Archive for the ‘Business Help’ Category

Highway Trust Fund reauthorization in limbo

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

On December 19, President Obama signed a third extension of the Highway Trust Fund legislation that would otherwise have expired on September 30, 2009. The latest extension is through February 2010.

This is the same exercise the legislative and executive branches go through every time federal surface transportation funding comes up for reauthorization. That we’re used to it now doesn’t make it any less painful or troublesome to the industry.

In my recent report, PSMJ’s 2010 AEC Firm U.S. Market Sector Forecast, I noted in the chapter entitled “10 Issues Likely to Affect Your Firm in 2010” that the reauthorization issue was also on the list in the 2009 edition, adding, “[Let’s] hope it doesn’t make the list next year as well.”

Here is an excerpt from that section of the PSMJ Forecast:

[Last fall,] Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minnesota) attempted to pass a $500 billion, six-year transportation plan that was eventually set aside amid the health care and climate change debates.

[Immediate Past President of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE)] Wayne Klotz says the reauthorization issue is critical for firms across the industry, even those not in transportation, as its effects reverberate throughout the AEC professions.

“If they let the legislation expire and pass a continuing resolution, as they did at the end of the last bill, people will lose their jobs all around the country,” says Klotz. “It happened last time. That’s why we’re making such a strong push to get this done.”

A lack of authorizing legislation could handcuff departments of transportation, forcing them to delay work on large, long-term projects. “Under our own state laws, DOTs can’t commit to a project unless they can show a revenue stream to fund it,” Klotz says.

The length of the delay will make a big difference in its impact on the industry, Klotz adds. “If they negotiate and can come up with something in March or April, that’s one thing,” he says. “But if it gets tied up in mid-term elections and shoved out until 2011, that’s a horse of a different color.”

Which is it going to be? Klotz says he has no idea. But, he says, the industry can’t even maintain the current, insufficient level of activity without a transportation funding mechanism in place.

Predictably, other AEC industry organizations are lining up to support passage of the new legislation. In a position paper, the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) (Washington, DC) says, “While ACEC supported the investments for transportation in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, that funding has largely been directed to simple resurfacing projects, and much more needs to be done to address the serious backlog of more significant improvement projects.”

ACEC says that a new surface transportation bill, with dramatically increased multi-year funding guarantees, is necessary to allow states to invest in major design and construction projects.

The group cites a National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study that says a minimum $225 billion in annual investment from all sources (including federal, state and local) for the next 50 years is necessary to upgrade existing systems to a state of good repair and create a more advanced surface transportation system. “The U.S. currently invests $85 billion annually from all levels of government, less than 40 percent of what is necessary,” ACEC says.

Oberstar’s bill would be a step in the right direction, but it won’t be an easy fight. For the transportation industry’s sake, we hope it won’t be a long one either.

Merrick & Company profiled on AEBL.org

Monday, September 28th, 2009

Merrick & Company is a 500-person full-service engineering, architecture, design-build, surveying, and geospatial solutions firm. Approaching its 55th year in business, the firm is a consistent presence among Engineering News-Record’s 500 Top Design Firms (147th in 2009). In fiscal year 2009 (ending March 31, 2009), its net revenue topped $100 million, reflecting a 20% year-over-year growth.

In an economic climate in which A/E firms are cutting staff and losing market share, Merrick has added nearly 150 people in the past 18 months with 25 more positions currently advertised. In sharing his thoughts about the company’s success and his 30-year affiliation with AEBL, Merrick Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer David Sprenkle says, “We refuse to participate in the recession.”

For more about this member of the Association of A/E Business Leaders, go to www.aebl.org.

“Selection Success!” should have a spot in your AEC firm library

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

“Selection Success!” by Lori Stanley and Hilari Weinstein, is a thorough primer on the science and art of winning a qualifications-based selection (QBS) process. As with many of the “how-to” books you’ll find in our industry, the book offers its highest value to the novice, walking the reader through the fundamentals of submitting a statement of qualifications (SOQ), preparing and delivering a presentation, and shining in the interview. Yet, it also provides sparks of ideas and inspiration for even AEC firm veterans.

The authors, as expected, are industry veterans themselves. Stanley spent nearly two decades in the contracts administration section for the City of Phoenix prior to beginning her own consulting company, Selection Solutions Consulting. Weinstein, the principal of High Impact Consulting, is a speaking and presentation coach who writes for Southwest Construction magazine and serves on the American Council of Engineering Companies’ Leadership in Engineering Administration Program.

Writing in “Selection Success!” is crisp, clean and to the point. The authors also provide a useful notes section at the end of each chapter.

The book delivers solid advice on the go/no-go process…in particular, discouraging firms from submitting when they aren’t qualified to do so. It also offers excellent recommendations on how to develop a winning SOQ. A highlight in this section is the suggestion to use matrices to illustrate qualifications, both project and personnel, in the SOQ text.

A few things that may have added to the value in these areas — a more in-depth look at how different industry firms arrive at go/no-go decisions and a discussion of the distinction between requests for qualifications and requests for proposals.

The chapters on visual aids, rehearsing and presentation delivery are the sweet spot of “Selection Success!” In these three chapters, the authors’ true expertise comes out. Stanley and Weinstein impart concrete tips, in rapid fire, that range from the simple things we know but often forget to time-tested secrets of the speaking/presenting trade (e.g., control the audience’s gaze, keep an open stance).

I also like the way the book spends considerable time discussing the need to rehearse for presentations, debunking the usual excuses that team members consistently employ — excuses many of us have used.

A personal presentation pet peeve that isn’t addressed head-on in “Selection Success!” is the tendency of firms to rely on technological tools over strong content in presentations. I’m reminded of a recent municipal project in which the owner brought in all six applicants to present. The winning firm was the only one that didn’t use PowerPoint slides.

But that is nitpicking. “Selection Success!” should be in the libraries of most AEC firms, bottom line. You can find it on amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. Published by Mill City Press, it is also available at www.selectionsuccess.com and lists for $44.95.