Mountain States design firms continue to work through a backlog of post-pandemic projects while navigating interest rates and economic uncertainty.

This year’s design firm surveys, collected from 68 architectural and engineering organizations doing work in the seven-state region, show revenue increased 4% in 2023 to $2.57 billion, compared with $2.47 billion in 2022.

Firms in Colorado, Wyoming and the Dakotas saw a 9% increase from 2022’s $1.44 billion to almost $1.58 billion in 2023.

Revenue dipped slightly for the Intermountain area (Utah, Idaho, Montana), coming in at $996 million for 2023, compared with 2022’s $1.02 billion. Reported revenue for those firms remains significantly higher than 2021’s total of $794.79 million.

Total Revenue

Chart by ENR

“Even though interest rates have made things more challenging to finance, [we] still have developers making it pencil,” says Jennifer Burke Jackson, principal architect and president of the board at JLG Architects.

“At the end of 2023, we weren’t ruling out a bit of a challenge and some tough quarters ahead in 2024 due to inflation, uncertainty and the increase in monies through COVID-19 swinging back. However, we are seeing some really strong opportunities in 2024. Data centers, in particular, seem to be emerging as an area of economic strength, while housing and mixed-use opportunities are definitely out there and still emerging,” she says.

The Dakotas-based firm ranked eighth on ENR’s 2023 Mountain States Top Design Firm list for Colorado, Wyoming and the Dakotas. JLG's largest project to break ground was the $230-million Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library in Medora, N.D.

Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library

The $230-million JLG-designed Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library in Medora, N.D., features sweeping views of the Little Missouri River and Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Chart (top) by ENR; Rendering by Snøhetta/PLOMP, courtesy of JLG Architects

“The Mountain states continue to see high growth in population and significant business investments,” adds Matt Sibul, senior vice president for WSP, one of the region’s largest design firms. “The ‘Silicon Slopes’ in Utah is fueling technology start-ups and incubators at a rate higher than any other state,” Sibul adds.

WSP landed the first place spot on the Intermountain list this year and ranks fourth in Colorado, Wyoming and the Dakotas.

“Right now, the biggest opportunity for us is defining how we can leverage AI innovation to allow our team members to think more strategically and less repetitively.”
—Jennifer Burke Jackson, Board President, JLG Architects

“The challenge for design firms is that projects are becoming increasingly complex with each new version of the building code, new requirements for energy compliance and the kinds of spaces being required by our clients—whether that be spaces for research or spaces that are future-proofed for flexibility,” notes Derek Payne, president, VCBO Architecture, ranked No. 5 on this year’s list of Intermountain firms.

“Because of that complexity, the breadth of our design knowledge and experience continues to expand,” he says.

VCBO’s largest project to break ground in 2023 was the $135-million University of Utah Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine Building in Salt Lake City. While fewer new building projects were funded by the Utah Legislature for 2024, additional large health care projects are anticipated.

Embracing New Ways of Working Smarter

“Right now, the biggest opportunity for us is defining how we can leverage AI innovation to allow our team members to think more strategically and less repetitively,” Burke Jackson says. “This topic is likely on every architecture and engineering firm’s radar, and we are exploring how we can do more work, better work and quicker work while keeping our team members engaged in their areas of greatest strength and contribution,” she adds.

Average Firm Revenue

Chart by ENR

“WSP turns to our project visualization group early in the design phase, using high-tech tools such as virtual and augmented reality to help our clients understand how a project will look long before a shovel is put in the ground,” notes Sibul, adding that the ability to visualize, ask questions and see options in advance is incredibly valuable.

VCBO's new generation of designers and architects are “ever evolving and learning ... using design tools that have been created to meet these future demands,” Payne says. “These tools range from early design programs that evaluate future energy savings due to site orientation to modeling software that can make any imaginable shape.”

Payne also sees design teams becoming more embedded and collaborative with the construction team and their subcontractors. “For the last 10 years, our teams have been working together in collaborative softwares during the construction phase to determine constructibility and clashing issues. Today we are enlisting the subcontractor trades earlier in the design process to assist with design questions, how to stretch their products and availability of new products,” he adds. “Our contractor partners are able to draw in the same softwares that we use to communicate. This translates into greater value to our clients.”