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The Steady Pace of Growth
President's Message Q2 2014 - From Where I Sit
July 25, 2014
As the second quarter of 2014 has come to a close, industry experts are in agreement that the market is finally in a recovery mode, even though a modest one. In their ENR Top 500 Design Firms (July 2014), ENR states that “some executives believe a slow recovery may be a good thing, as it avoids the risk of another sudden downturn.” Although GAI’s second quarter is strong and our Q3 market projections are healthy, I believe a slow recovery gives firms like GAI time to reflect, catch their breath, and take stock of opportunities that bring long-term value to the firm.
Therefore, GAI continues our steady focus on modest growth and strategic investment. We ended 2013 as a $100 million plus firm with about 900 employees and are currently ranked 117 of the ENR Top 500 Design Firms. 2014 has extended that success as we continue to open offices convenient to our clients’ operations and build on expertise with key hires to meet our clients’ demands.
Interestingly, not only do we see growth in the power industry and transportation but also in commercial investment for local communities. That is why we recently announced the unveiling of our new “Urban Design Studio” in Central Florida. The studio builds on the reputation of local strategic thinkers, financial analysts, and community planners. It is supported by our engineers and landscape architects to provide a complete “solutions–based” approach to community development. We believe in the slow but steady rebound of the central Florida economy and are making investments there on behalf of our long-standing community clients. We know our clients share this optimism as well.
Planning for growth during the recent ups and downs of our economy is very difficult. It requires setting strategies for where you believe your business will be most successful in 1, 3 and 5 years down the road. While it is hard to project without a crystal ball, company leaders must be able to set their vision, take calculated risks and be prepared to “go” with their decisions.
As President and CEO, I have come to respect the value of the slow but steady pace of growth. I look forward to sharing more ideas and continued good news about GAI’s growth as we expand our services and expertise to benefit both our clients and employees.
Chris Branson, PHR, Senior Staffing Specialist at GAI, joins us as a guest blogger to talk about the importance of internship programs and how to use them as a stepping stone to mold future employees.
Company Internships: A Two-Way Street to Success
July 17, 2014
Internships are an integral part of many companies’ recruitment plans, and rightly so. They help up-and-coming members of an industry gain necessary exposure to the day-to-day aspects of their careers and acquire the entry-level experience crucial to finding a job in their chosen field. From the company’s perspective, internship programs help them find and retain talent early on and shape that talent to fit the company’s mold. Unfortunately, it’s easy for the company to forget that internships are also meant to be learning experiences. In the worst of situations, interns wind up as cheap or unpaid labor performing menial tasks. These conditions have not escaped the notice of government or schools, who are enacting stringent guidelines to ensure that companies don’t take advantage of their interns. As staffing experts, if we use internships as part of our recruitment plans, it is important to remember that these programs are a two-way street.
As Senior Staffing Specialist, I have the responsibility of administering GAI’s Scholarship Program. The program, now in its 6th year, selects one Point Park University (Pittsburgh, PA) student and one student from another university for a 10-week paid internship. Upon completion of the program, each intern receives a $5,000 scholarship. GAI’s Scholarship Program is designed to give interns a chance to learn. We expose them to as many different facets of the company’s business as possible—not just their individual area of expertise. The interns spend 75% of their time with GAI working with groups in their field of study and the remaining 25% to activities unrelated to their studies. So, for example, we may have our electrical engineering interns delineating wetlands, and our environmental engineering interns partnering with civil engineering groups. The idea behind this holistic approach is to teach the interns about what makes the entire company run, so they are better prepared to join GAI when they graduate.
This method isn’t always met with enthusiasm. Point Park University intern Andrew Czopek noted, “When I was first given the schedule that showed me [the rounded approach], I thought it was a little strange.” It is difficult for people, even young people, to step outside their comfort zone—but outside our comfort zone is where we learn and grow. Internship programs should push their participants not just with workload, but by expanding their understanding. Ultimately, Andrew found that the parts of the internship unrelated to his field of study were “quite engaging.” He concluded, “I learned a lot about the big picture and overall project lifecycle, down to the details that each department brings to the table.”
Interns are a valuable source of human capital, but only if employers are willing to put forth the effort to ensure that interns grow and learn. “I was able to apply what I have learned in school to many different things I have done here at GAI, and I hope to apply what I have learned here to my last year in school and beyond to a future career,” voiced Shippensburg University senior and GAI intern Will Parisi.
Even if interns are unpaid, they need to be given the opportunity to push their boundaries. In testing their limits, we can see what kind of people they truly are, which allows us to make better hiring decisions later on. Ensuring that internship programs are a two-way street will help drive your company’s hiring forward.
Senior Staffing Specialist Chris Branson can be reached at
or (412) 476-2000.
