Engineering Inc. - March/April 2015 - (Page 46)

Guest Column B y J a y W o lv e r t o n Land Development Eyes Recovery from Recession Hangover W e all remember "the good old days" of the early 2000s, when the economy was growing and engineers were riding the development wave. Then, in 2007, the wave crashed, and we've been slowly crawling back to sea level again. When things were good, they were really, really good: Builders and developers were building, land development engineers had plenty of work, and we were all busy, filling our days with work and profits. But when things were bad, they were really bad. The Great Recession that lasted from 2007 to (officially) 2010 hit the land development industry hard. With the downturn, many firms closed, consolidated or just disappeared overnight, leaving engineers without jobs and projects incomplete. Clients also disappeared or stopped work. The industry seemed to grind to a halt. Jay Wolverton In 2011 and 2012, as the Great Recession began to wane, we woke up with a terrible hangover-the world was cloudy and we were not completely ourselves as we grappled to figure out how to maneuver in this new, different and unsteady world. Many of those who were laid off as the recession hit started their own firms, creating more competition for less work and with fees that were more competitive. Clients were taking fewer risks, had fewer new projects to win and were tightening operations to meet the new demands of development. Though we now partner with our clients more than ever, it's a challenge to get them to spend money. We are finding our ground in the "new world," figuring out how the new marketplace works and how we go about doing business, while still wiping off the dust from the collapse. The industry looks different than it did three decades ago when I started out, and we are still learning the ropes in this new environment. 46 ENGINEERING INC. maRCh / apRIl 2015 Challenges in the New World Those ropes include changes in the workforce and the way we support our clients. We have learned to maneuver in this new world through experience and a network of peers willing to share information. Challenge 1: We have a significant lack of talent. "The lost generation," as Michael Unger of Manhard Consulting in Centennial, Colo., calls them, are the engineers who were finishing school just as the recession hit. "It's the three-to-seven-year graduates-the ones who would have graduated in 2008 to 2011-that we are missing. We have lost a generation of engineers who have gone on to do other things because there was little to no engineering work to do," Unger says. More time and resources are being spent on training young engineers and bringing them up to speed, especially as technology changes at an ever-increasing pace. However, this younger generation of engineers is eager to learn, willing to adapt and coming into an industry that they will help define. Challenge 2: The role of the project manager is significantly different than before. Though spending less, clients often ask for so much more than before. We are playing a program manager role, overseeing all aspects of the job instead of just doing the engineering work. We serve as the link between the owner and the developer, oftentimes setting up their connection and creating the deal. We serve as counsel not only to the owner, but to the broker, the developer, the attorney, the architect, and on and on. Therefore, the job description for a project manager in today's land development arena has drastically changed. We are now client liaisons and partners instead of just technical engineers. Even though the Great Recession officially ended more than four years ago, we are still recovering-that's what you'll hear many in the land development industry say. The hangover, while fading, is still throbbing in the background. But we are tackling the challenges directly, creating networks and training programs, sharing information with one another and molding the industry into something that is just as profitable and good as before. With our hard work, one day soon we will wake up to find the hangover is gone. On that day, we will be focused and our goals will be clear because we will have built the skills, talent and technology to move the land development industry forward. Jerry C. (Jay) Wolverton Jr. is CEO of Wolverton & Associates, Inc., in Duluth, Ga. He also is chairman of ACEC's Land Development Coalition's Publications Committee.

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Engineering Inc. - March/April 2015

Engineering Inc. - March/April 2015
From ACEC to You
Market Watch
Legislative Action
Senator Orrin Hatch
Breaking the Mold
App to Order
Making a Quality-of-Life Difference
Leading the Pac
2015 Annual Convention Preview
Guest Column
Business Insights
Members in the News
Mergers and Acquisitions

Engineering Inc. - March/April 2015