Prospering Company: SHW Group

Marjorie Simmons doesn’t take education lightly.

“Education has such a profound effect on society as a whole,” she says. “Education empowers people.”

Her passion for education runs so deep, in fact, that she has helped build a successful business around it. So, as the managing principal for the Berkley-based SHW Group of Michigan, an interdisciplinary architectural/engineering firm specializing in designing educational facilities, Simmons has knows what the latest trends and best practices are for optimal learning environments.

“Providing the environment so that the [latest] teaching methodologies can be implemented is very important,” she says.

So why have a design firm dedicated strictly to education facilities? The simple answer is that not only can design have a unique effect on a student’s learning, but it takes a considerable deal of research and knowledge to create such environments.

Simmons uses the example of Cooley Law School, a current SHW Group project. A new teaching trend in law schools is remote witnessing, in which students learn to question witnesses over a closed circuit hookup. Simmons says that classrooms must be designed to integrate this technology so that it is seamless and doesn’t distract from student learning.

When completed, Cooley will also have the distinction of being the first LEED-certified law school in the state of Michigan, says Simmons, who adds that environmental sustainability is another focus of the company.

SHW Group is regularly researching new trends and learning new design techniques when it comes to education. So, for example in elementary schools research has shown that neutral colors, wider
hallways and creative use of natural light can increase student
performance. This is the type of knowledge that only comes with meticulous research
and single-minded dedication to your craft.

“We’re constantly educating ourselves,” she says. “Clients not only receive the benefit of our buildings, but they receive the benefit of the learning that we’ve done.”

The focused approach to her business – in other words, concentrating on educational facilities instead of business, retail or housing – has served the firm well. Simmons says that with the massive decline in new housing growth and commercial building, many development firms are suddenly shifting their gaze toward the educational market.

And that is where SHW Group has a leg up.

“Many firms are trying to penetrate the educational market,” she says. “Education does require a high level of skill and expertise.”

And SHW Group has both.

Though SHW Group is a national firm based in Texas, Simmons is co-founder of Duce Simmons Associates, a design firm focusing on higher education facilities, which merged with SHW Group in 2003. The merger offers Michigan clients a well-rounded mix of elementary, secondary and higher education facility design.

Hard economic times have hit SHW Group, but not quite as much as it could have, says Simmons, who credits a combination of quality customer service and smart fiscal policies as key to the company’s resilience.

“We’re very careful; we stayed very lean,” she says. “I think we were able to respond to (the economic crisis) quicker.”

Simmons says the merger allowed for a stronger company with a far-reaching presence. “It allowed the higher education (part) of the SHW Group to become national,” she says.

And while furthering the company’s national presence is the goal, Simmons notes that SHW Group is dedicated to staying in Michigan, a state she calls “just beautiful” and poised to begin reversing its economic decline.

Simmons points to the fact her firm is currently growing and hiring workers from within Michigan as signs that things are slowly but surely starting to come back in the state.

“We are planning to be part of the turnaround,” she says.

Though sound fiscal practices and quality work are important, Simmons thinks the biggest part of SHW Group’s success is in its shared commitment to education.

“We value what our clients value,” she says. “It gives meaning to what you do.”

SHW Group is located 2338 Coolidge, Suite 100, in Berkley. For more information visit www.shwgroup.com or call 248-336-4700.