Millennial Marketer – Ease the Pain
June 24, 2014
In my previous blog, I suggested that asking your clients pointed questions during the selling stage is the main way to understand their needs. Questioning is the best tool to “find the pain.” Millennial Marketers clearly understand that once you discover the “pain,” it is your job to then “ease the pain.” How do we do that?.....more+
Monitoring the Impacts of Recent Infrastructure Funding Reform
Greg Nettuno, PE, Senior Vice President and Transportation Business Unit Director of GAI, joins us as a guest blogger to talk about Pennsylvania’s new transportation funding law and how other states should follow suit.
May 28, 2014
Highway funding programs are not simply government services—they’re infrastructure for the economy. In fact, they’re the backbone of the economy, because without infrastructure, we can’t ship goods and get people to work and school. Maintaining and growing this infrastructure to keep up with population growth is a constant public need that citizens have entrusted our government to provide.
States like Pennsylvania have made a positive impact on funding our infrastructure. Passed on November 25, 2013, House Bill 1060 is the most comprehensive piece of state transportation legislation in decades. Signed by Governor Tom Corbett, the bill will invest billions of dollars into improvements to the state’s highways, bridges, and mass transit systems. According to PennDOT, by its fifth year, the plan will generate at least $2.3 billion a year in additional funding for transportation improvements.
With House Bill 1060, Pennsylvania reprioritized and reallocated its state funds for transportation alone. The law essentially states that infrastructure is a need. It dedicates certain fees to provide a transportation system that is safer, more efficient, and easier to use for businesses and the traveling public, and no agency can use those fees for something else.
So, hats off to Pennsylvania, because it understands that providing better roads, safer bridges, and viable public transit is a government obligation to its citizens. In a brave move, the Commonwealth paved the way for reformed transportation funding. Other states, like Virginia and Maryland, have also approved similar funding measures. Let’s hope more states get on board. Because supporting sustainable transportation revenue is vital to keeping the economy running and our infrastructure from crumbling.
Tune in to our next blog to learn details of House Bill 1060—where additional funding will come from and what it will do for Pennsylvania.
Greg Nettuno can be reached at
or (904) 363-1110.
Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Website: http://www.dot.state.pa.us/internet/web.nsf/PennDOTHomepage?OpenFrameSet. Accessed May 2014.
Nussbaum, P. (November23, 2013). “What Pa. transportation bill will cost you.” Retrieved from http://articles.philly.com/2013-11-23/news/44368213_1_gas-tax-gallon-wholesale-tax. Accessed May 2014.
Millennial Marketer – The Art of Asking Questions
May 23, 2014
Are you clairvoyant? I'm not. I don't know how many people who are. So how do you get inside your client's head to know how to solve their problems, ease their pain, or just connect with them on a personal level? You simply ask questions. Yes, it is that easy!.....more+
Millennial Marketer – Your Clients Have Bosses Too!
April 24, 2014
You have a boss, don’t you? Everyone has a boss of some kind…even your clients have bosses! It’s a universal fact that everyone, everywhere wants to impress their boss......more+
Q&A with Tom Kohler
Last week, Diane Landers sat down in Orlando to talk with Tom Kohler, Senior Principal of Real Estate Research Consultants, Inc. (RERC), a GAI company. Tom joined RERC in 2002, after serving as a senior executive with the City of Orlando for 26 years, and RERC joined the GAI family of companies in 2012. Read on to learn more about Tom and his role at RERC, a GAI Company.
Diane: In a nutshell, what does RERC and GAI do for local communities?
Tom: We’re into the sustainable quality of life. Basically, there are different resources we have within GAI that we can provide. It’s just that most communities don’t see those things. They are all in silos… they have the public works director over here, and the police chief over here, and the finance department over here, and the mayor and city council over here…So what we try to promote is…if you put all those things together and start leveraging those resources…the whole will be greater than the sum of the parts. Some communities get it, some communities don’t. Nobody else does what we do. They do parts of what we do, but nobody does it all.
Diane: Tell us about an interesting or unique project you’ve worked on.
Tom: From a historic standpoint, the most fascinating and exciting project that all of us were involved in was the Orlando Naval Training Center [Baldwin Park]. I negotiated with the Navy and then RERC was brought in to do the economic side. And then together with the City, we put the public-private initiative together and we selected the developer and the rest of it is history. So we went from six million square feet of Federal properties…then [spent] millions of dollars to get it down to a Greenfield, then built it back up. It happened. It worked. Now it’s over $1 billion worth of private investment. That is the most complicated and most fascinating project, and it’s an award winner.
Diane: Tell us a little about your background.
Tom: I grew up in Mexico. [I spent my] first 10 years in Mexico City. My dad was a geologist. I graduated from Texas A&M with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and a Master’s in Urban Planning. My first job was on the Texas-Mexican border, because I spoke Spanish. I came to Orlando, FL 40 years ago. I worked for three Orlando mayors and was the Director of Orlando Downtown Development for 25 years. You can point to any building in Orlando and I can tell you whatever you want to know about that, or more than you want to know about that.
