We talk a lot about market sectors in the A/E/C industry—whether they’re up or down, which ones we can compete in, and which strategies will help our firms stand apart as leaders. What we don’t talk enough about is how our firms can be out in front, helping to develop a market and essentially creating demand for their services.

In this issue of The Friedman File, we’re talking with a firm that isn’t content to wait on future opportunities—they’re making them. At 300-person MEP and building services firm Jaros, Baum & Bolles (JB&B) (New York, NY), they’re rolling up their sleeves and bringing constituencies together to build a market from the ground up.

JB&B has been working in institutional life sciences design—and in New York—for years. So when local real estate brokers began asking what it would take to reposition a property to serve these types of uses, JB&B’s leaders grew curious. New York City, in the shadow of Boston’s vibrant life sciences industry, was not attracting those businesses. And yet, they had the top institutions, they had the graduates, and now… they had a potentially interested real estate community. What if, instead of leaving the city, those graduates could join businesses and start companies right here?

“That was really the catalyst of this market from my perspective,” says Associate Partner Christopher Horch, PE. “If you put together the graduates, the businesses, the developers and the venture capital, you create a life sciences sector.”

JB&B has built its reputation on solving complex problems. Bringing together multiple stakeholders in an economically viable way to help birth a life sciences industry in New York was a problem they were excited to solve. And their solution is already reinvigorating their business development efforts.

Educating the market

“Many developers were cautious to take ownership of this until they really understood how it works, what are the needs and what are the tenants doing in these spaces,” says Anthony Montalto, PE, Associate Partner. “We are still very much moving this forward. It is a steady, long-term approach, as space becomes available.”

It started with educating developers on what life sciences companies do, what the specialized infrastructure needs are and the cost analysis of repositioning buildings to attract them. In 2018, JB&B’s Partner and Managing Partner Emeritus Mitchel Simpler and four leaders from the life sciences and real estate communities launched NYC Builds Bio+ and the inaugural Life Sciences Real Estate Development Symposium. The event drew 250 professionals in life sciences, biotech, design and real estate.

This membership-driven, non-profit organization, now 80 members strong, aims to connect diverse stakeholders to promote applied life sciences as an economic cluster in New York. Simpler, a 43-year veteran of JB&B’s healthcare and life sciences projects, was a driver of the organization’s steering committee and serves on its board. The firm is a major organizational sponsor. Since its inception, NYC Builds Bio+ has created eight sold-out events and hosted tours of newer facilities such as JLABS@NYC, launched by Johnson & Johnson Innovation, the State of New York, the New York Genome Center and Empire State Development.

There are plenty of challenges, including zoning and redeveloping buildings in an economically viable way. As developers have started to understand the opportunities, more buildings are being repositioned. By proactively helping to develop the market, JB&B is moving its thought leadership to a higher level, positioning itself as the go-to engineering firm for developers, companies and startups looking to establish themselves in New York. Horch and Montalto speak three or four times a year, sharing technical expertise and building important relationships with scientists, architects, developers and others, while also collecting data about the needs of the growing market sector. JB&B staff are well represented in NYC Builds Bio+ working groups, symposia and breakfast events. Longer term, the aim is to share knowledge more widely through educational white papers and articles.

A snowball effect

By early 2019, RFPs started coming. The firm is currently under contract on several confidential projects and the city is seeing an influx of developers and business, such as Boston-based King Street Properties, a life sciences developer building its new Innolabs space in Long Island City. Former office spaces such as 345 Park Ave South are in late-phase design/early construction on their repositioning to life sciences spaces. In its online member report, NYC Builds Bio+ reported significant growth in the sector over the past year.

“We have seen a sense of comfort from the industry when they hear that JB&B’s designs are behind the infrastructure planning because we have been known for our rigorous approach toward redundancy and resiliency,” says Montalto.

As the market develops, JB&B believes it’s important to remain nimble—and listen. They’re focusing their solutions around the need for flexible, scalable, sustainable buildings that can accommodate a variety of laboratory and life sciences uses. And they envision the firm as a trusted advisor to these highly specialized clients for the foreseeable future.

“As we develop our designs for life sciences, we envision a graduate who is leaving an institution, gaining VC funding and launching a startup in an incubator space. As they grow their companies and expand into new spaces, we want to follow them,” says Horch.

This experiment is still young—and it requires a strategic commitment from the top down. Proof of success, according to JB&B, will mean a significant market share in local life sciences, increased revenue, more buildings being repositioned and occupied, successful long-term client relationships and developers calling with sole-source work.

Community impact

The firm’s leadership says their efforts are as much about impact as business development. In creating an interdisciplinary effort to cultivate a new economic sector within the city they’ve called home for 105 years, they’re serving their business, their clients, and the larger community. While it’s not always easy to get diverse stakeholders rowing in the same direction, in this case, the mission and vision is clear to all. Bringing an impactful new industry to the city, one whose very business is technological progress, is a win-win-win.

“The life science sector thrives on people, capital and state-of-the-art technology. They’re its prime mover,” says Managing Partner Scott Frank. “What JB&B brings to the table here is keen insights about how readily New York City’s building stock and real estate development opportunities can accelerate this critical economic engine of the city’s future economy.”

Look around. Where are the opportunities for your firm to be far ahead of—or even shape—a market? I’d love to hear your ideas at rich@friedmanpartners.com or (508) 276-1101.