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Architecture & Engineering Firms

A&E Outlook: Gain a Competitive Edge in 2022

Posted on January 24, 2022 by

Kevin Johns

Kevin Johns

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A&E firms have faced a flurry of changes in the past few years. From tax laws to workforce trends to coronavirus impacts, leaders must manage increasing amounts of uncertainty. To gain some clarity, we spoke to Jamie Claire Kiser – a managing principal at Zweig Group – about trends affecting the A&E industry.

Where the A&E industry stands in 2022

In recent years, an economic growth cycle drove record backlogs while increasing profitability. Before COVID-19 there was a 10-year high, and by the end of last year metrics were back where they were, if not better, according to Kiser.

Demand for A&E services is high with a stable outlook into the future. To successfully capture and deliver that work, industry leaders need to look more closely at their operations.

Here are some of the key factors to watch in 2022:

  • Private equity participation is on the rise, shifting focus from revenue to cash flow
  • Higher valuations are attracting more merger and acquisition suitors
  • Inflation is triggering adjustments in contracts, sales, and supplier relationships
  • Pending tax changes are driving a higher pace of transaction activity and deal urgency
  • Federal contracts through the infrastructure bill will influence backlog

A&E staffing considerations for 2022

Referring back to the economic drivers, there’s only so much cost containment you can do. At some point you have to focus on how to keep your people and compete for top talent. In the year ahead, many firms will need to address the human side of the business. Concentration of ownership and a pipeline of younger talent are big concerns.

  • 80% of A&E firm equity is held by the 55 and up age group (Zweig Group research)
  • Moving ownership into lower levels of the organization helps maintain control for pursuing an internal ownership transition strategy
  • Bigger backlogs lose meaning without the talent needed to deliver the work
  • New graduates need to be sold on the lifetime value of an A&E career path
  • Private equity is also influencing DE&I awareness

2022 risk factors for A&E firms to consider

Industry drivers in 2022 and beyond will force owners and leaders to understand their businesses much more intimately. While 2022 generally looks good for growth, firms should be aware of these potential growth barriers and how to manage them:

  • Failure to pursue proportional lines of credit to support growth
  • Chasing new work at the expense of invoicing and a healthy go/no go process
  • Missing out on first-mover advantages in new construction technology and materials
  • Lack of resource and inflation planning on long-term, multi-year contracts
  • Inattention to potential tax basis changes in the jurisdictions where they operate

Despite the uncertainty and impact caused by potential tax law changes, inflation, and the pandemic, forecasts are strong overall for the A&E industry for 2022. With increasing demand for A&E services, it’s crucial owners look more closely at their operations and prioritize the development and growth of their teams in order to succeed in the ever-changing marketplace.

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Contact us to discuss the trends we’ve covered here as well as tax planning, succession planning, and the overall financial health of your A&E firm.

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Kevin Johns

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Kevin leads the firm's architecture & engineering group, helping entrepreneurial owners build a better blueprint for growth.

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