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  • | 7:04 a.m. November 23, 2012
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Florida's real estate bust didn't stop Al Reynolds.

Reynolds is best known for the land planning of more than 80 residential communities on the Gulf Coast, but lately his efforts have been focused on developments as far away as Brazil and Saudi Arabia.

That's how far Florida's land-planning engineers have had to travel to find work as the real estate market collapsed at home.

Reynolds was CEO of WilsonMiller, a 600-person engineering firm with 10 offices from Naples to Destin during the boom. In 2007, the company reported $77.3 million in revenues.

But as the downturn grew worse, Reynolds and his partners sold WilsonMiller to Canadian engineering giant Stantec in 2010 for an undisclosed sum. By 2009, WilsonMiller's annual revenues had fallen to $32 million and it had 265 employees.

“For us, the timing was good,” Reynolds says of the sale to Stantec. “It allowed us to keep folks busy on projects in the U.S. and overseas. That's given us a chance to recover.”

Engineering firms that choose to remain small must be experts in a niche or become goliaths like Stantec. “It's a lot more competitive at our level,” Reynolds says.

Reynolds, 56, who recently was appointed as Stantec's sector leader for urban-development projects in the U.S., says Stantec's global business will help vault its Florida operations back to the forefront as the economy recovers. “In the next few years we'll be close to 800 people in Florida,” says Reynolds.

In the most recent quarter, Stantec reported net income rose 18% to $34.1 million on revenues of $484 million compared with the third quarter in 2011. The company has 12,000 employees. In the third quarter report to shareholders, Stantec President and CEO Bob Gomes cited Florida's housing recovery and the recent award to plan an 800-home expansion of the Country Club East golf course community at the Lakewood Ranch community near Sarasota.

Stantec recently announced plans to acquire C3TS, a 150-person engineering firm in Coral Gables that specializes in transportation projects such as the Interstate 75-airport interchange in Fort Myers. “C3TS is one of the most highly regarded firms in that field,” says Reynolds. “FDOT [Florida Department of Transportation] has a well-funded plan.”

Reynolds says Stantec is scouting other acquisitions in Florida that could bolster its public-project work, such as roads and water-related systems. “There's more work in the public sector,” he says.

But Reynolds says he's seen positive signs that the private sector is emerging from its prolonged slump. “There are lots of folks looking in Collier and Lee recently,” he says. “The builders and developers who took advantage of the quality bargains are now reaping the benefits.”

Tampa's more diversified economy could revive residential projects that had to be mothballed during the downturn. “I think the Tampa region is really well-positioned for high-quality growth,” Reynolds says.

Still, Reynolds cautions that it's unlikely that raw land will be turned into new communities soon. Instead, he's anticipating more redevelopment of existing projects. “It's going to be a lot of that kind of work,” he says.

Meanwhile, some of the new towns that WilsonMiller designed, such as Ave Maria in eastern Collier, are now starting to see rising home sales. A new Arthrex medical-manufacturing facility there will boost the town's prospects. “That is the key to making a sustainable community,” Reynolds says.

Stantec now has seven offices in Florida employing 250 people, not counting the C3TS proposed acquisition. “Our primary focus is still community based,” Reynolds says. “The business is still driven locally; 80% comes from repeat clients.”

But because Stantec's business is global, Florida engineers are working on a variety of projects outside the state. For example, one project involves designing a town for Sabic, a Saudi Arabian petrochemical manufacturer. In addition, Stantec is working with private investors to build hotels and other projects in Brazil related to the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.


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