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Six Companies to Watch

Keeping an eye on 2011’s prospects, ENR New York highlights six firms that are poised to make big moves

By Bruce Buckley, Tom Stabile and Debra Wood

Regular readers of Engineering News-Record are familiar with the big names in the construction industry that lead off our annual “Top” lists of firms ranked by revenue. But size is no guarantee of success. The industry’s largest firms haven’t been immune from the global economic downturn. Between 2008 and 2009, ENR’s Top 400 Contractors, as a group, saw a 14.1% drop in revenue. Only nine of the top 100 firms on that list saw their revenue increase in 2009.

When times are good, it is almost expected that well-established firms will reap positive returns; it’s when the market presents significant challenges that companies prove their mettle.

In that spirit, ENR New York features its first-ever “Six Companies to Watch” list.

The firms spotlighted here—representing owners, general contractors, specialty contractors, architects, engineers and product manufacturers—have all made moves to strengthen their positions in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut in 2011.

Three of these companies made major acquisitions recently to help them diversify their offerings and create operational efficiencies. Structure Tone and Donaldson Interiors are both well-established firms in the tenant improvement and renovation sectors, areas that have held up relatively well through the recession, analysts say. Extell Development finds itself as one of the only developers in the New York-metro area with the financial resources to move forward with major towers. ThinkEco, a new player in the market, is poised to capitalize on the growing green movement.

In these turbulent times, it is not a given that these firms will rise above the rest in 2011, but all have positioned themselves as ones to watch.

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Merger with EE&K adds significant urban master-planning capabilities
Following the merger of Perkins Eastman and Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn (EE&K) in late 2010, the combined 600-employee New York-based firm aims to integrate its core strengths and expand its presence regionally, nationally and globally.

The two firms complement each other’s talents. EE&K boasts a portfolio rich with urban mixed-use projects, while Perkins Eastman’s work includes an expansive collection of building design in the education, residential, health-care, senior living, corporate interiors, cultural, public buildings, retail and office sectors.

Principal Stan Eckstut says EE&K’s goal with mixed-use work has been to get involved with early planning and continue through completion of as many buildings and as much public infrastructure as possible.

“We found ourselves needing more capacity,” he says, noting that the firm often relied on project-by-project partnerships. “We felt we needed more in-house capacity and more building-type expertise.”

Perkins Eastman has its own master planning practice and is working on the 1.8-million-sq-ft Flushing Commons mixed-use project in Queens. The project creates a new town square surrounded by condominiums, retail and commercial space, medical office space, a YMCA and a multilevel underground parking garage. The addition of EE&K will increase the firm’s ability to take on more urban planning work.

“It has not, frankly, been as much of our U.S. practice as we would like, and we saw EE&K bringing greater strength in that area,” says principal Bradford Perkins. “We had all of the building types, which we do a lot of, but not so much the combination.”

Both firms have an international presence as well, with practices in more than 30 countries. “[The international business] has been critical to getting through the recession,” says Perkins, adding that the firm found EE&K’s experience in China and Vietnam attractive.

Perkins says the merger with EE&K fits the firm’s plan to diversify its practice through the recession. “We’re optimistic about 2011,” he adds.

"Six Companies To Watch," ENR News, February 11, 2011

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