Today’s blog post is the first in a series of glimpses and insights into land use and the economy from the perspective of citizens who are experts in their field. In coming months you will hear from developers, planners, mayors, environmentalists, builders and others.
John Davenport owns Winston-Salem-based Davenport Transportation Consulting, a firm that now consults statewide as well as in Virginia and South Carolina. He is a graduate of N.C. State and is respected by elected bodies, developers and transportation departments for his knowledge as well as his integrity.
What made you decide to become a traffic engineer?
When I first got out of school, I thought I wanted to design roads. However, once got a chance to work with the Roadway Design unit within NCDOT, I realized that the projects they worked on took years to plan and build. I wanted to work on projects I could see built in a relatively short period of time. Traffic Engineering gave me that opportunity. First with NCDOT, where I was called upon to solve many of the day-to-day traffic problems around the area; and later when I started my own practice and had to do the same type of work for a wider variety of clients. Traffic Engineering is about problem solving , which I thoroughly enjoy.
Was it difficult taking that first step to start your own company?
Absolutely, I had worked with government for 10 years, so I was used to getting a check every two weeks. The thought of not knowing how much I was going to make was not very comforting.
How did you grow your business?
By trying to do a quality job with my clients, and treat everyone as fair as possible. I look for win-wins. That does not always happen, but that is what I shoot for. My dad taught me that the best marketing strategy was a satisfied customer.
How has the economy affected your business and the services you offer?
90% of my original clients have either gone out of business or had to significantly scale back what they were doing. This has led us to expand our “product line” and service area.
What types of new products and services have you added?
Construction engineering and inspection, transportation facility design, planning, bicycle lane design, sidewalk design, in general more multi modal planning and design work.
Do you see any signs of a recovering economy?
Some smaller projects are beginning to appear, and some of the older projects that were on hold are starting to move forward – however, nothing like before.
Any predictions as to when a full recovery will occur?
I can’t say for sure. What I can say is that I expect it to look a lot different than the last decade – which was unsustainable. A lot of the speculative projects that we worked on will never be built. There are also a lot of lots and partially completed projects on the market, which will weigh on the need for new developments. Additionally vacancy rates are still high for commercial space. On the government side, communities will begin to feel the full brunt of the recession hangover as the stimulus money begins to fade. Public transportation projects will be impacted. I predict there will be more redevelopment projects, as well as projects that are scaled back from their original scope. We are already starting to see projects that propose to revitalize defunct/bankrupt residential subdivisions into other uses. Public sector projects will be less plentiful until the recovery begins to fill the empty coffers of the local and State governments. Hopefully full recovery will be sustainable growth.
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