4 min read April 2022 — USA Architects is a prominent design player in the region. The company is integrating technology and an appetite for expansion to serve a wider market and add depth to its services. “We have some big projects on the way and we are excited by the demand they bring to the region,” Senior Partner, CEO and Founding Principal Paul Swartz told Invest:.
What have been the major successes for USA Architects in the past year and how have your priorities shifted for 2022?
We have a diverse practice with multiple offices in the mid-atlantic region. What is great about this is that we are getting more involved in projects in the Southeast. We have opportunities in the Carolinas and Florida, along with more life science opportunities in Massachusetts. The fact is, there is a tremendous amount of potential money out there but there is still a lot of uncertainty. A lot of projects we were hoping to move forward in 2021 did not, but we are hoping to see those come to fruition in the next year. We are also looking to hire more architects and designers in all of our offices. I am feeling very bullish that 2022 will be better than 2021.
What are the significant opportunities and corresponding challenges that your team is strategizing around?
We have always been a diverse practice in terms of staff and projects. We probably have about a 50-50 split in our public and private work. Because money has been cheap, there has been tremendous growth in the private sector but not so much in the public sector. We started doing mixed-use development about five years ago and now it is a tremendous market for us in the region. The science and technology projects that have always been a part of our practice are making a comeback as well. The challenge for us is the expectation from staff to meet inflation in terms of raises and there are not a lot of people looking for jobs, so we have to find those good quality people in a tight market. We have had great success retaining long-term staff, which has been a great characteristic as we navigate this low labor market. Architecture is a team sport that is better when we are working together, so I am excited to get people back in the office as we are in a mostly hybrid set up right now.
In what market segments have you seen demand increase?
I am surprised there has not been an overbuilding of mixed use. We have some big projects on the way that are mixed use and we are excited by the demand they bring to the region. Retirees and millennials alike are looking for affordable housing options and these have offered some great living opportunities for people. There is still a need for housing in smaller cities, so we are looking at potential new development opportunities for continued market growth in the suburbs. There is also tremendous opportunity in the science and technology market. There is enough money out there now for research and development and we are finding that coming into play recently.
As a result of the pandemic, there has been a tremendous need for mental health facilities, and we are helping in that area as well. One is a behavioral health treatment center and residence for Rutgers University. We are also working on a forensic mental health center for Bucks County in Pennsylvania. There is such a demand for every aspect of mental healthcare and I like that we are able to help people in this way.
Are there any locations you see that are in demand right now for development or redevelopment?
USA Architects has always been featured prominently in the development of New Jersey’s major cities. We are working on a new public safety building for Jersey City and are establishing new work in Newark in both the public and private sectors. We are doing more work in Paterson, as well. That area has been downtrodden over the years, but it has some great buildings and inventory that we are excited about. Camden is a place where we have done at least five major projects and I think that growth will also continue. Education facilities are another segment for us, particularly special-needs schools. That sector will continue to be a big driver of our work in the future.
What strategies have you implemented to recruit and retain talent over the long term?
During the Great Recession, we lost a lot of architecture students who pursued other careers, so there is a void in that worker set with 10 years or so of experience. We are then relying more on newer professionals but even that becomes advantageous because of their embrace of technology. We have a 37.5-hour workweek and half-day Fridays. We have also built in a ton of paid time off. We treat people with a lot of respect, and I think that is how you retain people. We have also had staff who left the firm and came back. Taking care of our staff is part of our DNA because we are only as good as how well our people are doing.
What technological advances have you integrated to bolster your services?
We have been using Building Information Modeling with Revit software to create renderings for over ten years. In fact, we were one of their first design firms to implement this software. All of our buildings are designed in BIM 360. We also use virtual reality in our design process. The Oculus Rift has been a great tool for us. Drone technology has helped us out a great deal in surveying buildings and land spaces. New technology is a great way to manage client expectations, with 3D fly-bys and virtual walkthroughs. We have a Chief Information Officer who makes sure that the firm stays on top of the latest standards and tech updates. We are always exploring ways of working smarter and meeting our client needs that much better.
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