“The original plan for the Plan Review Services Group was to address the market needs in Virginia by building on the foundation established in the DC market. As you know, Virginia as a whole is very different from the market in DC. Even within the state boundaries, Northern Virginia is very different from the rest of the commonwealth. Here in Southwest Virginia, there might be one person in the role of a building inspector or plan reviewer for each municipality, versus the 30-40 staff that are more typical in the northern part of the state. And just like anywhere else in the country, some jurisdictions are fine with using Third Party Review, some are not.
“There are 400 – 500 different jurisdictions in the commonwealth. ECS has expanded our services in Virginia, and that market has been growing fast. We’ve done as many reviews in the past two years alone in Virginia as we’ve done in DC, which is itself quite a robust market. The size of the projects are smaller outside DC, but having them done right is just as important to those communities as it is for DC and Northern Virginia communities.
“The current situation has really changed things for municipalities of all sizes. The financial holes that are now being faced by local Virginia municipalities will not be filled by laying off their police, firefighters or other first responder personnel critical to each community. They must act to find the money elsewhere. It’s probable that building officials and others in local government will be staff and resource limited, or even furloughed for an unknown period of time. With the collapse of the normal tax base, permits that are in process on the local level are crashing or will be crashing soon. These unusual circumstances will likely drive more people than usual into needing Third Party services to keep their projects moving forward. Because many municipalities won’t be able to afford to maintain building staff, we hope to help by being the go-between among the municipal officials, the builders, and the developers.
“When we saw what was happening, we realized we had to modify our 2020 plans. While we still get calls for plans that need review, there aren’t as many calls right now; people are holding back to see where the economy goes. There is a natural pause between design (architects and engineers) and construction, which makes it easier to put a project on hold. But the minute they put a shovel in the ground, everyone wants to try and keep things moving. We see that in the field as in-process work is still moving forward.”
As the former Building Official for Virginia Tech, Rick also taught Building Code and Inspections classes (which he still does). This made for a natural segue into another way that ECS is leaning into the future, presenting webinars. “It’s a great way to stay in touch with clients and to stay visible, letting everyone know that ECS is still open and working.”
Rick is also teaching ECS staff in-house how to do inspections, so that when the economy re-engages, ECS will be well-positioned to get back to work. “We know we’ll be in the field eventually. The intent is to have staff trained and in the right places, so that once the economic wheel starts moving the other way, we can be the company that greases the way and keeps projects moving forward. We’ve already seen that in action: we transitioned from Plan Reviews to field inspections for code compliance to keep our client’s project running. Post COVID-19 pandemic we will pivot back, as well as have a field service line. We’ll be in a better position to see how things are going once businesses start to re-open and we see the projects left standing and what will be started anew.”