Diane: Can you tell me about your career trajectory before joining RERC and GAI?
Tom: After I graduated, I got that job on the Texas/Mexican border and a couple of years later came to Orlando with a private developer who bought some property out near Disney. We had a bad recession in the mid-seventies; the developer went back to Texas and I stayed here…then I ended up hooking up with the City of Orlando on a new program called the Community Development Block Grant. They still have it—it’s called CDBG now. I was the first community block grant officer for the City of Orlando. From there I became Chief Planner. Then I was tapped to be the Chief of Staff for the Mayor of Orlando in ’77. I was chief of staff for two years…[then] I was approached to head up the Downtown Development Board in 1979 and I was there until 2002. I was the most senior redevelopment director in the state of Florida when I retired from the City. So the last 12 years [at RERC], I’ve basically been doing very similar work, but I just do it with a variety of communities instead of one community.
I was the chairman of the Florida Redevelopment Association back in the early 80s and then in the early 90s I was president of the Board of Directors of the International Downtown Association. So I got to travel a lot and see [different cities]…I like to work for the underdog, and urban centers were not the most popular places to work. In fact, when I took over in 1979, a lot of my friends and colleagues said, “What in the world? Nobody is going to invest in downtown Orlando!” Either I was too stupid or too naïve to know the difference.
Diane: And what was it that attracted you to RERC/GAI and to this position?
Tom: Well, because one, I knew the individuals, Owen Beitsch and Gary DeJidas; they had worked on a number of my plans before. And I could see the opportunities that I could bring their private-sector approach to other communities.
Diane: Have you traveled a lot?
Tom: Yes. I’ve traveled a lot particularly around the United States. I find it fascinating. There’s so much here that we just don’t even begin to appreciate. I’ve only been to Europe once—I’d like to go back there. My goal is to do a river cruise. Probably from Holland down into Austria—through the German country.
Diane: I understand that you are involved with some charities?
Tom: Yes, the Boys and Girls Club of Central Florida; I’ve been on the board now for 35 years. That’s been a passion of mine. That and Friends of the Orange County Library System; I’m on the Board of Directors there.
When someone truly enjoys what they do, it shows—such is the case when speaking to Tom about his career. His enthusiasm and passion for community building shine through. Thank you, Tom, for speaking with me and for bettering the lives of people in the communities you serve. Tom can be reached at
or (407) 843-5635.
Transitions to Leadership
By Diane B. Landers, Ph.D, MBA, RPA, CPSM
Vice President and CMO
April 10, 2014
Welcome back to GAI’s Blog Site, where GAI experts will share their perspectives on a variety of topics that are important to the A/E/C industry. Our previous blogger, Larry Gendzier, GAI’s corporate counselor, covered various legal issues that our industry faces every day. I am pleased that Larry has handed GAI’s blog off to me and other GAI leaders to express our views on what is happening in the industry, along with leadership topics and more. As CMO and Vice President, I will be blogging about corporate leadership and will also provide links to my marketing-related blogs that are currently being posted in a six-month series on the SMPS –Pittsburgh website.
I heard a saying recently that intrigued me. It said, “Bosses say ‘GO’…but leaders say…‘LET’s GO.’” Leadership is the ability to lay out a vision and get everyone excited about following you to collectively endorse it and achieve it—getting everyone rowing in the same direction. Your ability to connect with people—through personal character, integrity and leadership skills—is the key to driving your vision forward.
Why is leadership and visioning important today? America’s workers are among the most efficient in the world; however, companies today must do more with less, while serving clients 24/7 with consistent, quality performance. Now, more than ever, it is important to help your staff operate at their peak performance every day. If companies are to operate in this complex, global world of business, they have to push harder than ever to deftly manage their projects and people profitably. The reality is that good management practices only work if your firm has good leadership. What is the difference between leadership and management? As another famous saying goes, “management is doing things right, leadership is doing the right things.”
I will be sharing stories with you that reflect good leadership–doing the right things at every stage in the business cycle. I will share thoughts on the benefits of engaging staff, motivating millennials, and incorporating diversity in the workforce. Along the way, I may also blog about the need to develop leadership programs in your firms and create succession plans. These are issues that confront the executive every day and I hope to share them with you so that, together, we can be better leaders for our A&E industry.
Check back next week to read about a recent conversation I had with Tom Kohler, Senior Principal of RERC (a GAI Company), as he shares his thoughts on the keys to successful community building.
SUSTAINABILITY @ GAI
U.S. Green Chamber
April 9, 2014
The Sustainability Committee at GAI was formed on Earth Day in 2009. However, this was not the beginning of GAI’s sustainable business practices. Our employees have promoted the firm’s awareness of environmentally friendly office products and recycling options for years.....more+
Millennial Marketer – Thanks Bob!
March 23, 2014
Do you have a business development or sales mentor? No? Why not? If you do not have a mentor, get one…now! If you are at the beginning of your career, you need one.....more+