When the engineers finish, jobs follow in manufacturing, construction, and software.
"If you look at our business, it can be a barometer," said CDI's new president and chief executive, H. Paulett Eberhart. "We seem to be in a recovery cycle."
Here's how tentative it is: Eberhart isn't talking excitedly about new business for the engineering division. She's talking excitedly about new projects out for bid.
"The pipeline of opportunities is growing," she said. "Now we have to get the business and get the deal closed."
Eberhart, 57, started Jan. 10, replacing Roger Ballou, who retired.
CDI's annual revenue had fallen with the economy, tumbling from $1.2 billion in 2007 and hitting bottom in 2009 at $885 million before rising to $926.3 million in 2010. CDI reported a $20 million loss in 2009. Last year, the loss narrowed to $10.6 million.
Engineering is modestly up - helped by new infrastructure contracts. Another boost comes from new industrial projects. But government and aerospace work is down.
What has been propelling CDI is revenue from its robust business in information technology staffing, up 29 percent, accounting for a third of CDI's top line.
Why the growth? Companies had been making do with what they had, said Eberhart, whose executive background is in technology service.
"Now people are starting to go in and update their technology," she said. "As people start seeing signs of an improving economy, they are beginning to spend some capital" on technology.
Also, "mobility is really big," said Eberhart.
CDI includes a headhunting division, Management Recruiters International. MRI is a franchise business, and CDI gets a royalty from every hire. Revenue is up, meaning hires are up.
The biggest drag on CDI is AndersElite, its construction staffing division in the United Kingdom. As bad as construction is here, it's worse there.
So what's next for CDI?
"I always believe you start with the customer and move out from there," Eberhart said. If the customer needs something, CDI needs to get better, and faster, at bridging its divisions to provide solutions.
"Companies that can solve [a problem] more quickly are going to be the winners. When businesses pick up, they are going to want to move fast, because there is going to be pent-up demand," Eberhart said.
"You have to be able to work in a matrix. Companies that can manage those intersections [among divisions] are the most successful."
Eberhart, who will move here from Texas, built her corporate career in information technology, spending her longest stint at Electronic Data Systems, former presidential candidate H. Ross Perot's company - now owned by Hewlett-Packard Co. She most recently led HMS Ventures, an investment and real estate firm in Texas.
Married, she has three grown children. A football fan, Eberhart was an Oilers supporter until they left Houston for Tennessee. She said she'd switch to the Eagles.
Contact staff writer Jane M. Von Bergen at 215-854-2769 or email@example.com.