Speaking at the ACEC Fall Convention

July 30th, 2017

I recently received confirmation that I will be speaking at the 2017 ACEC Fall Conference in Orlando. The Presentation is titled “Top AEC Markets: Sectors, Strategies & Trends for 2018.” The 75-minute talk is scheduled for 10 am on Wednesday, October 18, 2017.

The presentation is based on the results from the in-progress market research publication, “The 2018-2020 Guide to the U.S. AEC Markets,” which is due to be released in October.

ACEC’s 2017 Fall Conference is at Hilton Bonnet Creek & Waldorf Astoria.

The Mysterious World of Wikipedia

February 1st, 2017

From almost its first published article, Wikipedia has been derided as an unreliable, almost laughable source of information. And why not? When the whole world is the editor, how can you have confidence in the veracity of its content?

Personally, as a writer and researcher, I’ve always found Wikipedia to be a valuable, user-friendly source. The key to using it effectively, though, is not to take what’s written in the article text at face value. Every significant fact in a Wikipedia article should be (but often isn’t) supported by a citation or reference of some kind. Without this safeguard in place, “fact” can very quickly become opinion (or worse, falsehood).

For me, Wikipedia is less a source and more a portal to references that often shed significantly more light on the subject. To use Wikipedia correctly as an information source, you need to take this extra step.

For firms with a Wikipedia page, there is some benefit in that these pages tend to appear high in search listings. But the roster of architecture and engineering firms with a Wikipedia page, compared with those lacking one, is as arbitrary as it is confusing. Fairness and logic, at least as it currently stands, are absent from the process.

My life as a Wikipedia editor

I have long been intrigued by the idea of editing content on Wikipedia. Actively participating, with the ability to fix mistakes and add depth to online articles, is an appealing opportunity. So, partly driven by the notable absence of an article on a company that I thought deserved one, I joined Wikipedia as an editor in the summer of 2016.

The subject engineering firm is entitled to a Wikipedia page as much or more than dozens of others I’ve found in the online encyclopedia. It is a mid-sized, independent firm that has been in business for over a century and has worked on many of the most notable and recognizable buildings in the world. Like a lot of engineering firms, they’ve never been big on self-promotion, so they’re far from a household name outside of their niche markets.

Soon I hurtled into the world of Wikipedia like I never expected. I’ve learned a lot, some of which I share here.

Publishing standards are far more stringent than they used to be. In crafting my first article, I relied as a guide on other articles published about similar firms. This was a mistake because the standards for publication have risen substantially in recent years. The other pages I consulted list awards, key individuals and milestones, so I did as well. Many sites also included clearly promotional content such as logos, flowery marketing language and detailed stories of professional success, which I did not. (I wonder how one would even get a company’s logo if it weren’t provided with permission directly by the company itself, which I assume is taboo. This kind of hypocrisy is rampant on the site.) If you find an article in Wikipedia that clearly promotes the company in the same way its website does – often using exactly the same cut-and-paste language – check its history page. You’re almost sure to find that it was originally published five or more years ago.

Wiki administrators guard fiercely against conflicts of interest and the default is apparently NOT to give the benefit of the doubt. My level of caution in trying to avoid marketing-like content wasn’t nearly enough. I wrote my article in a draft site and, after several weeks of occasional writing, researching, editing and referencing, felt it was ready to go live. I published it by following the online wizard and felt pretty good about it. It didn’t last three hours. One administrator made a few changes and kicked it back to draft status. This was fine because, as I know now, it really wasn’t ready for prime time. Several administrators also leaped to the conclusion that I had a conflict of interest and had somehow misled them about my intentions. This even though I clearly reported my interest in and involvement with the industry. Otherwise, how could I write with any confidence or authority about the subject? This is the most maddening part of my experience.

Less is often more. Strangely, my biggest mistake was being too thorough. I ended up with 70 references, two long tables (for projects and awards) and lengthy descriptions about the company’s achievements. I did this because I had seen it elsewhere, and also because I thought it would add credibility to the page. I had dozens of references to other Wikipedia pages, along with the independently sourced citations that supported my facts. Yet, to some editors, this “excess detail” was a red flag that they interpreted as being promotional. What I intended as verification, they saw as advertising.

They call them “articles,” but “entries” would be more accurate. At least as defined today. Wikipedia has many advisory pages that try to guide new editors through the process. However, much of it is confusing and until you leap in, you’re likely to trip up. One thing that stuck with me, though, is the admonition that Wikipedia is not journalism, but an encyclopedia. So, instead of “article,” they should say “encyclopedia entry.” It’s a subtle difference because neither should include the author’s or editors’ opinions. The distinction, as I see it, is that a journalistic article can connect the dots to reach a conclusion or summation, while an encyclopedia entry is just the facts.

