Taking advantage of a bad thing

August 2009 » Departments » COMMENT
Shanon Fauerbach, P.E.

What—€™s the up side to the poor economy? You have an opportunity to regroup, redirect, and refocus. Our CE News Exclusive, —€œSurvival guide: How to endure in spite of the economic slowdown,—€ will help get you started (see page 19).

For example, are you wondering if power and energy may be a good market for you? Check out our Q&A with industry veteran, Paul Capell, who before joining David Evans and Associates, Inc., was the managing director of engineering design for PacifiCorp, one of the West—€™s leading utilities. He has nearly 30 years of experience in transmission and distribution design and infrastructure planning. He answers the most commonly asked questions by firm leaders about this intriguing, emerging market on page 22.

Further, we share insight from firms battling the lost land development market, findings about market trends and forecasts, advice for establishing new service offerings, and lessons learned from your peers.

Besides new market sectors, I—€™m hearing that non-traditional project delivery methods and funding mechanisms are offering civil engineering firms new opportunities. For example, design-build and public-private partnerships are on the rise for civil engineering projects. Our Progressive Engineering feature, —€œDesign-build for water and wastewater infrastructure projects: Benefits of this delivery method lead to its growing popularity—€ (page 30), spotlights this growing trend. Firms without experience in design-build should consider how to team or subconsult on such projects to get in on the action.

As you see, significant coverage in this issue is given to activities firms can do to ensure survival and success. Additionally, there are internal improvements that can afford you efficiencies and cost savings, and prepare you for future, prosperous times.

For example, are your staff—€™s project design and drafting processes and techniques making the best use of your technology investment? Would training, or reconsideration of workflow, yield improvements that could help the bottom line?

Are your accounting systems and financial performance analyses working for your current needs? Is your customer relationship management system up to date? Do you have a marketing plan?

What about staff issues? Are you paying attention to workplace issues? While staff are dealing with co-workers and friends losing their jobs, benefits being cut, and other radical changes to business as usual, internal communication is key. Additionally, initiating or re-energizing programs to boost morale and develop your team—€™s skill sets may go a long way to improving things around the office. For example, Gerry Salontai, who leads the Salontai Consulting Group, discusses the merits and elements of effective mentoring programs in this month—€™s Business Q&A (page 18).

Further, you might benefit from attending this year—€™s annual Best Firm To Work For Summit (see details on page 28) in Chicago, Sept. 22-23. The educational program includes the following themes: maintaining productivity, profitability, and morale with limited resources; creating successful and financially responsible programs and processes; motivating and engaging employees in tough times; and the importance of employee/management relations.

I concur with CEO Blake Murillo of Psomas, who said the following when asked to share his advice about surviving today—€™s business climate: —€œDon—€™t bury your head in the sand and lament about the economy. Look for the opportunities that are there, even if it means you need to adapt and learn something new; learning is a part of growing.—€

Shanon Fauerbach, P.E., sfauerbach@stagnitomedia.com

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