For fifty-five years, PS&S has been one of the best-known architecture and engineering companies in New Jersey, and midway through its sixth decade, PS&S is stronger than ever and poised for growth. We spoke with John Sartor, PS&S’s President and Chief Executive Officer.
Based in Warren, New Jersey, PS&S has become one of the strongest design-build players in the region. The company slowly expanded during the seventies, but accelerated when Atlantic City became a gaming mecca in 1976.
PS&S is best at providing integrated services from the initial concepts to delivery. This could be from the early stages of planning a development project which involves understanding permitting requirements. The firm also plans for structural and foundation systems, mechanical, electrical, plumbing and fire protection (MEPF) and finally deals with contractors in an all-encompassing process.
“Integrated delivery is on the design and permitting side. The design-build is when we, as architects and engineers, team with the contracting community to deliver a project on behalf of an owner,” said Mr. Sartor. “In that case, we are working with the contractor and their team at an early stage to help bring it all the way through to construction.”
PS&S will partner with different general contractors for specific types of projects or owners. “There are a couple of general contractors that we have worked with on multiple projects over the years,” Mr. Sartor continued. “A lot of general contractors tend to use the same subcontractors, which enables us to know them well. Quite frankly, the most successful design-build is when you approach it as a team.”
About eighteen months ago, PS&S had a great opportunity to bring in Charles Clauser, a veteran architect with more than 30 years of experience. Mr. Clauser and his team of architects joined PS&S in July of 2015 and brought remarkable opportunities to PS&S’s healthcare sector in southern New Jersey.
“This region is well-known as a hotbed for the entire healthcare industry including expansions for hospitals, medical office buildings, and ambulatory care facilities,” said Mr. Sartor. “We are getting more involved with continuing care facilities, and with a pick-up of regional mergers of healthcare providers, there is going to be an ongoing need for re-planning of spaces and evaluation of assets and the infrastructure to support them. It’s an amazing transformation in our region here right now. With consolidation, these groups are becoming larger and larger. This is going to continue. It is similar to what happened to the banking industry a decade or more ago, with a consolidation of small banks and regional banks. I think that’s going to continue for a good period of time. We are well positioned now to use this as a growth opportunity for us in the region.”
Competing on price brings the challenge of combining the product and the work it takes to deliver it with an efficient team. The focus for PS&S over the last few years has been to build staff from the bottom up by developing intern opportunities and recruiting from colleges. It gets students interested in the industry and attracted to PS&S.
“We are finding that these graduates are well-trained,” said Jamie McDonald, PS&S’s senior vice president of Human Resources. “But the training doesn’t stop once we hire a new graduate. We have senior level employees who are interested in mentoring our employees. It’s a different mindset and thought process in terms of how they approach business. It’s a long process, but we are invested in that to build out the company.”
Retention is another area of great focus for PS&S. One way this has been accomplished is through the creation of a young professionals group which began as a request from a newly hired employee to help develop a sense of identity within the company. It is a blending of work and social activities, with the company sponsoring athletic teams and hosting employee outings such as bowling nights, happy hours and baseball games.
The second step is recruiting to create strong regional offices in the tri-state area that allow PS&S to be closer to its clients.
“We have found that doing business in this area is different from many other areas of the country,” said Mr. Sartor. “Having the ability to hire local people really gives us a chance to create that grassroots type of approach with our client base. It also gives us the opportunity to possibly attract employees who may not have had access to PS&S before.”
Ten to twelve years ago, the company invested heavily in its IT infrastructure. This was done to prepare for the inevitable change in how business was done. PS&S focused on upgrading hardware to support the software changes that were occurring, and it is now cutting edge in its use of technology as it applies to architecture, engineering, and the sciences. This offers employees a better technological environment in which to work, and the ability to utilize technology in different ways is appealing to younger workers.
“Embracing technology does lead to a more efficient delivery of our work product,” said Mr. Sartor. “It also gives us a competitive edge, as we are able to better present the information to our clients, so they better understand the product in the early stages of development. We have found that this is very attractive to our clients.”
Over the last decade, the competitive environment in which PS&S works has varied greatly. One incident that really drove business in the area was 2012’s Hurricane Sandy which focused the need for an incredible amount of energy infrastructure repair and upgrade.
Hurricane Sandy changed both the landscape of the industry and the areas affected. PS&S, knowing the regulations as it does, was in a good position to support growing industries such as energy infrastructure and utilities.
“There was a dynamic in this region which derived from multi-family apartment construction in Manhattan. It started with New York and has spilled over into our region. If you look at major transportation hubs in New York or New Jersey, we have been able to grow through the expansion of the number of units that are being put in place,” explains Mr. Sartor.
PS&S has an office in Yonkers, New York, which was put into place in 2004 and positions the company very nicely to serve the market in Westchester County.
There is also a push to move into the New England market as part of a five-year strategic plan. Of primary importance in New England is a movement to attract local people in the region who are familiar with the regulatory environment.
“By getting those folks on board, it will give us the chance to have a similar type of growth model that we have in New York and New Jersey,” said Mr. Sartor. “We are a year away from that.”
PS&S is very proud of its hard working, dedicated employees who allow the company to undertake sizeable projects despite being a mid-sized company. The combined regulatory knowledge and technological skills are paramount in the company’s efforts to bring in business.
“It’s really important for me to emphasize how much we appreciate the employees here,” said Mr. McDonald. “It’s a phenomenal combination of folks who have had tremendous relationships that they’ve developed in the marketplace.”