A record-breaking six months of A/E industry consolidation (Olympics edition)

Morrissey Goodale is providing A/E leaders with news and perspective on what is happening in the industry. This week, they share M&A stats and trends from the first half of 2021.

By Morrissey Goodale August 9, 2021

Morrissey Goodale is providing A/E leaders with news and perspective on what is happening in the industry. This week, they share M&A stats and trends from the first half of 2021.

The talent shortage can’t stop it. It’s oblivious to supply chain breakdowns. It shrugs off rising inflation. Nothing it seems can alter the pace or scale of the massive consolidation sweeping the A/E industry. Everywhere you look, another design or environmental firm has sold or merged or been recapitalized. Here’s a sampling of the jaw-dropping M&A stats and trends we saw at play in the first half of this year.

Breaking speed records like Sydney McLaughlin: With 203 transactions announced in the first half of the year, it was the most active six months of industry consolidation ever. We’re at a point now where every day at least one A/E or environmental firm sells or merges. The pace of industry consolidation has doubled since 2017. Over 40% of all industry consolidation in the last decade has taken place since 2018. (2018 ushered in a step function in deal activity.)  Historically, industry consolidation increases in the second half of the year, so we are well on our way to seeing the industry’s first 400-plus deal year. This all begs the following questions: When will the supply of quality sellers be exhausted? When will the appetites of buyers be satiated?

California Stars: For the past three years, Texas has seen more deals than any other state. Not so in 2021. With 34 announced transactions, California led the U.S. in terms of consolidation in the first half of the year. The Golden State accounted for almost 17% of all transactions during the first six months of the year. Texas saw the second most consolidation with 19 deals. Florida dealmaking slowed in Q2, with only three announced transactions, for a total of 15 for the first half of the year.

All systems are grow! Geographic growth that is. Acquisition activity taking place across state lines hit an all-time high in the first half of the year. Nearly 69% (almost 7/10!) of all transactions involved a buyer headquartered in one state entering—or growing its existing business in—another state via acquisition. This is the highest level of cross-border activity on record. The industry is expanding in response to robust nationwide demand for A/E and environmental services, buyers feeling confident about the future, and a seemingly endless supply of acquisition capital available for deployment. (Pro tip for sellers: this stat means that your future buyer is likely from out-of-state and not in your network, so you probably have not met them physically or on Teams before.)

Size matters: After a steady—though slow—decline over the past three years, the median seller size in the first half of the year stabilized at $3.1 million in revenues. The median buyer size ticked up to $93.3 million.

The migration from employee ownership continues to something more like investor- or manager-owned. Over one-third of all transactions in the first half of the year involved recapitalization by a financial sponsor (either a private equity fund or a family office) or an acquisition by a firm backed by one or the other. Private capital’s remake in the industry continues unabated. It’s now the capital model for 14% of the ENR Top 100 Design Firms. And it’s not just for larger design or environmental firms. We are seeing a growing trend of smaller ($20 million or less) firms being recapitalized by financial sponsors.

Headline grabbers: In any given year, we expect to see 10 of the ENR Top 500 firms sell, merge, or recapitalize. This year we have already seen 14 of such transactions, and given what we are seeing and hearing “on the street,” we fully expect this year to witness close to 30 of the largest design firms in the U.S. change hands. That number will be closer to 50 including environmental firms.


This article originally appeared on Morrissey Goodale’s websiteMorrissey Goodale is a CFE Media content partner.

Original content can be found at www.morrisseygoodale.com.