TZL 932

THE ZWEIG LETTER | OCTOBER 24, 2011, ISSUE 932

T R E N D S

Driving forward; eye in the rearview

Three firms, three assessments ‘post-recession’.

vides water, wastewa- ter and storm water engineering consult- ing services primarily for municipalities and public agencies in Cali- fornia and Oregon. “The current empha- sis of our clients is not on expansion, but rath- er on renewal and re- placement of facilities,” Cantrall says. “We have maintained our work-

2011) than in the last two years,” De- walt says. “They are for major projects that are funded and not dependent on banks. We are hiring. In the past month, we have hired four architectur- al staff and are currently interviewing for three additional positions.” Anything else? “Some firms have been decimated or have closed in the last three years. We have had only a small downsizing,” Dewalt says. “This is mainly due to the fact that our firm is diverse in project type and geographi- cal location. We sell and design big and small projects – retail, institutional, corporate, etc. We choose not to fo- cus on one project type and become an expertise-driven practice. We are also a national firm. Our main office is in Chicago and we have a small group (10 staff) in Palo Alto. With the two offices, we are a day trip from any city in the U.S. As a result, we are currently work- ing in 10 different states.” Firm: Steven Schaefer Associates, Inc. (Cincinnati, OH)

By Bryan Sullivan Correspondent W ith 14 million people in the United States unemployed, the data looks bleak for most industries. The U. S. Department of Labor reports that the number of long-term unem- ployed is as high as it’s been since the data was first collected in 1948. “Long-term unemployed” is defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as those people who have been out of work for 27 weeks or more. As of Au- gust 2011, that number was six mil- lion; this accounts for around 42.9 per- cent of the total unemployed. It was this alarming data that prompt- ed The Zweig Letter to survey three firms to see how they are faring these tough economic times. Fidings follow: Firm: West Yost Associates (Davis, CA)

Carola Cantrall, HR Manager, West Yost Associates.

load to keep current staff busy through concerted marketing efforts. We don’t anticipate making any significant hires in the next year, other than possibly a senior-level engineer or two to aug- ment and eventually replace staff who plan to transition into retirement. Be- fore the end of the year, we may hire an entry-level engineer in one or two offic- es to support more senior staff.” Anything else? “We have not gained business through any of the stimulus funds, but have continued to provide excellent service to our current clients, resulting in some follow-on work, although most clients are facing severe budget restraints and are not necessarily going forward with even the work that they have already award- ed us,” Cantrall says. “We’ve been successful in gaining a number of new clients over the past two and a half years, which has served to diversify our client base and has helped us to continue to be profitable and successful.”

Employees in 2008: 61 Current employees: 50

Employees in 2008: 114 Current employees: 90

Types of reductions due to the slowdown? “From a staffing perspective, we had layoffs,” says Sally Wehrman, HR manager. “In 2010, the firm made a strategic decision to keep remaining talent intact and instead re- duced work hours across the board, rather than make staff eliminations.” Signs of growth? “We have maintained a recruiting philosophy to hire key talent as an investment, re- gardless of economic conditions,” Weh- rman says. “We have a strategic plan for growth and continue to secure talent for our future. In response to the continued state of the economy, we recently creat- ed a new position and hired a business development leader to help increase revenue opportunities. We have grown 10 percent in 2011 compared to 2010 and expect a similar level of growth in 2012.”

Types of reductions due to the slowdown? February 2009 – layoff of 11 professional and support staff; January 2010 – layoff of eight professional and support staff; reduced hours for eight staff; December, 2010 – announced the closing of the Portland, Ore., office and offered staff a move to other offices. According to Carola Can- trall, HR manager, these reductions naturally resulted in merging some po- sitions. Some employees work longer hours depending on their project work- loads. “We have continued to encourage uti- lization of the 9/80 option for our ex- empt staff (if their workload allows it) to provide for time to reenergize over long weekends,” Cantrall says. “In- creased marketing efforts have result- ed in much heavier workloads and lon- ger hours for senior staff.”

Firm: Valerio Dewalt Train Associates, Inc. (Chicago, IL)

Employees in 2008: 50 Current employees: 42

Types of reductions due to the slowdown? “We had one staff reduction that cut off a ‘side’ of the pyr- amid – not just staff cuts to junior ar- chitects. We cut a principal and asso- ciate as well as other staff,” says Mark Dewalt, founding partner. Signs of growth? “We have more opportunities this month (September,

Signs of growth? West Yost pro-

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