Writer: Max Crampton-Thomas
2 min read June 2021 — Raleigh-Durham and Chapel Hill boast education heavyweights and a competitive edge in high-tech, pharma and biotech, says Steve Hepler, Raleigh office leader at architecture and design firm LS3P. These characteristics are among the reasons people and companies are arriving in the area, he said in an interview with Invest:.
What makes the Triangle a great place to do business?
The Southeast as a whole is a target for people moving from the West and North, particularly in the last year and a half. Raleigh-Durham and Chapel Hill really seem to be prime targets of this influx. The Research Triangle Park is in the middle of all that. Higher education heavyweights there include NC State, Duke and UNC Chapel Hill. This region stands out for its competitive edge against other communities around the country for its high-tech industry as well as the pharma and the biotech industries. Students who graduate here tend to stay here and grow a family. They consequently get involved in the community. It’s homegrown growth in addition to influx from other regions.
How has demand for your services shifted from pre-pandemic levels?
Right before we entered the pandemic, we were heading toward our biggest year ever from a firmwide perspective. When the pandemic hit, we slowed down for a couple of months just like everybody else did but things rebounded pretty quickly during the summer. We give our IT folks a great big shout out because they got us up and operating remotely literally overnight. Once we got that all shifted, it was almost like nothing changed in terms of the workflow.
There were really only a few markets that were hit fairly hard, particularly hospitality. People-gathering opportunities slowed down but all the rest of the work continued. Commercial work slowed somewhat. We were fortunate enough to have been awarded some big projects that are keeping us absolutely flying, such as the new Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHS) headquarters. We won a couple of big projects related to the UNC McColl building in Chapel Hill. We’re also working on the North Carolina Museum of History in Downtown Raleigh. These big projects carried us through. Everyone was in a wait-and-see mode, but now things are moving forward at a brisk pace.
In 2020, we were within 90% of our goal of exceeding 2019 levels. This year, we are going to exceed that goal, at least here in Raleigh. We have hired eight people since January, without counting our interns.
What challenges are you experiencing?
Costs have started to creep up. In 2020, the perception was that because everything was slowing down, things were going to get cheaper, but the opposite happened. Labor is going to be a major cost. Steel and wood prices are also going up. We’ve already seen material shortages as well, which is affecting schedules and will be somewhat of a concern if left unchecked. Sometimes we get calls from contractors reporting delays, falling behind on the production due to supply chain issues. Our work in hospitals, specifically, has been the most restrictive. The healthcare community has experienced greater slowdowns in terms of projects moving forward. Due to public health protocols, healthcare facilities virtually closed off their buildings for obvious reasons. They’re now starting to come out of that self-isolation. The hospital and medical world is beginning to get back to some sense of normalcy, although that will not be fully the case until everybody is vaccinated.
What is your outlook for both LS3P and how will sustainability play into that?
Our projection is a robust one, particularly in Raleigh. We’re fortunate to be here in the Southeast as some firms are struggling up North. Going forward, sustainability is always going to be at the forefront of what we do, and it’s not as hard to achieve anymore. We’ve been part of the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program from our inception, and we incorporate strategies for sustainability in all of our designs. Even if projects do not go through the LEED process, our clients insist on including sustainable programmatic elements. It’s second nature. Other programs such as WELL are really good at addressing health and well-being for the people who will inhabit a building. Green Globes is another alternative to LEED. It’s not quite as intense in terms of requirements but the same sustainable principles are involved.