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Five Years In, Cumming Continues to Strengthen Its Position in the Puget Sound Construction Industry

Cumming, Seattle, Amazon, CapEX, Kaiser Permanente, Facebook
1101 Westlake, for which Cumming provided cost management.

By Meghan Hall

Cumming, an international construction consultancy firm, first dipped its toes into the Puget Sound commercial real estate market five years ago. Since then, the organization has earned a reputation among big-name developers and tenants, providing a variety of services for a wide variety of large-scale residential, commercial, healthcare and tech-based projects in the region. At the end of 2019, Cumming announced several leadership changes for its PNW office, including the addition of 15 project managers to its team. According to Greg Williams, senior director at Cumming, the firm is excited to continue its growth across all sectors in the PNW.

Cumming, Seattle, Amazon, CapEX, Kaiser Permanente, Facebook
Greg Williams. Image Courtesy of Cumming

Cumming was originally established in 1996 as a project and cost management company and has now grown into a 900-person multinational consulting firm. About five years ago, Cumming opened its first Pacific Northwest office in Seattle. What piqued Cumming’s interest in the Seattle commercial real estate market, and how did the region’s rise play a factor in that decision?

It was hard to ignore the CRE activity in the PNW; it was definitely a motivating factor in our decision to invest in a presence here. We knew there would be established competition and were also confident that our client focus, working in concert with a blend of service offerings and experienced professionals, positioned us well to carve out space in the market. Through the leadership of Bill Foulkes, a senior vice president at Cumming, this vision is becoming a reality. 

In your opinion, how does the Puget Sound compare to the numerous other markets in which Cumming has operations?

Cumming is excited about all the markets that we operate in, not only in the U.S., but around the globe. We currently operate in approximately 15 of the key metropolitan areas across the U.S., as well as in London. We see the Puget Sound as having a great deal of ongoing potential especially given the reach of the tech and biomed industries that make their home here – very similar to our growing operations in San Francisco. Speaking of outside regions, the recent merger with CapEX Project Management also provides Cumming the opportunity to serve the rapid growth markets down south such as Nashville, Austin and Dallas-Fort Worth. 

What are some of the fundamentals Cumming tracks to gauge the health of the industry?

Cumming is constantly monitoring key industry fundamentals and indicators including local and national construction spending indices, construction volume and labor, construction employment trends and vacancy rates. Additionally, our in-house economist, Dan Pomfrett, also tracks global materials and commodities, national energy prices, U.S. and state GDPs, exchange rates, interest rates, national and global inflation, the market’s capacity to determine inflation and the health of the industry globally. We track this information where we have office locations as well as very specific, and sometimes remote locales where we have projects. In a January 2020 talk that Dan gave to the CoreNet Washington Chapter, he summarized the health of the local market: “The market is looking to be steady going forward with labor markets continuing to put pressure on pricing. Locally we will continue to track escalation rates higher than the historic average of 3 percent.”

Where do you think the industry is heading over the next year and why?

In the PNW, as in other places, we are seeing exceeding pressure on the demand to feed and shelter the homeless. We are proud to be a vendor partner to Amazon who has been instrumental in supporting both Mary’s Place, a Seattle based non-profit, to include a shelter in one of their newer developments, and Farestart, where they transform homelessness, hunger and poverty into human potential. This is an example of a creative spin on multi-use properties that we may see more corporations getting behind. Additionally, with the continued densification in city centers like Seattle, we will see developers reach into the suburbs and beyond. I feel however, we will continue to see demand in the city centers remain strong as corporations shift workplace strategies to more effectively use their existing spaces. 

Cumming is currently providing project and cost management for numerous big-name clients throughout the region, including the University of Washington, Amazon, Kaiser Permanent and Facebook. With these important projects—and others—under its purview, is there a particular project that Cumming would like to highlight? Why? 

We have a lot of great projects in the Puget Sound, some we can talk about and some we can’t. I would really like to highlight the diversity of our team and market sectors. First, we are proud of our regional team, both from a professional background and a diversity standpoint. As an example, our team is comprised of almost 40 percent women, four times the industry average. And in our short tenure here in Seattle, we have been able to enter many of the key sectors, including tech, data center, K-12 and higher ed, healthcare, and corporate/commercial, just to name a few.  

What are the biggest challenges facing Cumming’s clients when it comes to development in the Puget Sound region, and is the firm working to help companies alleviate those challenges?

Resource constraints in the trades and professional services continue to be a primary challenge here. Maintaining a clear and consistent line of communication with contractors helps us to keep a pulse on the pipeline allowing our clients’ needs to be met. Additionally, our cost team works with owners and architects to manage costs and identify the realistic escalation trend, which can no longer remain a flat 3 percent. We also work with clients to identify competitive bidding strategies that are evaluated against current market conditions, protecting their financial interests. For our part, Cumming recognizes the need to provide our clients with top talent. Our leadership team is focused on maintaining a strong company culture and creating environments that challenge, engage, and provide competitive compensation to our team members. 

At the end of 2019, Cumming announced several key leadership changes: Associate Director Aled Jenkins and Senior Cost Manager Josiah Thompson relocated to Seattle, and Michelle Kelly joined as the director of business development for the PNW. What does Cumming hope to accomplish with these leadership changes?

We feel very fortunate to have Aled and Josiah join the team in Seattle. Their vast experience shores up the Northwest’s suite of offerings by bookending a strong project management presence with leading cost management services. Having local, dedicated resources demonstrates our commitment to the region and to our clients. It allows us to respond quickly and in person, underpinning our partnerships for a strong future. 

We are equally excited to have Michelle join the team! She offers nearly 20 years of business development experience and a core set of personal values that dovetail perfectly with those of Cumming. She is well-known and well-respected within the community and Cumming has a great deal of confidence in her ability to foster new relationships and strengthen those that already exist. 

What is Cumming’s strategy for its continued growth in the region?

Our growth strategy is founded on the company’s mission to provide best in class service. Our goals for the region align with the strategy that brought us here in the first place and has made us successful thus far: offer opportunities to help our emerging leaders grow, recruit and hire “best-in-class” team members, and use our successful platform to grow our key market sectors of tech, healthcare, and education.