Insight Magazine: On Staying Connected - A Q & A with Jennifer Bennett

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Originally published in the Winter 2019 issue of the Quad-City Times magazine, Insight, Matt Christensen, executive editor of the Quad-City Times and Dispatch-Argus, interviewed Jennifer Bennett, Vice President/Quad Cities and Bloomington Office Director.

A graduate of Bettendorf High School and the University of Illinois, Jennifer Bennett has deep roots in the Quad-Cities.

So it only made sense for her to return home after college to begin her career. At heart, Bennett is a builder. A structural engineer by trade, she’s now the office director of the Quad-Cities and Bloomington, Ill., branches of Shive-Hattery, an architectural and engineering firm.

Bennett and her firm handle projects ranging from civil infra- structure to hip new office spaces to high school auditoriums and massive university buildings. Bennett oversees local projects and commercial endeavors around the country from the firm’s design spaces in Moline.

Even though Bennett is a director, she still spends plenty of face-time with clients, a personal touch the company credits with setting it apart from competitors.

Also key, says Bennett, is creating spaces that fit needs. It’s not enough to design something beautiful – it also has to be functional.

I visited with Bennett recently to talk design, trends and why the company is on track for a banner year in 2020.

MC: How many of your projects are local and how many are outside the area?

JB: It depends on the market sector. Our civil engineers, they work very local, within an hour commute. Our commercial projects are nation-wide. Our health care projects are regional, Midwest regional.

Really, we’re focused on growing our Quad-Cities region. But our big corporate clients we connect with the Quad-Cities take us nationwide.

MC: That’s cool that companies around the country are turning to Quad-City firms for their needs. What are some of the projects Shive-Hattery has been involved with?

JB: We do RSM’s work nation- ally. We just finished RSM’s local office. Von Maur, we do their work nationally. They are really thriving in this difficult retail market.

But a lot of the projects that we do that are meaningful to us aren’t high-profile or flashy. They might be the auditorium at North Scott or the renovation at a school – creating an environment that might help a student feel safer or learn better. Or in a health care environment, that might encourage healing. Those are the projects we get really excited about because they’re fun to work on that are kind of leading-edge or cutting edge, but they’re not always the ones you see on the front of the newspaper.

MC: How is design being used to foster those outcomes you talk about? What do you design in a school that makes it conducive to learning or in a hospital conducive to healing?

JB: I talked a lot about our client experience. Experience is a term being used a lot in our industry. It’s not just function. So when a student walks into the building, its how it feels. There’s a lot more attention today to interior finishes, what’s on the walls, how the furniture makes me feel. Is this a space where I
belong? Is this a space that builds pride?

Same with healing. We found that connecting the outdoors to the indoors has become very important. Just a calm as you’re walking back from chemotherapy, for example. It’s the finishes and how the space makes the user feel. It’s about their experience.

MC: I’m guessing a lot of your business follows market trends – when the economy is doing well, people have money to spend on buildings; when it’s not, maybe not so much. Is that true, and what is the economy telling you now?

JB: Sure. Diversity helps. We’re in five different market sectors. So if the economy slows down in the ag market, for example, it can really affect our industrial sector. So we’ll see those kinds of trends.

If it’s a general recession, our commercial drops off first, but then government might come up a bit.

Right now, we’re not feeling the problems in the ag sector yet. We have a backlog of projects. IT looks like 2020 will be a record year. We’re not seeing any slowdown.

MC: What’s driving that forecast?

JB: Government, industry and commercial markets are all looking very, very strong next year.

MC: What issues will you be tracking in 2020?

JB: Well, any infrastructure bill. The recently-passed capital bill in Illinois, for example. We also really watch health care legislation a lot. The health care market for years has been a slower market than it used to be. It seems primarily to be because of the uncertainty around where to invest the money. What’s going to happen to health care in the United States, and where should we invest our capital dollars in an uncertain market?