...also have a national levee safety program, as well,” Kamber says. He says persistent water supply problems in the west and Southwest may provide design opportunities, noting major cities in Texas now are buying water rights from locations up to 100 miles away. This work will require new transmission lines.
One market that is not on many peoples’ radar screens is utility-company data collection. “You already have data aggregators like Google searching to expand into collecting and managing industrial data,” says Smith of Black & Veatch. He says technology is developing to a point where, in the foreseeable future, microchips may replace water and electric meters. “We as an industry should look into whether this is something we can or want to get involved in. If we don’t, then the Googles of the world will,” he says.
Beyond the Borders
One geographic market that is rebounding nicely is Canada. “Canada is doing much better than the U.S. market,” says Harrison. He says Canada’s stimulus package worked better than the United States’ because there was more direct project lending. In January, Perkins+Will acquired Shore Tilbe Irwin & Partners, a Toronto-based, 80-person architect, to help grow its Canadian practice, Harrison notes.
Europe remains mired in a recession. The U.K. market particularly was hard hit by the credit crunch, but now the recovery has been further stalled as British elections loom, says Della Rocca of Halcrow. However, Martin of Jacobs notes the U.K. approved a $150-billion capital spending plan a few years ago, and those projects now are beginning to come online.
While much of Europe is in the doldrums, transportation work continues to be a bright spot. “Except for social programs, the European Union is most focused on the movement of goods,” says Wolff. Louis Berger has been particularly active in expanding road systems in Eastern Europe, he says.
While the global upstream oil-and-gas exploration market is strengthening, KBR’s Utt is seeing signs of more refining work, particularly in Saudi Arabia and Africa. “Saudi Arabia wants to ship more refined product so that its downstream market is growing,” he says. But he points out that about half of Saudi Arabia’s population is under 21 and doing refining locally provides good industrial jobs to the local population. “You are seeing the same thing in Africa, particularly in Angola,” Utt says.
Asia continues to show potential. “Asia and the Middle East were not as affected by the recession as the West,” says Martin of Jacobs. China may have weathered the storm the best. But Cannon’s Miller warns that it is hard to make money there. “We established an office in China to support our North American operations, but we now are sticking our toe in the China market itself,” he says. However, Miller says fees are lower in China, “and you have to work extremely fast.”
Some firms are growing more wary of the Chinese market after the arrest and conviction for bribery of four agents for Australian mining giant BHP immediately following a dispute between BHP and China over mining rights.
Wolff says working internationally is getting more complex. “Nations around the world are becoming more strict about things like [value-added taxes], and you have to know how to value your services both in-country and at home or face local legal problems,” he says.
For most large designers, the recession remains deep, with little relief in sight. This means tightening belts, focusing on management and marketing harder than ever.
“The worst thing you can do in a downturn is cut back on marketing. You have to sell your way out,” says Yarossi. Adds ATC’s Bobby Toups, “In 2010, it’s going to be a sell, sell, sell year.”