Locally Owned Civil Firms: Austin’s Endangered Species

Austin, Texas

June 17th, 2016

Locally owned civil engineering firms within the Austin market are a dying breed.  Within the last few years many Austin based companies have sold their business. In March of 2016, the largest Austin based firm specializing in infrastructure and buildings design services sold to a company based in Canada.  Two civil design firms with long histories in the Austin market recently sold to an England based corporation.  Others have sold their operations to larger firms with roots outside of Texas.  

Austin’s development market is white hot.  Year-to-year increases in property values have been well over 13 percent and housing inventories have dropped to the anemic level of 1.8 months.  Ripe with opportunities, civil engineers have been busy and business revenues have been strong.  Both national and multi-national civil engineering firms had previously dismissed Austin as a sleepy little college town.  Now with envious eyes, they have acknowledged that this market is viable and are paying a premium to get a foothold in the area.  

Preparing construction plans and securing the appropriate permits for development in this region is tricky.  Efficiently navigating the quirks and idiosyncrasies of the process requires engineers with a long history of working in the region.  Simply relocating staff and opening an office in Austin is typically not successful.  As a result, many civil engineering firms have been bought and are no longer owned from Austin.  Engineering News-Record produces a list of the 100 largest engineering firms in Texas by revenue.  In 2015 only one Austin owned firm was in the top 60.  

In the vacuum created by these buyouts, many young and enterprising engineers have utilized this opportunity to start new civil design firms in the Austin metropolitan area.  “We are proud to be part of a new generation of locally owned engineering companies in Austin,” said Andy Carter, co-founder of CivilE, LLC. “It is invigorating to know that our proud city is where everyone wants an engineering presence.  Being owned and operated out of Austin may be challenging. However, having our base of operations here allows us to focus solely on understanding the politics and design challenges unique to this area.”  

The Austin civil design market is in a period of dynamic transition.  While many of historically Austin based civil design firms are absorbed by multi-national corporations, many new firms are striving to fill developers’ need for locally run services.

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