If you drive around Northeast Florida for more than an hour, you’ll travel on, through or past numerous projects that the England-Thims & Miller Inc. civil engineering firm helped make happen.
The 43-year-old firm provides construction engineering and inspection, environmental services and surveying and mapping supporting land development, public works and transportation projects for the private sector and federal and state government agencies.
Even with its decades of expansion, the firm retains its founders’ philosophy, said ETM Vice President Tyler Mathews.
That keeps the company, “local, boutique and client focused,” he said.
After a developer acquires property, a firm like ETM is the next partner needed for a project.
“We get involved when somebody wants to take a piece of land to the market,” Mathews said.
The firm works with landowners, real estate brokers, land use attorneys and bankers to help add value to the property, he said.
The company’s portfolio includes Nocatee and Nocatee Parkway; Cecil Commerce Center; St. Johns Town Center, The Markets at Town Center and Town Center Parkway; the Florida Blue campus; Baptist Hospital South; Mayo Clinic; UF & Shands Jacksonville North Medical Center; Queen’s Harbour Yacht & Country Club; East San Marco; Daily’s Place amphitheater and the company’s convenience stores; and many others listed at etminc.com.
Projects in the pipeline include the former JEA Power Park property in North Jacksonville and the proposed Lot J mixed-use complex at TIAA Bank Field.
Established by three real estate developers, the firm has grown to about 250 partners and employees with headquarters in Jacksonville and offices in Gainesville, Lake Mary and Palm Coast.
Mathews, 30, is the son of N. Hugh Mathews, who joined ETM in 1986 and was named CEO in 2013.
Projects aren’t classified as much by physical size as by complexity. The firm works with some of the largest landowners in the state, but much of its work is done on smaller footprints, like the Daily’s convenience store and gas station being developed Downtown.
“We’ve been involved in Nocatee since it was a pencil sketch 20 years ago,” Mathews said of ETM’s largest project to date.
The smaller projects, like Daily’s Downtown, can be just as, if not more, complex, with issues such as state transportation permits, stormwater mitigation and utilities infrastructure, he said.
Business at ETM reflects real estate development trends, whether that’s on the upward or downward trend.
The firm faced challenges when the real estate bubble burst to bring on the Great Recession of 2007-09.
Mathews said building permit applications in Northeast Florida fell from about 18,000 a year to about 3,000.
Real estate development essentially came to a halt and ETM had no choice but to temporarily downsize its workforce.
“When nobody needs your services, it’s hard to stay in business,” Mathews said.
Even without its landholder and developer clients, the firm weathered the recession because by that time it had diversified its client base to include public sector projects.
When the private sector was soft, ETM worked on state and federal transportation and other government projects, such as work for the city and JEA. That market is more recession-proof, Mathews said.
The current challenge is the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s nothing like the recession 13 years ago.
“In ‘08, people told us to put the pencil down and stop working,” Mathews said.
“Now, everybody took a six- to 12-week pause. A lot of our clients went into a holding pattern, but the market stayed healthy.”
Single-family development and apartment construction continues, along with the strong commercial real estate market fueled by the many warehouse and e-commerce distribution projects in Jacksonville.
Mathews said there still is uncertainty in the market, with national administration changes and how those might affect interest rates.
The coronavirus might change the commercial real estate market and that’s another factor, with companies discovering that people can work remotely instead of in the traditional setting.
“The office market is odd. People are trying to figure out the future,” Mathews said.
Even with the continuing COVID-19 considerations, ETM anticipates a positive trend for the local real estate development market.
“Our business is reliant on growth. We’re fortunate to be in a city that’s been growing for 40 years,” Mathews said.
“We live here. It’s home. We’re bullish on Jacksonville and how it will compete nationally and globally.”