Bailey Edward Design Inc.
- Written by: Jeanee Dudley
- Produced by: Ian Nichols
- Estimated reading time: 5 mins
Based in Chicago, Illinois, Bailey Edward Design Inc. has been providing distinct architectural, engineering and construction management services to clients throughout the Midwest since 1991. Ellen Bailey Dickson is the company’s founder and managing principal. With a Master of Architecture degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and more than 30 years of experience in the industry, she has constructed a successful team that excels at maintaining long-term relationships with federal, commercial and institutional clients.
Dickson started her company during the last big recession in the early 90s. “I had not intended to be a business owner at all,” she recounts. “I started out doing residential and some retail work, which was the focus of the business for the first 10 years. I wanted to be doing more public sector work and over the years, we transitioned away from projects in the private sector.”
Her business partner, Robin Edward Whitehurst, became a partner in 1992. He serves as the company’s technical principal, with a focus on institutional, preservation and research projects. Dickson and Whitehurst work with a strong leadership team, including branch managers Omar Bailey, Kent Locke Jr. and Kevin Schnebly.
Strength in diversity
With a total staff of 38 people spanning three offices in Chicago, Fox River Grove and Champaign, Illinois, the firm offers a broad range of architectural, engineering and construction management services. “We self-perform architectural design as well as, fire protection, communication and mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineering,” notes Dickson. “Some years back, we absorbed a mechanical and electrical engineering company with a staff of nine. We subcontract civil and structural engineering as well as landscape design.”
With a diverse line of services, Bailey Edward avoids being pigeonholed into any one sector of the industry. Dickson reports that 32 percent of volume is with federal clients. “We work with five different core clients in that sector,” she says. “We have performed projects for the USDA, General Services Administration (GSA), Veterans Affairs (VA), the military and Argonne National Laboratory. We also do a significant amount of institutional work.”
Instead of focusing on any specific project type, the team has established a niche in doing retainer work – long-term contracts – with a range of clients. “More than anything, our responsiveness to the needs of our clients sets us apart,” says Dickson. “We get them a proposal and we are there from beginning to end, all the way through. We provide the full package, value-added engineering included.”
A growing portfolio
In the military sector, Dickson and her team have been working on a $52 million Illinois National Guard Readiness Center and Army Aviation Support Facility in Kankakee. “We have two arms of the National Guard coming together under one roof,” she says. “One purpose of the facility will be to train National Guardsmen and women. The aviation component is working on Black Hawk helicopters. We started the project back in 2010 and it has recently come under construction.”
The firm is also working on a design-build project on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus. “This is for an integrated bio-research laboratory where they are taking crops and working on different ways to use them,” says Dickson. “This is not just a normal laboratory, but also has scale manufacturing on-site. The University is also using it as a facility where they can bring in corporate partners for research projects.”
At the same campus, Bailey Edward Design recently concluded a feasibility study for an academic building built in the ’70s. “This has been one of our most rewarding recent projects,” says Dickson. “The facility is very functional and rigid in its layout, but there are all sorts of new purposes. The upgrades could offer much more flexibility. We have really enjoyed reimagining how they can use the existing space by building on an addition.”
The company has a long backlog of work for the coming year. Dickson mentions more projects for the National Guard and the GSA as well as more private sector work. Her team is coming up on some senior housing work as well as a project for a food processing laboratory and a few religious facilities.
Good business practices
Bailey Edward has seen consistent growth over recent years, although Dickson says there have been some growing pains. “Our biggest challenge is that in a competitive market, many firms have cut their prices, reducing staff and salaries to save on overhead,” she explains. “We didn’t have to do any of that, but we are paying the price for being good business people. Other firms have been drastically underselling, which can make it hard to compete no matter how qualified we are. At the same time, we have not sacrificed quality in any way; low cost inevitably translates into compromising good design and good project management, which is something we will never do.”
While money keeps the gears turning, Dickson and her team are more concerned with providing good value to clients. Bailey Edward manages costs and multipliers per project on a daily basis, ensuring the cash continues to flow in the right direction. Meanwhile, the business is dedicated to building in value points for each contract.
The team applies creative ingenuity to get unexpected results for clients. “In terms of sustainability, we have been able to achieve LEED ratings for existing and historic buildings,” Dickson says. “You can get a lot of energy performance out of existing buildings. We actually did a report where we studied the energy performance of existing wood windows and found that if owners retrofitted them with thermal window panes systems rather than completely replace the entire window, you can see major energy savings. A historical building is a renewable resource in and of itself, and we understand what that means as an asset.”
As the business continues to build on its strong portfolio, Dickson takes great pride in her team. “It is like a family here, even though we have grown so much over the years,” she says. “I’m motivated by the promises we have made to our clients to deliver a good product and a good service. Our whole staff looks forward to contributing to a positive outcome and they enjoy the fact that they are getting to change the way the world looks as architects and engineers.”
Over the coming years, the business will continue to grow. Dickson believes the firm will gain ground geographically, taking on work on a national scale in the next one to two years. As the economy continues to improve, Bailey Edward will remain a trusted, value-oriented partner for project owners throughout the Midwest.
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