2019 outlook: Firms not betting on another record-setting year

Despite the positive indicators for the market, AEC professionals remain largely cautious when it comes to growth prospects for 2019.

January 07, 2019 |
Building under construction and by cranes

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Coming off a record-setting year for the nonresidential construction industry (more than $760 billion was spent on new construction and renovation work nationwide last year), AEC firm leaders should be brimming with confidence over the growth potential for their firms heading into 2019. The arrow is pointing up for nearly all building sectors, construction backlogs remain healthy, and architecture firms continue to see strong demand for their design services, according to AIA and ABC data.

Yet despite the positive indicators for the market, AEC professionals remain largely cautious when it comes to growth prospects for 2019. In October, BD+C surveyed 314 readers about their thoughts on a variety of issues: materials prices, bid prices, obstacles to growth, emerging opportunities, etc. Only slightly more than half (56.0%) of industry professionals expect higher revenue for their firm in 2018 compared to last year. More surprisingly, 13.4% are forecasting a decrease in revenue.

And their forecast for 2019 isn’t much rosier: 54.7% expect revenue to increase, 8.7% call for a drop, and 36.7% predict flat revenue this year. This is a markedly different sentiment than last year’s respondents, who were much more upbeat with their forecasts for the upcoming year: 62.0% predicted revenue to rise and only 6.1% called for it to drop.

When asked about their top concerns for 2019, the largest number of respondents cited “general economic conditions” (52.7%) as a key issue, followed by “competition from other firms” (41.0%) and “price increases in materials and services” (39.0%). In fact, nearly 90% of respondents anticipate construction materials prices to rise in 2019. That’s up from 86% in last year’s survey of BD+C readers.

 

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To help keep their project pipelines full through 2019, AEC firms are focusing on a number of business development strategies heading into this year. Selective hires (44.1%) and marketing/public relations efforts (42.2%) top the list, followed by investments in technology (39.0%), staff training/education (35.9%), and new services/business opportunities (29.2%).

Healthcare facilities and multifamily housing head the list of the hottest sectors heading into 2019, according to survey respondents. More than half (52.5%) indicated that the prospects for healthcare/hospital work were either “excellent” or “good” for 2019; 52.4% said the same for multifamily housing work. Other strong building sectors: senior/assisted living facilities (51.9%), office interiors/fitouts (46.9%), industrial/warehouse buildings (42.7%), hotel/hospitality developments (39.7%), university facilities (38.2%), government/military buildings (37.5%), and office buildings (37.4).

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