The Sleeping Giant

In our 2004 Survey of the Electrical Contractor, published in last month’s issue, we found on average 46 percent of our respondents’ revenue came from design-build projects. That’s a healthy percentage, but it’s up just 2 percent from the 2002 survey, and this small gain suggests design-build might have hit a wall.

Or maybe it’s just resting, taking a breather, waiting to see what the future holds. After all, experts think there’s still a great deal of potential growth in this sector. Many contractors I’ve spoken to prefer this project-delivery method. They like the control it gives them with design changes and product specs. They enjoy its collaborative process and relish the way design-build provides early conflict resolution. Many who have never used it are curious about its benefits and drawbacks, but are perhaps either too apprehensive to try it or don’t know where to start. But if close to half of the electrical contracting business is being done in this manner, how can anybody afford to ignore design-build?

Two related factors may be in large part responsible for design-build’s tepid increase in the past two years. Number one is the decline in commercial/industrial/institutional work as the U.S. manufacturing base is whittled away. Number two is design build’s not-too-comfy fit with public-sector projects, which are almost always design-bid-build, unless specific legislation allows for alternatives. Put the two together. Contractors who once helped build factories are now chasing after government jobs. Find out more about this topic in our cover story, which begins on page 20.

Design-build legislation for public-sector contracts is a patchwork affair. Many states have experimented with different ways to make it work, and the next decade should prove whether its stated major advantages—the ability to save time and money through faster start-ups and its overall flexibility—can overtake the traditional low-bid contract method.

Many believe design-build will grow to be the preferred way to do business, and if you haven’t tried this project-delivery method, the time is right. EC




About the Author

John Fulmer

Freelance Writer
John Fulmer is a freelance writer based in Joppa, Md., and former editor of ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR magazine. He can be reached at

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