More than 75 years since its founding, Goodwyn Mills Cawood has found its sweet spot. A Southeast-focused firm with 24 offices across seven states, GMC has emerged over the last decade as one of the region’s largest firms while maintaining its emphasis on providing service at a local level. The Montgomery, Ala.-based architecture and engineering firm regular finds itself both competing against and partnering with large national companies. A steady stream of acquisitions coupled with landing some sizable contracts have propelled GMC into the ranks of ENR’s largest design firms in the region. Last year alone, the firm saw annual revenue spike by a remarkable 31%. In light of its recent success, ENR Southeast named Goodwyn Mills Cawood its 2024 Design Firm of the Year.

Although GMC experienced a major growth spurt last year, the company’s fortunes have been rising steadily for years. In 2017, it saw annual revenue of $66.5 million, and every year since then the firm’s revenue has grown. The firm has also expanded into new markets through acquisitions, having completed seven in just the last five years. With each new acquisition, the firm deepens its talent pool, says Jeffrey Brewer, CEO of Goodwyn Mills Cawood. But despite that dramatic growth, he says the firm remains grounded in the communities it serves.

“When you can combine strong local personal relationships with high technical expertise, we call that our superpower,” he says.

Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority’s Purrysburg Water Treatment Plant

Goodwyn Mills Cawood is providing numerous services for the Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority’s Purrysburg Water Treatment Plant expansion in Hardeeville, S.C.
Photo courtesy Reeves Young

New Partners and Projects

Although growth has been consistent, 2023 stood out as a particularly productive year. GMC completed its 18th and 19th acquisitions: Walker Concepts Architecture of Charleston, S.C., and Commercial Site Solutions in Greenville, S.C., and Lutz, Fla. The firm’s new office in Lutz marks its fourth in Florida. GMC is working on some of its largest projects ever in several different sectors, including a $70-million greenfield treatment facility in South Carolina and its largest health care project—an $85-million development in Georgia.

The firm was also awarded a contract for the Alabama Legislature’s new Statehouse last year as well as its largest single contract ever for work with the State of Alabama Dept. of Corrections. It’s also working on one of Alabama’s largest high schools at Gulf Shores as well as new middle and high schools for DeKalb County Schools in Georgia, the state’s third-largest system.

In some cases, GMC has been able to land large projects in partnership with other firms. The Alabama Statehouse project, for example, is a partnership with Robert A.M. Stern Architects. It teamed with DLR Group for its most recent work with the Alabama Dept. of Corrections.

Gulf Shores High School

Designs for the new Gulf Shores High School in Gulf Shores, Ala., were recently completed by Goodwyn Mills Cawood.
Image courtesy Goodwyn Mills Cawood and DLR Group

Diverse Service

“When you can combine strong local personal relationships with high technical expertise, we call that our superpower.”
— Jeffrey Brewer, CEO, Goodwyn Mills Cawood

In addition to its wide geographic reach—with offices in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee—the company has significantly diversified its services over the last decade. Today, it has eight business units: architecture, engineering, geotechnical, environmental, transportation, electrical, disaster recovery and landscape and planning. The company also seeks balance in its client base. The company historically aims to split its work evenly between private and public sector clients, although its current portfolio is closer to two-thirds public sector projects.

“When you look at a stable organization that has the ability to offer a wide range of services in a growing geographic footprint that’s balanced between public and private work—that’s what we mean when we talk about diversity of services,” Brewer adds.

Much of that book of business has been built through decades of lasting relationships. Rob Blalock, president of Brasfield & Gorrie, says his firm’s relationship with GMC reaches back nearly 30 years. Blalock says that over that time, GMC has established itself as one of its most trusted design partners, even tapping the firm to design its headquarters in Birmingham.

new city hall in Huntsville, Ala.