Becoming an editor and doing light editing is simple; publishing a new page is not. If you can edit in Microsoft Word, you can be a Wikipedia editor. Operate in the source code or choose a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) function. But the options for publishing a new page are multiple and, at least initially, confusing. While I don’t think anyone has ever reviewed an edit I’ve made on an existing page, the first full article I tried to publish was stomped on by multiple admins within a few hours.

On some levels, Wikipedia has developed into a subculture with its own language and protocols. Wikipedia administrators communicate using myriad codes, acronyms, abbreviations and other jargon and tools. I constantly find myself having to look up a reference that I don’t recognize or understand. I often travel two or three reference pages in and still don’t understand some aspect of what’s being said. I assume this special language was developed to simplify things for editors and admins, but instead it effectively excludes the uninitiated in the same way that lawyers and politicians do with their insider talk. With this obstacle in place, it becomes impossible for newcomers to fully grasp the long-established, often shadowy set of policies and procedures that have developed over time in the Wikipedia community.

Contributing to Wikipedia has its rewards and excitement, but may not be worth it. Ultimately, Wikipedia is a fascinating, impressive and valuable resource for all of us. For years, I’ve seen – and wished I could correct – errors and out-of-date references on Wikipedia pages. Now I am perpetually logged in, so anytime I see something that should be changed, I can and do change it. For this reason, I’m glad I chose to sign up. However, it seems that the effort to prevent against conflicts of interest and blatant promotion – real or perceived – has pushed beyond the point of reasonableness to where it could easily become a detriment to the recruitment of new authors, editors and administrators. Wikipedia’s mission is to create a community project, but some currently in positions of power seem determined to limit the size of that community. Personally, where I was once excited to contribute as much and in as many ways as I can, I’m now frustrated with the process and wary of wasting more of my own time than I already have.

So how do you publish a Wikipedia page? Unfortunately, I don’t know the answer. It takes only a brief review of what is and isn’t covered by Wikipedia to see that there is no clear standard of what is worthy of publication. It is as much (or more) about when you published as it is what you publish – and, in some cases, who is doing the publishing. It is a supremely subjective process with elements of luck, timing and knowledge of the process as the primary determinants. A company may deserve an article as much or more than a peer that already has one, but this is no guarantee that it will pass muster with the Wikipedia watchdogs – especially if they sense even the remotest possibility of self-interest.

If you still want to place your article among the 5-plus million already available on English Wikipedia, here are some options:

Request a new page: Wikipedia offers the opportunity to include your proposed topic in a list of articles requesting to be written. The theory is that someone looking to contribute will pick up the idea and run with it. The truth is, there are thousands of articles on this list and absolutely no guarantee (and possibly little likelihood) that someone will randomly choose to fulfill your request. It seems that some of these pages have wallowed in the request pile for years. If you choose, you can access it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Requested_articles

Hire a freelancer to write it: You can find websites advertising freelancers who can write and publish a Wikipedia page for you. Rates vary widely – a quick look found a range from $25-$100 per hour. Based on my experience, I can only surmise that these people either have a way of surreptitiously disguising the fact that they’re being paid to contribute to Wikipedia, or they somehow know how to fly under the radar. I hate to think it’s anything more insidious than that.

Become an editor and figure it out for yourself. Based on my experience, I imagine this takes a lot of time and practice. The experience of trying to publish a page left me with more questions than answers. Maybe you’ll do better. The one thing I know for sure is that there is a lot more that I don’t know.

I’m not sure my first article will ever see the light of day and, if it doesn’t, that will be a shame. A deserving firm won’t have a Wikipedia page and I will have wasted a lot of time I really don’t have to waste. That said, this firm has operated successfully and independently for more than a century without a Wikipedia page. They probably couldn’t care less whether they have or don’t have one. And I’ve lived all but six months of my life without being a Wikipedia editor, so I suppose I could survive without it as well.

P.S. – I did publish a second article, shorter, but similarly structured and written. It is about a former employer who was acquired and is no longer a separate going concern. An admin made some minor edits, but otherwise, no problem at all. Go figure.

Market Research Words to the Wise

April 5th, 2016

My good friend and frequent collaborator Richard Friedman asked if I’d like to contribute an article to his excellent publication, The Friedman File.  The article, published today, is below. For a sample of Rich’s own Words of Wisdom, visit friedmanpartners.com.

