The engineering market merry-go-round

The mechanical, electrical, plumbing (MEP), and fire protection engineering firms are constantly expanding and contracting. Watch the market to stay abreast of these changes.


Growing up, I thought that carnivals and amusement parks always had the best rides and games. One carnival in particular had an entire section to “guess the number” of a variety of things: a person’s weight, goldfish in a tank, balls in a giant container, or any number of bizarre items. I’m confident these games were all rigged and that there was never a winner. (Remember that I grew up in Chicago, where corruption is rampant.)

Today I feel like I’m playing that game again, trying to guess the number of mechanical, electrical, plumbing (MEP), and fire protection engineering firms in the United States. Like that giant tank of constantly moving fish that no one could ever successfully count, the number of MEP firms is a moving target. Firms are acquiring other firms with specific expertise to expand their portfolio. Companies are merging to increase their client base and blend cultures. New companies are popping up almost daily, some of them launched by sole proprietors who simply had enough working for another company and decided it’s time to hang out their own shingle.

Estimates put the numbers in the tens of thousands of firms that conduct work in the MEP disciplines. Some of these are large firms that have only a few people or a small department dedicated to this type of work. Others are firms with 100% of their revenue coming from MEP or fire protection projects. Still others are that mom-and-pop shop, with a lone engineer.

Consulting-Specifying Engineer reaches approximately 300,000 people via its various channels. That touches a lot of different companies—both small and large—around the world.

The 2015 MEP Giants lists the biggest firms in the industry. While it doesn’t include every large MEP firm (some choose not to report data to Consulting-Specifying Engineer), it does provide a look at what changes are afoot in the industry. Mergers and acquisitions, for example, are at an all-time high. Industry consolidation is at an unprecedented level, creating some of the largest engineering firms in the world.

Firms are also expanding their portfolios, and now include various engineering disciplines, interior design, construction, system integration, and a host of other highly skilled divisions. Many larger engineering firms no longer focus solely on engineering. No. 1 MEP Giant Jacobs, for example, earns only 15% of its total gross revenue from MEP design.

This industry is like a merry-go-round. Firms get on and off the carousel; sometimes it moves faster, sometimes slower. The Consulting-Specifying Engineer team has plenty of research and knowledge to help you stay safely on the ride. 

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