A new city hall in Huntsville, Ala., will consolidate city services in the heart of the growing downtown.
Image courtesy Turner Construction

“We’ve been through times where the industry’s booming and everybody’s doing great and everybody’s high-fiving, and we’ve been through cycles where we have super tough projects and nobody has any margin in these things,” he says. “These are people that I know I can work through problems with by having conversations. We never go to the contract. We just kind of lean on trust and goodwill to get through both good times and bad.”

Although the company has a broad geographic reach, it continues to have particularly deep roots in Alabama. One of its most recent high-profile projects in the state is the new $90-million City Hall for the city of Huntsville. Built by Turner Construction, the project will complete in May.

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle says GMC “was with us all the way,” as the city spent nearly 10 years creating a vision for the new building.

“GMC wanted to meet our needs but they also wanted to meet community needs and both of those ran in parallel,” he says. “It was very important that we had a company that recognized that there are community needs and there are city needs, and GMC figured out how to best meld both of those desires.”

Montgomery Whitewater project

GMC provided multiple engineering services for the Montgomery Whitewater project’s first phase.
Image courtesy Edward Badham

Acquisition Mission

While lasting relationships have provided stability, new relationships have further accelerated GMC’s growth, particularly through acquisitions. This year the company has already completed its 20th acquisition and is actively negotiating others. At a time when many leaders of Southeast firms are eyeing retirement without an internal succession plan in place, GMC sees opportunities give those firms a new home under its flag.

From a business standpoint, Brewer says the company’s acquisition strategy is primarily based on finding firms that can provide a geographic advantage or enhance the firm’s service lines. However, after years of working through such deals, he says he is more focused on finding the right cultural fit and negotiating a smooth transition.

“We were looking for... someone that would be supportive but also let us be ourselves and let us keep operating the way we operate—and that’s where GMC came in.”
— Mark Paslick, Transportation Manager, GMC (Former Principal at PDC Consultants)

“You're bringing new family into your existing family, and if those cultural pieces are at odds with one another, it’s almost impossible to merge the two successfully,” he says. “Over the years, I’ve gotten more concerned about character and culture than I have the financial points of the deal. At the end of the day, you might negotiate what sounds like a great deal, but maybe you’ve damaged that relationship through the [negotiation] process. You almost have to think about it during the negotiation like they are already your partner.”

One of GMC’s recent additions is PDC Consultants, an aviation consulting firm based in Franklin, Tenn. Mark Paslick, who was a principal at the firm, says PDC was successful to the point that it potentially had more work than it could sustain with its existing workforce and infrastructure.

“We were looking for someone who could offer support, not just purchasing aviation as a new type of engineering that they wanted to get involved with,” says Paslick, who is now a transportation manager at GMC. “We were looking for a supportive suitor. Someone that would be supportive but also let us be ourselves and let us keep operating the way we operate—and that’s where GMC came in.”

Athlete Performance Center

Middle Tennessee State University’s GMC-designed Athlete Performance Center is slated for a 2025 completion.
Image courtesy GMC and HOK

Although every acquisition is unique, Brewer says deals like the PDC acquisition fit a template for the company. “We don’t just come in and try to change everything,” he says. “We really want them to get back to the normal flow of business. What we found is, people will embrace that. When they turn over things—like IT or accounting or HR—that they had to manage before, they can get back to having fun and dealing with their clients. It’s kind of like giving them a resurgence in their careers.”

Meanwhile, the company is also focused on organic growth, especially expanding its pool of young talent at the collegiate level. This summer, the company will bring in about 60 interns in the hopes that many will find future careers at the firm. “Our future won’t be limited by project opportunities, it’s going to be limited by our ability to recruit great talent,” Brewer says.

And those new employees could find opportunities immediately. Brewer admits that although GMC does have other acquisitions on its radar, the firm may pause expansion plans to digest its current crop of projects. “Last year was such a strong growth year, but it did create some stress on our infrastructure,” he says. “What we’ve seen historically is that we’ll take a pretty significant growth step and then we need a little time to allow our infrastructure to catch up to that so that we don’t outpace our ability to deliver for our clients.”