In many AE firms, market research is a wasted activity driven by ignorance, cursed by laziness and devoid of any understanding of where its true value lies. The inevitable result is a massive gap between the promise of an intelligent market research program that helps a firm succeed and grow, and the reality of market research as it is practiced by most firms today.

We pay for expensive online services, scour the business papers and trade journals for long-range leads, hire ex-government employees to identify and harvest opportunities, sit through economic outlook presentations that may or may not relate to what we do and purchase detailed reports that give us macro views on a number of markets (some of which we care about).

We may even cobble together an RFP to retain a consultant for targeted research on a client sector or region. Then we wipe our hands, pat ourselves on the back and return to whatever it is we were doing before this unfortunate distraction drew our attention away from the things we really want to do.

What happens to all the research data we acquire through these various methods? If you’re like a lot of firms, it goes into a nicely organized, thoughtfully designed spreadsheet. And it sits. Waiting for something to happen. Forever.

So what’s the answer? Should you just forget about market research altogether?

Truthfully, if you’re investing time, money and effort into collecting market research data that you’re just going to dump into a black hole of inertia, yes. But there’s a better way.

With the help of some of history’s words of wisdom, here are three tips to ensure that your market research yields value and contributes to the bottom line.

1. “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” —Henry David Thoreau

A mid-sized engineering firm seeking to increase its success in local municipal markets recently subscribed to an online lead-generating service. Their admirable goal was to get ahead of opportunities so they could build the appropriate relationships and prepare for projects long before the RFP hit the street.

The service they selected, like most of its peers, is a wonderful tool packed with a seemingly endless supply of pertinent opportunities across all public-sector markets and service areas. It was almost more than this firm could handle.

Actually, it was more than they could handle.

You see, they had no system in place to efficiently collect, assess, absorb and disseminate the daily information downloads the system provided. After two years of very little usefulness, and over $13,000 in fees, the service was discontinued and deemed a failure.

It wasn’t the service’s fault. Without someone on staff dedicating a substantial amount of time every week to optimizing its use, it never had a chance. Even more, because this firm had not yet implemented a robust customer relationship management (CRM) system that could have allowed efficient distribution, discussion and follow-up, the campaign was doomed to fail.

2. “The only freedom (that) deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good, in our own way.” —John Stuart Mill

Another sure path to failure is assigning people to lead a market that doesn’t interest them. Turning that around, the best chance for market research to succeed is under the enthusiastic eye of a “champion” who volunteers for the role and is driven to see it through.

Developing market champions is a common goal in strategic planning, and with good reason. They are the best hope for firms pursuing any market, particularly new and emerging ones. The mistake we often make is identifying the desired market (round hole/cart) and then forcing someone in the firm to be the champion (square peg/horse).

Instead, offer a roster of viable opportunities to a controlled group within the firm, including “future leaders,” and encourage champions to step forward in a sector they’re jazzed about.

Then, when one or more do, give them the leeway and tools to ride it through. Don’t expect the 85% billable rising star Associate to lead you to a new-market promised land without shaving at least 20% off her utilization goal. You can assume some additional commitment from your new champion, but the company needs to give a little, too.

With a willing, invested leader in place, you can have confidence that the market research data you accumulate from any number of sources – including the afore-mentioned online service – will be promptly and appropriately vetted and acted upon.

3. “The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.” —Norman Vincent Peale

Whether you’re collecting client feedback data or assessing your likelihood of success in a target market, unvarnished honesty is the best policy.

In the former case, clients asked for feedback should have to struggle to give praise without some type of constructive criticism. “Keep up the good work,” is nice, but helps no one.

Instead of “Did we meet or exceed your expectations,” ask, “What could we have done better to make your project or your experience more successful?” If you want a testimonial, ask for it. Otherwise, force your client to tell you something useful, even if it’s negative. Especially if it’s negative.

In a similar vein, when reviewing market data for strategic decision-making, the career naysayer may be your most valuable asset. As long as this devil’s advocate doesn’t hijack the process and his negativity is kept in check, the exercise of countering his prophecy of doom with a logical and well-supported argument could be enlightening. Ideally, the debate either strengthens your resolve or helps you avoid a potentially devastating mistake.

The Bottom Line

Performing market research for its own sake is a fool’s errand. Before you invest an iota of time or a nickel of your operating budget on market research, consider what you’ll do with the information you receive, who’s going to do it, and how it may influence your future success. Critical to this judgment is ensuring that it is performed within the context of the firm you really are, not the firm you wish you could be. — Jerry Guerra, April 5, 2016

P3s: Trending in America

December 16th, 2015

Cottage industries are springing up around one of the hottest topics in the infrastructure business – public-private partnerships. Also known as P3s and PPPs, this project delivery method is quickly gaining steam in the United States after rapidly consuming much of the market overseas and in Canada.

