Specialty: Education, law and justice, government, seniors, historic, residential, medical
Management: Dutch Duarte, president and CEO
Year founded: 1961
Headquarters: Seattle
Current projects: Central Washington University Student Union and Recreation Center; Pasco High School; Coyote Ridge Corrections Center, Connell, Franklin County; Kennewick senior-living facility

Image courtesy Ambia
Ambia is designing a $63 million student union and recreation center for Central Washington University.

It’s been a year since Ambia adopted its new name — it was formerly BJSS Duarte Bryant — and President and CEO Dutch Duarte is pleased with the results.

After Duarte Bryant merged with the BJSS Group in 1999, the firms’ separate identities continued to lead a life of their own, Duarte said. The name change was a way to assert its new personality and build for the future.

“We removed all references to individuals because we’re a strong team,” he said. “The new name allowed us to tell our story.”

Jails, senior housing are hot

While Ambia’s bread and butter is education, the firm is seeing a lot of growth in corrections and senior residential projects.

“We’re going into 2006 with a very strong backlog” in those areas, Duarte said. He projects 20 percent revenue growth next year.

Top projects include a $63 million student union and recreation center at Central Washington University, a $117 million medium-security prison near the Tri-Cities and a senior-living facility in Kennewick.

Despite the heavy work load, Duarte said staffing levels have remained steady at 40 to 50 employees, split between offices in Seattle and Olympia.

To guide its business strategy, the firm has recruited several outside directors to its board, including Betty Woods, former CEO of Premera Blue Cross.

Making alliances

One boon for the firm, Duarte said, has been its involvement with alliance groups, such as the American Schoolhouse Council, which connect firms from around the country to share projects and best practices.

Duarte said that while Ambia wants to remain strong in its own backyard, the alliances have enabled it do work in other states and learn from those experiences.

“We can bring those lessons and share it with our clients,” he said.

Duarte said the firm has gotten a jump on some of the trends that are driving the industry, including an emphasis on quality assurance. High-quality documents minimize the likelihood of change orders, and ensure that projects go more smoothly. The firm’s investments in its quality-assurance programs have paid measurable dividends, he said.

Duarte lamented that competition for talented staff is fierce now, and some of the larger firms have been successful at hiring staff away.

“The fear comes from getting too much work and not being able to deliver it,” he said.

Copyright ©2005 Seattle Daily Journal and DJC.COM.
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