are tightening on capital amid rising interest rates and the political uncertainty of an election year, while recent court decisions over Florida’s implementation of Waters of the United States regulations have also stalled some projects while the process is sorted out.

Average Firm Revenue

The year brought its challenges too, namely problems finding enough experienced workers, firms said. Noting that it’s a common theme for most companies, Bilotto says WSP is hiring at all levels with an eye toward developing employees. Ryan says the employee-owned S&ME is optimizing recruitment and retention while also weathering heavy contract terms in a litigious environment that can leave each project on the line for claims and lawsuits.

Looking to next year and beyond, he anticipates activity continuing to increase as the economy continues to show resilience from the growth and diversity of major market sectors. He thinks the economy is set to stabilize and promote growth following the fall elections. Bilotto points to the continuing flow of federal money and says state agencies are programming work and navigating inflation, and projects are moving.

“Our foundation is strong, and the future looks optimistic,” she says.

WSP designed four bridges

WSP designed four bridges for the first bistate design-build effort between South Carolina and Georgia.
Photo courtesy WSP

Every Southeastern state saw more work in 2023, led by Florida, with a total of $3.87 billion, up from $3.5 billion in 2022 and $3.05 billion in 2021. North Carolina was second at $2.1 billion, also increasing from 2022’s $1.89 billion and 2021’s $1.46 billion. Alabama’s $1.7 billion for 2023 is a near quadrupling of 2022’s $466 million, itself a significant increase from 2021’s $341 million. Georgia’s $1.55 billion is up from $1.38 billion in 2022 and $1.28 billion in 2021. South Carolina logged $773.6 million, compared with $607 million in 2022 and $608 million in 2021. Tennessee totaled $645.8 million, rising from $570 million in 2022 and $512 million in 2021. Puerto Rico revenue climbed to $87.69 million.

The ENR Southeast Design Firm of the Year, Goodwyn Mills Cawood (see p. SE30), grew revenue by more than 30%, completed two acquisitions, opened new offices and secured its largest contract to date.