Writer: Max Crampton-Thomas
2 min read August 2021 — ‘The combined firm brings a diversity of work,” Bill Clark, principal of SSOE | Stevens & Wilkinson, told Invest: while explaining the significance of the finalization of the merger between the two firms in late 2020. In Atlanta, taking advantage of the greater supply of resources while also continuing to deliver great quality projects is the task at hand for the recently combined firm.
The SSOE-Stevens & Wilkinson merger was finalized at the end of 2020. What does this mean for Atlanta and the group?
We have been very excited about combining SSOE with Stevens & Wilkinson. SSOE did not have a presence beyond Alabama and was really looking for an anchor in the Southeast, especially in the growth corridors. SSOE brings diversity and is a growing market-setter. We have been very successful with the growing industrial and healthcare sectors. In today’s world, industrial manufacturing is generating changes in our entire economy and we see great potential. We designed the new Supreme and Appeals Courthouse for the state of Georgia, and we have designed many of the courthouses in the state of South Carolina in the last 10 years. The combined firm really brings a diversity of work. In Atlanta, the task is to take advantage of the greater resources to continue delivering on the great quality we always provide.
What were some of the challenges the firm faced during the pandemic?
Separation has been a challenge, particularly when the virus descended last year. I think our employees worked well remotely, although a few continued to come into the office. There was a lot of efficiency in remote work and, fortunately, we had a strong backlog. We had one of the best years in our history. People became more focused against the backdrop of a more difficult environment. We were always set up for remote work, so the transition was not a problem for us. The good news is that we are mostly back to work in the Atlanta office, but we are giving employees total flexibility, whether they are dealing with young kids, family issues or health issues. I think this will be the future and I have become convinced by this new reality.
What are the latest design trends impacting projects you are working on?
From our experience in HVAC systems, we know there is a wide variety of things we can do to improve air quality. We are putting all those things into action right now. We are being hired by school systems and corporate clients that have a host of buildings that need to be retrofitted. We’re able to present four or five different options with their own virtues. From an interior design point of view, I think we’ll continue to see a variety of workspaces, including a return of the trends that we saw 10 years ago. There will be more small offices and in large office spaces there will be more screening. The main goal will be to have a variety of different spaces in an office to allow choice. Workstations will likely be a little more separated but there will still be a need for office real estate.
How is Atlanta positioned to emerge from the pandemic?
We have a great university system. Our diversity in Atlanta is driving things in a huge way, which can be seen with large companies such as Google and Microsoft coming to the area. Some projects remain a little more difficult to finance but I think in the third quarter, lenders should be more willing to lend to these projects. There has been a strong emphasis on the technical college system by both the current and previous governors. There are so many opportunities coming from the technical colleges and our state leadership recognized this at an early stage. The state has put as much money into those colleges as the bordering regions.
How does business travel this year look compared to last?
The business travel we carry out is still limited. We’re starting to book trips for later in the year and some of the policies have been relaxed. The major local airlines are already seeing large upticks in air travel. By midyear, I anticipate a more normalized situation. We need this as a national and international firm. We can carry out a lot of virtual meetings but sometimes there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction. By the third and fourth quarters, I anticipate we will be at about 75% of normal levels of business travel.
What is your near-term outlook?
I think the outlook is bright. Our firm locally is trying to work through the merger but we are seeing a lot of opportunities. Money is cheap right now so we should take advantage of it. Both in the private and public sectors we should see some uptick since tax revenues did better than expected during the pandemic. In the combined firm, nationally, we have great opportunities in the automotive and manufacturing sectors.
For more information, visit: https://stevens-wilkinson.com/