During my three years with the legendary engineering company Fay, Spofford & Thorndike, we invested a lot of time, money and effort into ensuring that we didn’t let this trend pass us by. In fact, FST’s acquisition by Stantec in October was driven partly – maybe largely – by the need to have sufficient resources to capitalize on P3 opportunities.

One of FST’s recent signature projects – the study of a third crossing over the Cape Cod Canal – has been discussed as a possible P3. Other projects in FST’s wheelhouse, such as the reconstruction of sections of Route 3 South going to the Cape, are also on the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s short list of potential P3s.

Our research and insight came from a variety of sources. We were long-time subscribers to the UK-based P3 Bulletin, which delivers daily news item electronically and a monthly hard copy magazine. I personally attended the P3 Hub South Conference in Richmond, Virginia, in 2014 and the National Council for Public-Private Partnerships (NCPPP) Federal P3 Summit in Washington, D.C, in February 2015.  In July, FST’s Director of Transportation Bill Reed and I attended the P3 Connect Conference at the Westin Copley Hotel in Boston, which was also sponsored by the NCPPP. (For those who think P3s are a new phenomenon, consider that the NCPPP is celebrating its 30th year in existence.)

This investment gained us a far greater understanding of the potential, and more importantly, the reality of P3s in America. Like many trending issues, people can become intrigued with P3s before they fully understand all that they entail.

If there is anything we have learned from keeping abreast of P3 news and attending these events it’s that P3s can be an outstanding way to ensure that a needed project is financed, designed and built cost-effectively, in a reasonable time and with a high level of quality. However, as with every so-called alternative delivery method, only certain projects lend themselves to the P3 approach.

Here are some other thoughts about the state of P3s in the United States as we move toward 2016.

P3s introduce parties that engineers are not used to dealing with, even on design-build and other alternative delivery methods. The attendee list at a P3 conference is very different from most of the ones we attend in the AEC industry. It’s a far more mixed bag of companies and professions. You’ll find a much higher representation of the financial and legal professions than you would at an ACEC or APWA conference. Understanding the motivation and role of these non-traditional members of the project team is crucial for engineering firms interested in getting into the P3 game.

P3s are not only for transportation infrastructure projects. The perception that all P3s are massive highway and bridge projects ignores the fact that most P3s occurring in the United States in 2015 are vertical projects such as military barracks, dormitories, government buildings and water or wastewater facilities. One of the most innovative P3 projects currently underway is a stormwater management project for Prince George’s County in Maryland.

P3s in transportation are not all about toll roads and bridges. Another misperception is that all transportation P3s are funded by user fees (i.e., tolls).  Now, government agencies rely more on “availability payments” from traditional funding sources such as grants, loans and tax revenue to compensate the private-sector financial partner.

For example, the Port of Miami Tunnel Project, one of the country’s highest-profile P3s, uses availability payments. According to the official project site, under the concession agreement, Florida DOT will make milestone payments to the concessionaire during the construction period, upon the achievement of contractual milestones. Once the construction is complete, the department will then make availability payments to the concessionaire.  The state is paying half of the $668.5-million cost, with Dade County and the City of Miami splitting the other half. These payments will be contingent upon actual lane availability and service quality. The tunnel will be returned to FDOT at the end of the contract in October 2044.

While we still have a long way to go before P3s are as common here as they are in many other countries, state legislatures continue to pass laws that remove barriers to P3s. Interest among international companies in the U.S. P3 market is growing, to the point where Moody’s Investor Services has said that the U.S. is poised to become the largest market for P3 projects in in the world.

Why wouldn’t we? The new federal highway funding legislation passed this month is a step toward stability in that it allows state DOTs to do more and better long-term planning. However, the $305 billion in the five-year bill – about $225 billion reportedly for highways – still comes up short of all the needs. Also, the highway trust fund grows more obsolete by the day as a way to pay for transportation infrastructure improvements. Agencies at all levels will increasingly include the P3 option as they seek solutions to transportation infrastructure challenges.

Social P3s are also primed for growth. Vanessa M. Leiby, executive director of the Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Association, wrote in the March 2015 issue of Water & Wastes Digest, “The extent to which the federal government has begun encouraging and facilitating such ventures is notable. It appears P3s will play a large role in the future of water and wastewater infrastructure funding.”

