By Meghan Hall
The dot-com bust of the early 2000s forced many companies in the commercial real estate sector to rethink their long-term growth strategies, prompting closures in different markets around the United States to ensure long term viability. In 2003, technical construction firm DPR made a similar decision, closing its physical Seattle office to concentrate on growth in other markets around the country. Then, almost 15 years later in 2017, DPR decided to re-open its Seattle office and has grown steadily throughout the Puget Sound region ever since.
“We had a good ten year run before we did close down the physical address in 2003,” said Andy Hill, DPR’s Pacific Northwest business unit leader of the company’s original office, which opened in 1993. “We had grown super fast and significantly in that ten years, so in the 2000s when the dot-com bust hit, and the bond and insurance agencies were stressed, it was a point of reflection to make sure that we could sustain and help the company move forward.”
DPR was founded in 1990 by Doug Woods, Peter Nosler and Ron Davidowski — from which DPR’s name was derived — in the San Francisco Bay Area. Ten years after opening, DPR had reached the $1 billion mark; today, the company has locations in 28 major U.S. cities from San Jose, Calif., to Denver, Colo., to Washington D.C. The company specializes in five core markets: advanced technology, commercial, healthcare, higher education and life sciences, all of which are thriving in the Puget Sound.
According to Hill, although DPR closed its physical office in Seattle in 2003, DPR continued to work on projects throughout the region, maintaining its presence and business relationships with other companies and commercial real estate professionals. When the Seattle real estate market began taking off, re-establishing the company’s physical presence simply made sense.
“We never really left the area,” explained Hill. “We continued to maintain a portfolio of work and so that was kind of the segway in what led us to re-enter the market. We continued to have a backlog; we continued to do work up here, and we maintained a lot of great relationships with trade partners in the area.”
Over the past five years, Seattle has grown exponentially; brokerage firms such as CBRE have ranked the region as one of the fastest growing for life sciences, while the Milken Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank, named the Puget Sound region as one of the Top-25 Best Performing U.S. metropolitan areas in the nation thanks to the growth of the tech industry. Seattle’s State of Downtown Report, released in March of 2019, reports 227 projects totaling $13.5 billion in development in the pipeline in downtown alone. With strong fundamentals in mind, DPR reopened its Seattle office in 2017.
“The tech industry here in the Puget Sound is significantly larger and more established than in the early 2000s. We have a really strong industrial market; there’s world-class health care and educational faculties,” said Hill. “There’s a sustainable pipeline of work that lines up with our core markets. All of these factors are what drew us here and are what we think will sustain us over the long haul.”
Hill characterized DPR’s return to the region “a wild success,” saying that the firm has grown steadily in both headcount and revenue since reopening two years ago. Currently, DPR’s Seattle office has 100 employees, and in 2018 the company completed $197 million in business. In 2019, Hill said, DPR is forecasting more than $200 million worth of work.
“In a really short amount of time, we’ve grown significantly and established ourselves,” Hill said. “The community has really accepted us with open arms, by and large. We’re strategically rekindling relationships and it has been successful.”
Re-establishing its presence in the Puget Sound has been fairly smooth, Hill added, although DPR still faces the same challenges that many contractors in the industry face, such as shortages of labor and increasing construction costs. However, he believes that DPR is posed for long-term growth. The company has worked on Facebook’s Prineville, Oreg., data center as well as tenant improvements within the City Center Bellevue high-rise building. Currently, said Hill, DPR is working on completing TI improvements for WRNS Studio’s Seattle office as well as the development of the U.S. HealthVest South Sound Behavioral Hospital in Lacey, Wash.
Even as the market cycle matures and some real estate professionals raise concerns about less growth, DPR is ready to continue pursuing its future in the region.
“What has worked really well for us is our strategy to focus on those five core markets. They’re all really strong right now, but over the long haul there’s always a couple of those core markets that are doing well when a couple are doing less work,” said Hill. “We believe that they will play off of each other as economic times change.”