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The Practice Management Knowledge Community (PMKC) identifies and develops information on the business of architecture for use by the profession to maintain and improve the quality of the professional and business environment.  The PMKC initiates programs, provides content and serves as a resource to other knowledge communities, and acts as experts on AIA Institute programs and policies that pertain to a wide variety of business practices and trends.

Support For Rural Firms Looking for More Civic Design Work

  • 1.  Support For Rural Firms Looking for More Civic Design Work

    Posted 08-07-2020 11:56 AM
    Edited by Kevin Harris Assoc. AIA 08-07-2020 12:05 PM

    I believe that AIA National can help to strengthen architectural firms practicing in small cities and rural communities by prioritizing initiatives that can help these firms grow. In this proposal, AIA National would create a program that allows its larger firms to work closer with its smaller firms, in a mutually advantageous arrangement. Would you support this kind of a program for AIA members? Let me know your thoughts.

    Image Courtesy of the SBA


    AIA Mentor Protégé Program: A Proposal

    The Mission:

    Help AIA member firms located in rural communities and small cities win more civic design work.

    The Challenge:

    Architectural firms located in rural areas and small cities face many challenges that their counterparts in larger cities do not. To illustrate, let us consider just one of those challenges…winning large civic projects within their local community.

    In a rural area, although an architectural firm may have deep ties to the community, when the community requires design work on a large civic project, this work is often awarded to a well-known regional or national firm. Why? Four simple words…similar past project experience.

    Civic projects are different from private projects. With a privately funded project, the project owner can choose to work with any architect they want. The decision, and the responsibility for that decision, rests with the project owner. After all, they're spending their own money.

    With civic projects, public money is being spent. This means there will be greater accountability placed upon the contract officer; who is the person responsible for awarding the contract. With public projects, the contract officer is obligated to exercise due-diligence during the entire contract award process.

    Because the contract officer must protect the public agency they work for (not to mention their own careers), they can't afford to give a small rural architectural firm the benefit of the doubt on large projects. Supporting the local team is often just too risky. In the contract officers eyes, the local firms lack of similar past project experience makes them "unqualified" (in terms of award potential), meaning the award must go to the "qualified" regional or national firm.

    It's the classic chicken/egg, which came first, scenario. The rural firm can't be awarded the project because of their lack of similar experience and they can't get the experience they need because no one is willing to give them a chance.

    Creating an official AIA Mentor/Protégé program (MPP) is a way to improve this dynamic. Unlike other Mentor Programs which are designed to benefit small and disadvantaged businesses, the AIA's program will focus on benefiting AIA member firms located in rural communities and small cities.

    The Opportunity:

    To identify a solution that creates more opportunities for rural and small city architectural practices to participate in large civic projects, in a way that also benefits the AIA's large firm members who have an national or International reputation.

    The Proposed Solution:

    Create a new AIA National Mentor/Protégé program, comprised of some of the AIA's largest and strongest member firms and some of the AIA's rural and small city practice member firms. To encourage civic leaders and large architectural firms to support this new initiative the AIA should create a new international recognition program that recognizes and honors those communities, civic leaders and AIA large firm members that support the development of architectural practices in rural communities by supporting the AIA's Mentor/Protégé program.

    Goals of This New Program:

    ·      To increase the access of AIA member firms practicing in small cities and rural communities to secure larger project opportunities.

    ·      To increase the access of larger firms in new territories.

    ·      To increase the revenues of both the Mentors and the Protégés participating in the program.

    ·      To increase the value of belonging to the association to its members.

    ·      To create new, living-wage, design-related jobs in small city's and rural communities.

    ·      To create new, mutually-beneficial, strategic partnerships between the AIA's large member firms and the AIA's small and rural member firms.

    Benefits to The Protégé:

    ·      Business and/or financial management.

    ·      Business planning and projections.

    ·      Business Development.

    ·      Long-term relationship with a potential prime contractor.

    ·      Develop innovative approaches and technology.

    ·      Potential Joint Venture with a large business.

    ·      Develop strong business capabilities to compete and perform on civic projects.

    Benefits to The Mentor:

    ·      Goodwill and corporate responsibility.

    ·      Long-term relationship with a potential subcontractor.

    ·      Develop innovative approaches and technology.

    ·      Potential Joint Venture partner.

    ·      Opportunity to be recognized by AIA in a new award category

    Notice what international consulting firm Booz Allen says concerning its Mentor Protégé program:

    "Booz Allen's strategy as a mentor is to:

    Enhance technical and business capabilities of our protégé firms by assisting them in developing their business skills and infrastructure, transferring technology, integrating them into Booz Allen's business and marketing activities, and expanding their resources.

    Expand business development and subcontracting opportunities by encouraging subcontracting with our protégés across all Booz Allen business segments, as well as enhancing the personnel and resource capabilities of our protégés. This expands our protégés' breadth of expertise and experience to increase competition in the technology market.

    Develop productive, long-term strategic relationships by developing and enhancing capabilities of our protégés so that together we may provide high-quality support to mentor-protégé team clients.

    Establish mutually beneficial teaming arrangements by exposing new opportunities for our protégés and helping Booz Allen gain access to new markets." (

    Benefits to The Project Owner:

    Notice what the US Department of Homeland Security says about the benefits it receives from its Mentor Protégé program;

    "The Department of Homeland Security – Benefits of moving from the traditional large business prime contractor/small business subcontractor model to a mentor-protégé relationship model based on mutual agreement, trust, and meaningful business development.

    Additionally, mentor-protégé arrangements may provide the Department of Homeland Security with greater assurance that a protégé subcontractor will be able to perform under a contract than a similarly situated non-protégé subcontractor. Further, protégé firms gain opportunities to seek and perform government and commercial contracts through the guidance and support of mentor firms that may not have been available to them without the mentor-protégé program.

    Other benefits, which help support the Homeland Security mission, include:

    o  Acquiring an expanded base of qualified small businesses.

    o  Mitigating the effects of necessary and justified contract bundling.

    o  Strengthening subcontracting opportunities.

    o  Achieving a potential increase in small business program goal accomplishments." (,small%20disadvantaged%20business%2C%20and%20women%2D)

    Next Steps:

    AIA National Designs its Mentor Protégé Program in the fall of 2020.

    AIA National Launches the Pilot in the spring of 2021.


    Aren't the existing Mentor Protégé programs like the SBA's All Small program enough? Why does the AIA need to create its own program?

    Not all small city and rural firms will meet the qualifications of the SBA's All Small program. For example, to qualify for the SBA's All Small Mentor Protégé program, the Protégé who is an architectural firm (NAICS 541310 Architectural Services) must have annual billings of $8 Million or less. In contrast, the AIA's Mentor Protégé program could allow Protégé firms with revenues in excess of this amount to participate in this program. This is because the AIA's program can be designed to focus on strengthening rural practices, whether or not those rural practices are a small businesses or owned by a socially or economically disadvantaged individual.

    What are the details on the SBA's Mentor Protégé Program

    The US Small Business Association (SBA) also has a Mentor/Protégé program as do a number of other organizations. The SBA's program is called All Small and if the Protégé meets at least one of several qualifying conditions, they and their Mentor may be entitled to join this program, providing additional benefits to the partnership. The details are here: (

    The AIA has not run a program like this before. Where do we start?

    As previously mentioned, Mentor Protégé programs are not a new concept. Several large organizations currently operate them. The AIA will be able to leverage the lessons learned from these other organizations to structure an MPP that works well for the needs of our members.

    Kevin Harris Assoc. AIA, CSI
    Director, Sales & Marketing
    AGS Stainless, Inc.
    Bainbridge Island WA
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