As it is with many recent developments in our industry – be it technology-driven advancement such as Building Information Modeling or the latest in project financing or project delivery – P3s are outside the comfort zone of most traditional engineering companies. At FST, we chose to accept and embrace these changes with the goal of succeeding where others may have failed to even try. – Jerry Guerra, December 16, 2015

Midyear Update in SMPS Marketer

June 18th, 2013

The June 2013 issue of marketer, the journal of the Society of Marketing Professional Services (SMPS), features a midyear assessment of the AEC industry based on The JAGG Group’s latest publication, The 2013 Guide to the U.S. AEC Markets. If you’re interested in receiving a free copy of the midyear report on which the article was based, send an email to research@jagg-group.com.

Ranking 40 Markets for US AEC Firms in 2013

January 9th, 2013

The JAGG Group’s 2013 Guide to the US AEC Markets ranks this year’s outlook for 40 markets served by architecture, engineering, environmental and construction companies, supported by more than 150 pages of analysis and insight from experts, practitioners and economists. Point totals are tallied based on a weighted scale that assesses the size of the market, potential short- and long-term growth and a variety of miscellaneous factors.

1     Apartments 72
2     Natural Gas 71
3     Senior Housing 61
4     Transmission/Distribution 60
5     Health Care 58
6     Hospitality 49
7     Solid Waste 41
8     Manufacturing 40
9     Industrial/
10     Retail 38
11     Hazardous Waste 37
12     Single-Family Housing 35
13     Heavy Rail 34
14     Water Supply 33
15     Ports and Shipping 32
16     Wastewater
17     Transit 29
18     Aviation 28
19     Solar 27
20     Higher Education 26
21     Roads and Bridges 26
22     Office 24
23     Research &
24     Biopharma 22
25     Condos and Townhomes 21
26     K-12
27     Data Centers 19
28     Life Sciences 18
29     Wind* 17
30     Geothermal and Other
31     Testing &
32     Air Pollution
33     Stormwater
34     Religion 13
35     Coal 12.5
36     Amusement &
37     Government Buildings 11
38     High-Speed
39     Nuclear 7
40     Brownfield Development 5
*This table was tallied prior to the fiscal cliff deal that extended the Production Tax Credit for wind. For this reason, the wind market may have a better year in 2013 than predicted, though the threat of the PTC expiration will limit growth, especially in the long term.

For more detail about why these markets are ranked where they are, purchase The 2013 Guide to the U.S. AEC Markets by clicking on the link at the top right and paying with a credit card through our secure PayPal site. Within one business day, you will receive a pdf copy of our 270-page report to your requested email address. The Guide comes with a full money-back guarantee.

Apartments, Natural Gas, Senior Housing, Transmission/Distribution top 2013 AEC Markets

December 11th, 2012

New Report Predicts Strongest, Weakest 2013 AEC Markets

MEDIA RELEASE: December 11, 2012

Two of the top three markets identified in The JAGG Group’s 2013 Guide to the U.S. AEC Markets as the most promising of 2013 are no surprise – apartments and projects related to natural gas development have carried the industry along for months, if not years. However, the third in that group may turn a few heads.

In naming Senior Housing the third most-promising market for AEC firm work in 2013, The JAGG Group reports, “The inescapability of demographics, combined with low levels of building for a prolonged period, have brought the senior housing market back in vogue. High occupancy rates, rising home prices and lagging supply also contribute to the resurgence.”

Despite a tapering off of the market’s construction activity in the latter half of 2012, The JAGG Group’s 270-page market outlook predicts a renewed focus on investment in senior housing development in 2013. This view, while likely unexpected to some, is supported by comments from industry insiders at the annual conference of the National Investment Center (NIC) for the Seniors Housing & Care Industry in September.

Bill Kauffman, senior research analyst for NIC, told Senior Housing News, “There’s chatter about new construction and lenders being extremely busy. Talking to lenders, they say they’re very busy with underwriting new construction loans.”

Another factor that could potentially drive the industry is acquisition. More than two-thirds of senior housing and care industry executives say that mergers and acquisitions are their primary growth strategy for 2013. This could eventually lead to design and construction work on rehabs and renovations.

Fourth on The JAGG Group’s list is the transmission and distribution market, for which the comprehensive research book notes, “The high ranking is for short-term prospects in 2013, as well as longer-term possibilities through at least 2015. The needs are great and it’s not a market that can be ignored.”

In all, the newly released annual market guide ranks 40 U.S. markets served by architecture, engineering, environmental consulting and construction firms. The book also includes sections on what the results of the 2012 election mean to the industry, an update on 10 top trends in 2013, a look at international markets, and much more. 

