JBA Consulting Engineers is one of the many architecture and engineering firms facing less work and profit than in previous years, before the economic slide. JBA, which is based in Las Vegas and has domestic offices in Denver, New Orleans, and Anaheim, Calif., is set apart from many other firms by how the firm’s management has already mitigated the effects of the downturn on its employees and how it’s planning for the future.
Planning ahead even from its founding in 1966, JBA grew from a regionally focused engineering firm that worked primarily on complex Las Vegas entertainment and hospitality projects into a multidisciplinary, diversified national firm by the ’90s, with expertise in airport terminals, commercial high-rise buildings, hospitals, universities, government centers, and world-class resorts.
Over the last five years, JBA’s management has pursued an aggressive strategy of international expansion, opening offices in Macau, China, and Abu Dhabi and Dubai, UAE, as well as Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, just two months ago. Realizing that the Las Vegas market would not always stay hot forever, JBA’s principals set out to open these international offices not only to tap the lucrative Middle East and Asian markets, but also to keep their U.S.-based employees working steadily. In late 2008 JBA did just that, moving seven employees from Las Vegas to other offices where there was more work.
Even with this quite prescient strategy, though, the firm still found itself among the many that had to lay off employees; in early 2009, 26 of its 171 employees had to be let go. JBA’s human resources department provided résumé writing assistance, and supervisors prepared letters of recommendation for each of the employees marked for layoff. Two of these employees were placed at other firms—one at a competitor, one at a client—thanks to calls from managers and directors at JBA.
JBA also created a severance formula that ensured that even employees with less than six months’ tenure would receive three weeks of regular pay as severance. The firm also made a commitment to bring back any of those employees before bringing in new hires. One of the 26 employees has already been rehired and transferred from the Las Vegas office to the New Orleans office.
Despite the one-time reduction in staff, morale has remained high at JBA throughout the downturn. One of the reasons is the firm has continued its “No Door Policy,” which encourages employees to share ideas with the management team, led by the firm’s president, Dwayne Miller, PE, and CEO Ed Butera, PE. All of the firm’s directors have centrally located cubicles in their office’s open plan; each space is no bigger than that of any other employee’s, and they are committed to being accessible to employees.
One employee suggestion that has been implemented led to an increase in the firm’s training budget to $2,600 per employee in order to meet JBA’s Revit adoption initiative. Twenty-seven drafters, designers, and engineers have been trained to date, and JBA is creating its own A/V, acoustics, and fire protection Revit families and objects. Based on employee suggestions, JBA has begun a program to market its Revit content to other engineering firms that don’t have the training to build objects in-house.
In 2009 two employees from the Las Vegas office received their bachelor’s degrees from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, after utilizing JBA’s tuition reimbursement program. The reimbursement program funded 100% of the cost of their education, a total of $19,393. JBA also pays for all employees’ continuing education units and professional conferences.
Finally, JBA is diversifying its business to focus on energy modeling and energy audits of existing buildings. In addition to energy modeling software, the firm also purchased Star CCM, a $20,000 computational fluid dynamics program to calculate energy needs and planning for data centers and other energy-intensive building types. The first building JBA audited for LEED-EB was its own Las Vegas headquarters. The project embodied the firm’s core belief: “Beginning with the end in mind.” —Jeff Yoders, Senior Associate Editor