Seven acquirers to watch (and learn from) in 2023

Information on the seven most active industry acquirers in the U.S. and what lessons other consulting engineers can learn from.

By Morrissey Goodale June 26, 2023
Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

Consolidation in the industry continues at a transformational pace. Year-to-date there’s been 218 recorded transactions of U.S. design and environmental firms. The industry is well on its way to experiencing a third consecutive year of over 450 transactions.

It’s in the interests of all industry stakeholders—project owners, firm shareholders, managers, and employees—that consolidation at this scale happens in a professional and continually improving manner thereby creating value, reinforcing reliability, enhancing client service, and improving resource allocation industry-wide.

It’s for these reasons that Morrisey Goodale created the Excellence in Acquisitive Growth Awards series—to recognize those firms that are improving industry performance through acquisitions and to share best practices. As part of our research for the awards series, we keep a close eye on consolidation trends and activity—including the most active acquirers globally and here in the U.S.

As of the mid-point of 2023, these are the seven most active industry acquirers in the U.S. Collectively, they account for 14% of all acquisitions made this year. They are actively consolidating the buildings, geospatial, civil infrastructure and geotechnical/environmental services/construction materials testing sectors.

Bowman Consulting Group (Reston, VA) (ENR #87) (NASDAQ: BWMN): Year-to-date Bowman has announced five acquisitions, including, most recently, this month’s addition of 80-person infrastructure engineers (Brea, CA). Since going public in 2021, Bowman has been on an impressive growth trajectory, jumping 31 places in this year’s ENR Top 500 Design Firms list. Acquisitions continue to be a core part of the firm’s growth plans as Gary Bowman, the firm’s chairman & CEO, stated in this year’s Q1 earnings call, “We continue to have a strong pipeline of acquisition opportunities.” The firm has added over 220 employees in Maryland, Georgia, Florida, Texas and California this year through acquisitions.

SAM, LLC (Austin, TX) (ENR #88): The nation’s largest geospatial and inspections firm has also announced five acquisitions in calendar year 2023. Recapitalized by Peak Rock Capital in 2021, SAM most recently acquired 40-person Axis Geospatial (Easton, MD) earlier this month. Since the start of the year, SAM has added over 90 employees in Washington, South Carolina, Texas and Maryland through acquisitions. The firm jumped 15 places on this year’s ENR Top 500 Design Firms list.

IMEG (Rock Island, IL) (ENR #57): With a focus on the built environment, building optimization, infrastructure, planning and construction engineering-related services, this national engineering and design firm—and recipient of the Morrissey Goodale 2023 Most Prolific and Proficient Acquirer Award—has announced four acquisitions this year. Its largest acquisition in 2023 has been that of Lilker Associates (New York, NY), one of New York’s most prominent MEP firms, in May. The firm jumped 14 places on the 2023 ENR 500 and has added over 270 employees through acquisitions this year in Pennsylvania, Florida and New York.

RMA Companies (Rancho Cucamonga, CA) (ENR #146): This leading provider of technology-enabled laboratory testing, inspection and quality management services for infrastructure end markets received a strategic investment from private equity firm OceanSound Partners, LP in September 2021. Since then, RMA has gone on to make multiple acquisitions, including four that it announced in calendar 2023. Its most recent acquisition was in March of 15-person A.J. Edmond Company (Long Beach, CA). Since the beginning of the year, the firm has added over 140 employees through acquisitions in California, Florida and Washington. RMA rose 36 places on this year’s ENR Top 500 Design Firms list.

Salas O’Brien (Irvine, CA) (ENR #54): With locations across North America and 2,000-plus employee owners, this engineering, construction management, technology and commissioning firm has made four acquisitions this calendar year. The firm’s largest acquisition in 2023 was that of 160-person Plus Group (Cincinnati, OH) in February. Salas O’Brien has added over 270 employees this year through acquisitions in California, Georgia, Ohio and Florida. The firm jumped 24 places on this year’s ENR 500 list.

UES (ENR #26) (Orlando, FL): This fast-growing, 3,500-plus-person geotechnical engineering, construction materials testing, building code compliance, threshold inspections and environmental consulting firm with capital backing from BDT Capital Partners and Palm Beach Capital has announced four acquisitions this year. The firm’s most recent acquisition of 170-person Riner Engineering (Houston, TX) in June was also its largest of the year. Since the beginning of 2023, UES has added over 300 employees through acquisitions in Texas, Arkansas, Florida and Alabama. The firm rose six places in the 2023 ENR Top 500 Design Firms list.

NV5 (Hollywood, FL) (ENR # 22) (NASDAQ: NVEE): This leading provider of technology, conformity assessment and consulting solutions for public and private-sector clients supporting infrastructure, utility and building assets and systems has also announced four acquisitions this year with the largest being that of 340-employee Axim Geospatial (Sun Prairie, WI) in February. This year, NV5 has added over 370 employees through acquisitions in Wisconsin, Florida and Colorado. NV5 rose two places on this year’s ENR 500.

Not the same as it ever was: These seven leading design firms are not only really good at serving their clients and creating opportunities for their employees, they are also extraordinarily skilled at acquiring and integrating firms. One of the most remarkable features of these firms is the cadence of their acquisitions. To illustrate that point, prior to 2018, the most active acquirers in the industry each made an average of two acquisitions a year. Each of these seven firms is operating at a pace at least four times faster than that. It’s a testament to the competency of their M&A teams.

Morrissey Goodale is a CFE Media and Technology content partner.

Original content can be found at Morrissey Goodale.