For more information on The 2013 Guide to the U.S. AEC Markets or to purchase this strategic planning tool from the publisher, visit their blog at http://www.aecinsight.com or email to research@jagg-group.com. You can also find links to more information on Twitter @aecinsight.

Winners & Losers from Election 2012

November 14th, 2012

It’s about a week after the 2012 presidential election and we now know that voters granted President Obama a second term. In Congress, the Democrats gained a couple of seats in the Senate, while the House remained essentially status quo. The body is still split – donkeys holding the Senate and elephants hanging on to the House.

We’ve updated The Revised 2013 Guide to the U.S. AEC Markets to reflect the results, including in our section titled “Election 2012: What It Means to You” and our ranking for 40 markets and subsectors. 

The post-election question everyone is asking: What do the results mean for our industry? In a November 9 webinar sponsored by Reed Construction Data (RDC) (Norcross, GA), the consensus answer among three economists is…not much.

“People tend to over ascribe economic impacts to the president alone,” says Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) (Washington, DC). “The reality over the last several decades is that we’ve had Democratic presidents and Republican presidents who have presided over strong periods of growth and really bad recessions. So much depends not only on Congress, but the Federal Reserve and other outside influences. We would have seen, if not gridlock, a very difficult situation, for either a President Romney or a President Obama.”

RDC’s Bernie Markstein says the primary difference between Democrats and Republicans is that the former tend to spend more on social programs, while the latter tend to spend more on defense. “But it’s a leaning,” he said. “We do need to spend on things like infrastructure. We’re all a little concerned that the money won’t be forthcoming. I’m a bit of an optimist that they can get together and agree that there does need to be more spending there, but this gridlock is really frustrating.”

Markstein added that immediately after the election, all the talk was of bipartisan cooperation. That lasted “about an hour,” he joked, saying that the rhetoric quickly returned to the same old place. “So I’m hopeful, but they don’t give me a lot to hope for.”

Kermit Baker of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) (Washington, DC) said that any different approaches by the candidates would not have affected the construction industry in any significant way for several years – probably not until the term was over. “In the short run, it’s hard to make an argument that there would have been significant differences in construction activity under a Romney Administration than there will be under an Obama Administration,” said Baker.

At The JAGG Group, we wholeheartedly agree that the results of this one vote are unlikely to have a major effect on the overall industry for the next few years. However, the Obama win, combined with the looming “fiscal cliff” that threatens to smack down the recovery with a drastic jump in taxes and draconian spending cuts, may stifle economic growth in the last several weeks of 2012 as the sides attempt to settle the issue.

Most economists and political insiders believe the sides will address the issue satisfactorily. At minimum, Congress and the President will agree to extend the deadline for a period that allows for a resolution, they say. At best, they sides will compromise and avoid the fiscal cliff plummet that could bring another recession.

Despite these serious threats, and the consensus opinion that one presidential race doesn’t much influence the short-term performance of the construction industry, it would be naïve to think that there were not winners and losers among the markets served by the AEC industry when the ballots were cast and counted on November 6, 2012.

Here is our take on the winners and losers from Election 2012. We offer more detail on these and dozens of other markets in the nearly 300-page book’s Section 5 (“Election 2012: What it Means to You”), Section 6 (“Outlook for the US AEC Markets”), and Section 7 (“2013s Best & Worst Markets”).

Election Winners

High-Speed Rail. Throughout The Revised 2013 Guide to the U.S. AEC Markets, we predicted that a Romney win would have doomed the vision for a national network of high-speed rail because so many conservatives oppose HSR. Even with Obama back in office, HSR faces numerous challenges; but it at least has a pulse.

Wind and Other Alternative Energy. Obama wants to extend the production tax credit (PTC) for wind energy development; Romney said he would let it expire. The Obama win, then, is good for wind. Same goes for other alternative energy PTCs set to expire at the end of 2013.

Health Care. A qualified win. While Obamacare’s full effects remain unknown, the uncertainty over its potential repeal has waned, if not disappeared. This could spur development in the sector. States may still seek to undermine its primary principles, however.

Bicycle and Pedestrian Trails. The GOP-controlled House may still have a bullseye on the back of the bike and pedestrian trail movement, but the strong showing by Democrats in the election could ease efforts to pull back on government-funded investment in these “non-traditional” transportation projects.

Markets Driven by EPA Regulations. It is no secret that the Republicans are gunning for the EPA, but Obama’s win keeps the agency safe from all-out attack for a few more years at least.

