Are We Overbuilt? Belt-Tightening Coming?

With Lightfair in Vegas at the end of the month and NFPA's World Safety Conference in Orlando the following week, a recent story noting Chicago has slipped to No. 3 as convention host behind these two cities noted above, comes as no surprise. Last year I was in Vegas or Orlando four times and I'll be back again in each city before the end of the year.

05/01/2006


With Lightfair in Vegas at the end of the month and NFPA's World Safety Conference in Orlando the following week, a recent story noting Chicago has slipped to No. 3 as convention host behind these two cities noted above, comes as no surprise. Last year I was in Vegas or Orlando four times and I'll be back again in each city before the end of the year. I'm not trying to impress you with my frequent-flyer miles, but rather emphasizing how, the sunshine and entertainment power of these two communities is having a major impact on what other municipalities are doing to attract business. The Windy City certainly remains undaunted, adding another huge western addition to already massive McCormick Place complex. The Big Apple is also putting a whole new face on the Javits Center. And from some of the projects we're reporting in this issue, including expansions in Phoenix and San Francisco, it seems the nation's other major metropolises aren't giving up either. In the short term, this is great for engineers in this market. It's even better that many of the suburbs of these major cities are building smaller, but more airport-centric facilities.

But putting on my city planner hat, I wonder if all this construction is justified. More and more I find that many readers whom I regularly try to keep in contact with at these shows and conferences are not flying out. Obviously, engineers are only a small slice of the convention game, but in general, it seems that trade show audiences are not growing, and if anything, these cities are really stealing from each other.

This brings up the whole issue of whether we should build something simply because we can. In suburbia, where I live and work, it irks me to see strip mall after strip mall—and gas stations—go up only to leave another abandoned on the other side of the street. Competition and fear of lost clients are powerful drivers, and I certainly understand why these cities are expanding their facilities. But I also read a disturbing report from AIA's chief economist Kermit Baker: Architectural billings stalled in March, despite a seemingly improving economy, and in fact, were only incrementally better than February's less-than-impressive numbers. More disconcerting was the index for new project inquiries, which Baker reported hit its lowest level since May 2004. He cautions designers to keep an eye on this index to see if we are indeed are entering a slowdown. Soaring gas prices and inflation, particularly for construction materials, he said, are the major culprits.

So where does this leave the M/E design community? The successful engineering firms that I've encountered have picked up on a lesson that runs through a lot of building types today, including convention centers: flexibility. It may be time to limber up and re-evaluate some projects in the pipeline as a sea change may be coming.





No comments
Consulting-Specifying Engineer's Product of the Year (POY) contest is the premier award for new products in the HVAC, fire, electrical, and...
Consulting-Specifying Engineer magazine is dedicated to encouraging and recognizing the most talented young individuals...
The MEP Giants program lists the top mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection engineering firms in the United States.
Combined heat and power; Assessing replacement of electrical systems; Energy codes and lighting; Salary Survey; Fan efficiency
Commissioning lighting control systems; 2016 Commissioning Giants; Design high-efficiency hot water systems for hospitals; Evaluating condensation and condensate
Solving HVAC challenges; Thermal comfort criteria; Liquid-immersion cooling; Specifying VRF systems; 2016 Product of the Year winners
Driving motor efficiency; Preventing Arc Flash in mission critical facilities; Integrating alternative power and existing electrical systems
Putting COPS into context; Designing medium-voltage electrical systems; Planning and designing resilient, efficient data centers; The nine steps of designing generator fuel systems
Designing generator systems; Using online commissioning tools; Selective coordination best practices
As brand protection manager for Eaton’s Electrical Sector, Tom Grace oversees counterfeit awareness...
Amara Rozgus is chief editor and content manager of Consulting-Specifier Engineer magazine.
IEEE power industry experts bring their combined experience in the electrical power industry...
Michael Heinsdorf, P.E., LEED AP, CDT is an Engineering Specification Writer at ARCOM MasterSpec.
click me