Engineering Inc. - March/April 2015 - (Page 46)
B y J a y W o lv e r t o n
Land Development Eyes
Recovery from Recession Hangover
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.
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
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
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
Senator Orrin Hatch
Breaking the Mold
App to Order
Making a Quality-of-Life Difference
Leading the Pac
2015 Annual Convention Preview
Members in the News
Mergers and Acquisitions
Engineering Inc. - March/April 2015