Nearly 20 years ago, Sid Scott retreated to his basement and embarked on his own architecture firm. After growing up in rural Montana, graduating from Montana State University, and moving to San Diego for five years, he made his way to the Pacific Northwest in 1990 and joined Architects Van Lon/Edwards in Portland, becoming a partner alongside Kelly Edwards.
Seven years later, Scott launched his own firm and was joined by Edwards a year later to form Scott | Edwards Architecture (No. 12 on The List). The enterprise grew organically from then on, recently reaching full-time employment of 58. Scott sheds light on how this growth transpired and the nature of Portland’s burgeoning architecture business. His comments have been edited for clarity and brevity.
Your firm has added four architects since last year. What prompted this expansion? We’d always grown. Starting by myself up to about 20 was a fairly steady growth. That really helped keep our staff stable and our workload balanced. We rode the recession out very well compared to our industry. I think we only laid one person off. After that we really started growing again. My partner Kelly continued to work for the office but retired from the partnership about three years ago. Then I offered six of my staff to come into the partnership, thinking it would take them awhile to get rolling and develop clients. And it took off fast. Since the beginning of 2015 we’ve added 21 people, an increase of about 50 percent in the last year and a half.
How do you develop new business? When I started the whole idea was I wanted to be 50 percent in the public sector, 50 percent in the private sector and then have as wide a diversity of projects as I could get in those sectors. That’s really what’s carried us, that balance of work. During the recession it generated a lot of work with nonprofit groups. That’s really the basis of the business model. What’s happening (now) is that most sectors are growing and we’re keeping up with that in a controlled sort of way. It’s been kind of an amazing time where there are projects that come along that you would just love to do, but you don’t have the ability to take them on. On one hand it seems fantastic and on the other it’s like ‘what a bummer. We can’t do everything.’ I think that is the case for most architects currently. The opportunities are there and selecting the right ones – that’s just an important part of growing a business.
How did your firm get involved in nonprofit work? My wife is a licensed clinical social worker so she had always worked for nonprofit organizations early in her career. They always had shoestring budgets so I got involved in helping them try to get the absolute most that we could for their budget. That became a real passion so we’ve worked with more than 60 nonprofits since I started. Now I’m seeing real growth in what nonprofits are able to do in terms of better design. It’s been an amazing transformation. I’ve always felt like particularly in the nonprofit world, they would get the leftover space and it was never designed for them. And now we’re able to really design spaces that make people feel better and empower what they’re doing. It’s also the folks they serve – it shows the importance of them in terms of spending the money and energy to create spaces that celebrate them.
How would you describe the Portland design community? What I see right now is a really energized community. The design bar is being raised on a daily basis in Portland. The thing I really find impressive is it’s a wide range of projects and sectors that the design energy is influencing. Expectations for a greater level of design and quality are very high. We’re all pushing each other to do better work and in the end that’s a real positive opportunity for the community.
Are you concerned about a future economic downturn? You can only project out so far. For us if we have a year’s worth of work, that’s very stable. And at least the next three years look very stable and (present) opportunity for more growth. Beyond that, who knows? That’s where our business model of having this very diverse portfolio and diverse project types we do, really helps us. Because when one sector dips, you’re on the wave of another one. Our goal is to get one new project type every year that we’ve never done before. We’ve probably averaged two a year, and that just keeps people really interested in what they’re doing, and keeps us learning and trying new things.
Title: Faces of the List: Sid Scott, Founding principal of Scott | Edwards Architecture
Date: June 10th, 2016
Author: Brandon Sawyer
Publication: Portland Business Journal
Link: Original Article