High-Profile interviewed Managing Director John Stebbins and Co-president Jim Loft of PROCON, an architectural and construction management firm based in Hooksett, N.H. PROCON was founded by the Stebbins’ family in 1935, and is one of the oldest privately-held, family-owned and operated design-build firms in the United States.
Stebbins and Loft discussed the evolution of commercial development and construction in New Hampshire over the last 25 years, as well as the recent challenges and innovations the industry has seen, and their predictions for the next 25 years.
High-Profile: What do you feel have been the most notable shifts/developments in the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry in New Hampshire in the last 25 years?
Jim Loft: The last 25 years have seen growth in all New England states, as expansion occurs all the way from Washington, D.C. up into New Jersey and Rhode Island and beyond. Locally, we’ve seen development mature as we see an evolution from inexpensively made buildings into higher quality developments promoted by competition in the market and owners being more willing to spend more money to attract tenants. Recently, we’ve seen major growth in Portsmouth, Nashua, Manchester, and Concord with a lot of live-work-play projects in several areas. The market is showing us that people are really wanting to live in those areas that present a high quality of life while being close to the action the bigger cities provide.
HP: What have the biggest improvements been in the industry in the last 25 years?
John Stebbins: Technology has come so far in the industry, it has affected really every step of the process. We’ve gone from 2D drawings to full color 3D renderings of every aspect of a building project and virtual reality experiences, allowing owners to really visualize what they’re getting early in the process. Things develop at a much faster pace now, and the technology creates efficiencies that we just never had before.
HP: What are the biggest challenges that your firm or the industry faces today?
JS: While the developments in technology have brought some extraordinary capabilities in our industry, it can set pretty high expectations very early in a project which can present a number of challenges. No matter how good we get the technology to visualize the building, it’s going to look slightly different in the real world, so it can be a challenge to make sure we are creating realistic expectations for the client as the project progresses.
JL: Employee recruitment continues to be one of our biggest challenges. PROCON has a full time recruiter on staff who casts a very wide net to recruit talent from all over and to address this challenge, but we see the industry as a whole struggling with this currently.
HP: What do you see as the biggest challenge in real estate development?
JS: There’s a lot of demand out there right now, but it’s very difficult to make pro formas on new real estate development work. You’re pairing very inflated construction pricing that hit us hard during the pandemic with inflated interest rates. Prior to the pandemic we had stable prices for so many years, less than 3% inflation for 10+ years and historically low interest rates, and that access to cheap money and stable construction pricing made getting projects off the ground a lot easier. At PROCON, we do feel like we’re well-positioned right now to overcome a lot of the current challenges. Because of our vertically integrated delivery system, we are quite good at discovering unforeseen circumstances and solving for those things earlier in the process rather than having them be an unwelcome, and costly, discovery while you’re in the ground.
HP: Where do you see the industry in 25 years?
JL: I definitely see the growth in development continuing north from Massachusetts into New Hampshire and all the way to Portland, Maine as more and more people continue to discover that it really is the ideal place to get to experience a high quality of life while being in such close proximity to Boston and Logan International Airport, and really achieving that live-work balance.
JS: There are so many pressures on the industry right now whether it’s price, energy efficiency, human wellness, the conservancy of land…It’s exciting to be a part of this industry because we have the ability to affect people’s lives in a very positive way with the way that we’re designing and constructing beautiful buildings that are nice to look at but also can make people healthier and take pressures off the environment. We’re able to have an effect on addressing the housing shortage, the reshoring of industries from overseas and improving supply chains, affecting how energy efficient buildings are, and helping infill land that already is underutilized and build density in already developed areas rather than needlessly deforesting. I really love our industry and I’m excited for where things are going.