Election Losers

Defense. As the AIA’s Baker says, a Republican would be less likely to cut military spending. The truth is, most of Obama’s intended military cuts would not affect construction – and some might actually benefit it in the long term – but the military markets may have been better off if Romney had won.

Commercial Markets. Presumably, Romney’s policies would have attempted to stimulate business growth and opportunities. This would have arguably helped drive job growth, resulting in the need for more and better office space, hotels, retail outlets, and so on. Brownfield development may also have prospered better under Romney.

Coal. With Romney in the White House, the current aggressive attempts to clean up emissions from coal-burning plants may not have been so aggressive.

If you’d like to purchase The Revised 2013 Guide to the U.S. AEC Markets, please click on the button at the top right corner of the blog home page and use your credit card on our secure PayPal site. There is a 100% money-back guarantee, so there is no risk to you.

A Book is Done; A New Challenge Begins

October 31st, 2012

On October 25, 2002, I walked into the Town Hall in Lynnfield, Massachusetts, and registered a dba business called The JAGG Group. I was not crazy about the name, but others seemed to like it so I went with it.

Ten days before the 10th anniversary of The JAGG Group, I walked into the Burlington office of 98-year-old engineering firm Fay, Spofford & Thorndike (FST) as their new Manager of Marketing and Strategic Business Development. The JAGG Group lives on, at least temporarily, to provide service to the buyers of my latest book – The 2013 Guide to the U.S. AEC Markets – and for a few remaining projects that we’re wrapping up. Otherwise, my focus is on adding what I can to the marketing and business development programs, systems and processes that have made FST such a successful and respected firm for such a long, long time.

It was not a decision I made lightly. The JAGG Group was doing well and business opportunities were picking up. We had also begun the process of writing and self-publishing another book, continuing us down the path of having a full-fledged publishing arm to go along with our consulting work.

Of course, anyone who has owned any kind of business — from a global megacorporation to a paper route — will tell you that business ownership is a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that you call your own shots, the accountability stops at you, and your time is often your own to choose when, where, how and for whom you work. These three blessings can also be curses, as can the responsibility of always being the one “carrying the water.” This is especially true in small firms like The JAGG Group.

Despite these challenges and stresses, I enjoyed what I was doing and would be still be doing it except for the opportunity that I stumbled across one day in September. I saw an ad on the Linked In business-based social media site that said it was looking for…well, me. I had applied to exactly two jobs in my 10 years in business — one because a headhunter called me and the potential to be a ground-floor investor seemed great; a second because it seemed to be similarly designed especially for me. In both cases, they wanted someone with more experience in high-tech PR (the first was an air-quality monitoring product company, the second an AEC industry software giant). I never even went for an interview.

During my initial meeting with Peter Howe, FST’s President and CEO, I quickly saw the possibilities that this position presented to me. Not only from a career standpoint, but as an opportunity to use the skills and experiences I’d gained in my 30-year professional career to contribute to the continuing and expanding success of an established firm. This time, though, it would be from the inside, as a true part of the team. It was a great fit, I thought, for me and for FST.

The thing that most intrigues me about my new position is Peter’s (and as I eventually found out, the board of directors’) outlook on what the firm does very well in marketing and business development, and where it could benefit from some changes and possibly a new perspective. In my 2-plus weeks at FST, I’ve confirmed that we have a very strong business development culture — our exceptionally talented and hard-working marketing staff produces attractive, professional and technically sound proposals at an incredible clip. Yet, there are systems and programs that we can improve to make the proposal production process even better and more efficient. Many of the firm’s engineers, planners, scientists and other technical professionals are also well in tune with the need to not only do good work and support their clients, but to look for new opportunities and projects.

FST’s marketing culture is not as advanced as its business development culture. I’m talking about what many engineers consider the “softer” side of marketing and BD — press releases and published articles, brochures and other marketing collateral, social media outreach, and so on. Our goal is to put a comprehensive, intelligent and achievable plan in place to bring the marketing culture here to the same level as the BD culture. It’s a big challenge — not only here, but in most of the engineering firms I’ve worked with in nearly 20 years in the AEC industry –and I very much look forward to tackling it with my new colleagues at FST. As I’ve said internally (and in the press release about my new position), FST has so many great stories to tell about the incredible work we’re doing; I can’t wait to start telling them.

