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  • Writer's pictureAndrea Newman

Celebrating Diversity Month

According to the Annual Business Survey, in 2018, only 322,000 businesses in the United States are Hispanic-owned. As one of the few sub consultant firms led by a minority of Hispanic heritage, Palacio Collaborative continues to foster an inclusive environment where employees’ diverse backgrounds are respected, valued, and celebrated. We are also committed to partnering on projects that directly benefit minority communities.

Join us for Diversity Month as we talk to Palacio’s President, Michael D. Palacio, to discuss a heightened rise in diversity and inclusion in the AEC industry and how he thinks firms can further improve for future generations to come.

Michael D. Palacio, CPE

President & Chief Cost Manager

Michael has over 25 years of experience in the Design and Construction industry. He is the President and Chief Cost Manager providing oversight for all projects ranging from $1 Million to over $100 Million. His core project mission is to manage cost from start to finish, preserve the integrity of the design, and give the Owner the most building value for their budget. He is constantly looking for ways to improve Palacio Collaborative's practice and service quality.

How did you become interested in the AEC industry?

I became interested in architecture as a teenager and in high school I interned with a small architecture firm. The moment I knew architecture was for me was during a family trip. I remember going a little out of the way out west to Arizona where we visited Paolo Soleri’s Arcosanti planned city. On that same trip, we stayed in an adobe-style house in New Mexico, which was quite different from our suburban home in South Florida. I found it interesting that the structure and feel of a house could be so different. From there, I studied architecture at Georgia Tech but realized around my junior year that architecture may not be the right fit. I finished my degree and sought to become a project manager in the construction industry, but general contractors weren’t showing me much love. So, like most people in estimating, I kind of fell into it. Where my overly practical and pragmatic thinking was a detriment in architecture design classes, it proved very useful in estimating. I had a knack for it; doing take-off and pricing came easily to me, and the rest as they say is history.

What is your favorite part about cost management?

Without a doubt, it’s working on conceptual cost models at the early stage of a project. If the design process were a circus, then producing a cost model would be the high-wire act. With such limited information to go on (typically just a program and a conversation with the client), producing an accurate cost model is a real test of a cost manager’s skill and experience. I developed a cost modeling tool called Genesys® about 14 years ago and it’s been fun tweaking it over the years to improve its flexibility and adaptability to different project types. Of course not only do I find producing cost models to be a fun challenge, I also strongly believe in their ability to put projects on the right track. The AEC industry is plenty challenging, so being able to reconcile the budget and scope before starting the design process puts everyone involved, and the project in general, on a successful path.

What does diversity look like to you in the AEC industry? Diversity in our industry has certainly improved over the years. When I began working in 1995, I remember project meetings were not particularly diverse in terms of gender or race. While I have seen some improvement over the years with respect to race, the much more noticeable gains in our industry have been in female representation. I know that first-hand, having nine women employees with most of them providing cost management services. The improvement in diversity has been across the whole industry from architects, interior designers, engineers, estimators, project/program managers, product reps, and more.

What are some challenges that you faced or are facing being a minority-owned business?

Being a minority-owned business is something of a double-edged sword. It can be an advantage with publicly funded projects in jurisdictions that expect the design team to have minority representation. Yet by the same token, you can also find yourself being lumped in with other minority firms in the market that may not have the best reputation. It’s for this reason that we want to be known as a great cost management firm that happens to be a minority business enterprise. Being seen in those terms by the market is best for everyone.

What are some changes you would like to see in the AEC industry regarding Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)?

I believe that we are in a good place compared to where we were 26 years ago when I started in this industry, but there is certainly room for further improvement. I’m sure the incoming generations in the workforce will continue help get us to where we need to be in terms of DEI within the overall AEC industry. Where I would really like to see improvement is on the ownership side where there is still a general lack of female and minority representation at the principal/owner level. Over time, it would be great to see the AEC industry be a place for multi-generational female and minority-owned firms, which at this point are quite rare. My generation overall was able to make decent gains on the DEI front, but I’d really like to see this accelerate with the generations ahead of us.

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