Friday, May 28, 2010

Keep those creative juices flowing!

With the long holiday weekend mere hours away, we've decided to extend the deadline for our second contest in The Board Room for another month, meaning you now have until June 25 to get inspired and put together a spectacular example of your creativity. We're also tweaking the contest a bit to help allay the concerns of some potential entrants. Our preference is still finding a creative use for your plastic bottles, cans, or other recyclables from around the office, but if you'd prefer to go a more traditional route, a la world-record card stacker Bryan Berg, that's fine too.

Finally, there is no need to send your model to us. Just take a picture and email your entry by June 25. we prefer high-resolution JPGs, but other formats will work. Enjoy your holiday weekend, and don't forget to save all those empty bottles and cans from the neighborhood barbecue for your award-winning entry!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Principals earning more, doing more?

Base salaries among firm leaders have now reached $140,000 on average, a 7% increase in just a year, according to ZweigWhite's 2010 Principals, Partners & Owners Survey of Architecture, Engineering, Planning & Environmental Consulting Firms. A reader who saw this eye-popping statistic in the May 17 issue of The Zweig Letter (Issue 863) wonders if it's because principals are doing more project management work these days. That's as good a reason as any for the leap, combined with a drop in annual bonuses from about $10,000 to about $3,000 among firm leaders.

What do you think is behind it? Have you found other stats like this in the survey that surprised you?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Demand-based parking meters in San Fran

San Francisco plans to install 8,300 wireless parking sensors this summer, launching a system by which the price to park will be based on the demand for spots. The goal of the pilot project, mainly funded by the federal government, is to even out parking availability, thereby reducing the need to circle while driving and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In 2007, San Francisco launched a pilot program that allowed drivers to pay for their spots with their cell phones rather than coins.

What do you think of this idea? Will your firm be involved? Will you try to adapt the idea elsewhere?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Growth on the horizon?

The Architecture Billings Index, the monthly gauge of design activity by the American Institute of Architects (AIA), in April reached its highest level since the economic recession began in late 2008, jumping from 46.1 in March to 48.4.
While the latest figure still reflects a decline in activity because it’s below 50, AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker calls this month’s jump—and the other associated measures that team with the ABI—“pretty encouraging overall.”

“It looks to me like we’re getting closer to the bottom and things are gradually getting better,” he tells The Board Room in an exclusive interview. “It’s one more step down the road. We’re starting to see some of the pieces show up a little healthier.”

Interestingly, one of those healthy pieces is the commercial/industrial sector, which is up from 46.4 in March to 48.5 in April. That's surprising giving the recent prediction by one congressman of a "tsunami in the sector." The residential sector, on the other hand, dropped from 47.6 to 45.8, the second straight month it’s fallen.

Overall, Baker is confident that the industry as a whole will see brighter days ahead, but he doesn’t expect the bounce-back to happen as quickly as the downturn.

“The steep decline is usually pretty typical in these cycles, but we don’t always see that on the upturn,” he says. “For most firms, it’s just marginally better. It’s about more firms seeing growth than decline. At this stage, when things are moving up, it doesn’t rocket off too quickly. I don’t think the profession is going to feel a big difference when the number finally does get over 50. That will probably take a few quarters.”

For more about the Architecture Billings Index, check out the May 24 issue of The Zweig Letter.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Bottled-up creativity?

Just a reminder: We're still taking entries for our second contest here in The Board Room. It's inspired by a building in Taiwan made entirely from recycled plastic bottles. We want to see your take on that, whether it's using popsicle sticks like in kindergarten or other materials around the office that might have otherwise been tossed in the recycle bin, or the trah can. We'd love to see as many entries as possible by Memorial Day! The winner will win a time-management clock that tells everyone how much time you're wasting in meetings.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Let's make a deal!

Our Financial Advisory Services group says the number of transactions so far in 2010 have been well below the norm. We run a list of recent transactions every month in AEC Finance News and have certainly noticed those lists are shorter than they've been before. There are a variety of theories about why that could be, ranging from the credit crunch to the idea that sellers are holding out for pre-recession prices on their post-recession firms.

What do you think? What have you seen in your buying and selling work? How has the market changed? Do you expect the pace to pick up again later in 2010? In 2011? 2012? Beyond?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Bridges, roads in better shape?

A new report from the U.S. Department of Transportation suggests that more of the country's roads and bridges are in good shape than a decade ago, a premise that runs counter to the commonly held belief that our infrastructure is crumbling. About 57% of this nation's roads have "good ride quality," according to the report, up from 46% in 2000. That still leaves almost half of our roads with less that good ride quality, though, so there's plenty of room for improvement.

What do you think about this report? Is your firm involved in any road or bridge improvement projects?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Don’t accept second place

Steven W. Smith, president and managing director of WSP SELLS (Briarcliff Manor, NY), a 250-person transportation and infrastructure firm, has previously wrriten in this space about firm leaders setting the tone and riding out the economic downturn. Today, he checks in with advice on winning more work:
"If you have been in this business long enough, you soon realize that you cannot win every project. In September 2009, we identified four large projects as key targets and important to win. We were fortunate to win two of those four projects and came in second on the other two. With that said, there is nothing I hate more than hearing from one of our managers we came in second, even though we did all we could do. There is no consolation prize for second place. No salaries are paid, no overhead is covered, and no profit is made!

"There is nothing worse than coming in second, no matter how many firms submitted on a project. This is especially true when it is a quality-based selection. If you come that close to victory, there is something you did not do that could have placed you over the top.

"A perfect example of this is a project we recently pursued with a $4 million fee. WSP SELLS had performed all of the studies leading up to the solicitation for final design. According to our staff, the client loved our studies and it was ours to win. We made it to the shortlist of five and the presentation stage of three firms, and then lost to a key competitor. If you asked our staff what more we could have done, they were hard-pressed to provide an answer. I knew there was a reason and upon further questioning of a key client contact, we found the answer. Our worthy competitor evaluated our studies, and proposed the exact opposite, larger-scale solution that the client said they did not want during the preliminary study phase. They took the one approach that we assumed the client had discarded earlier and beat us with it; by convincing the client they were wrong in discarding it.

"Moral of the story: second place is simply getting beat by someone thinking harder than you!"

What do you think about this? Do you feel the same way about your firm finishing second?