As for the book, it took a bit longer than we’d hoped (for a variety of reasons, including the obvious one), but the good news is that it’s done. The better news is that it’s good — at least I believe it is. Readers will be the judge. My hope is that The 2013 Guide to the US AEC Markets provides sufficient insight to the people and firms who buy it to help them make smart decisions in their own planning processes — formal or otherwise — in the coming year and beyond. We offer a money-back guarantee for this reason. I’m proud to say that we’ve not yet been asked to send anyone a refund on either book we’ve published.

If you want to check it out, you can order it with a credit card by clicking on the button on the top right of the AECInsight home page. If you have any questions, email me at my JAGG Group address — jguerra@jagg-group.com — and I’ll get back to you within a day.

As for AECInsight, I plan to continue posting articles relevant to the industry, albeit with the focus of the Manager of Marketing and Strategic Business Development at FST rather than of an independent consultant. I will link it with FST’s growing social media presence, along with my own Twitter and LinkedIn accounts. We may even expand it and post more often. We’ll see.

In the interim, if you want to talk with me about FST-related matters, contact me at jguerra@fstinc.com or 781-221-1299.






Grading Our 2012 Projections

October 2nd, 2012
Market researchers like to make predictions, assigning projected growth percentages to everything from market subsectors to the global economy. Yet, how often do they look back to see how they did when the next year rolls around…especially if their prediction was off?

It’s like taking a test, but never getting a grade.

In late 2011, we ranked 26 U.S. sectors and subsectors based on their anticipated growth and activity in 2012. We did not assign projected growth rates, just a ranking, top to bottom, from the market that our data indicated would be healthiest in 2012 to the one we expected to be least healthy.

We don’t do estimated growth rates because, simply put, we think they’re all but useless and not worth the trouble. How valid is the numerical estimate from even the most competent economist when we’re talking about volatile design and construction markets in a turbulent national economy?

Even if these numbers could lay claim to some accuracy, how important is it really to the average AEC firm? Does it matter to a 50-person West Coast architecture firm if the $17 billion healthcare construction market ticks up 2.1% or 2.2%? Sure, that 0.1% is a lot of money in the big picture, but if this firm is only capable of capturing $5 to $10 million of it, there are far more important factors to consider.

All you need to do is look at the massive differences among the various prognostications to question their relevance. For example, for 2012, IHS Global Insight (Englewood, CO) called for 9.6% growth in the retail and other commercial sector for 2012 off $32 billion in 2011 spending put-in-place. Wells Fargo Financial (San Francisco, CA) predicted only a 3.6% gain on $43.4 billion in 2011 spending put-in-place. Almost a third less growth on a 35% differential in 2011 spending put-in-place. (This is according to the AIA Consensus Construction Forecast.)

Let’s face it; these things are hard to quantify. We don’t even try. (If you like these numbers, though, we do report on how others see the markets growing, though the results are often contradictory.)

Instead, we prefer to consider factors such as whether the right metrics are in place for growth in the sector, the overall economic health of a geographic area, and trends and developments in the industry. Most importantly, we want to find out and assess what owners and investors are saying, seeing and feeling about specific markets.

So let’s look back at a few of our rankings for 2012:

1. Apartments. We ranked apartments at the top of the list simply because the market was strong when others weren’t and it showed no signs of slowing. Our comment at the time was “The good times aren’t over yet for the surprisingly strong multifamily-for-rent sector.” This was especially true amid the struggles of single-family housing.

How’d we do?  The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) (Washington, DC) Multifamily Production Index rose for the eighth straight time in the second quarter of 2012. While the highest rate of activity has been concentrated in the strongest metropolitan areas, and production is far better in market-rate units than affordable, we’d be hard pressed to find a market that has done better.

2. Wastewater. “Despite a likely reduction in federal funding, the wastewater market is back near the top due to increasing demand, aging infrastructure and government mandates,” we wrote.
How’d we do? Experts say it has been flat through the first half of 2012, and we didn’t get the regulatory push we thought we might. Yet, given the intense need, growing municipal and industrial demand, and potential for catastrophe if we don’t act, we’re not conceding this one yet. At minimum, it is certainly a solid long-term market.
3. Health Care. “Not without its issues, and reform has the industry in limbo, but still good in the short term and great long term. A caveat: if the GOP wins the presidency and tries to repeal reform, the limbo could linger.”
How’d we do?  We were a little optimistic on this one, though it is still in the top tier. We’ve talked with health care design firms who experienced their first down period in years in 2011-2012. Health care construction grew only slightly through the first half of 2012, and projects continued to be delayed and canceled. It remains a good market overall, but the stagnation brought on by reform and other pressing issues held it down more than expected. On the plus side, Modern Healthcare reported that capital investment is climbing among health systems.