Monday, April 27, 2009

Architecture firms struggling from Boston to Wichita

Two articles that came out last week in The Boston Globe and the Wichita Business Journal talked about the fate befalling most architecture firms these days, the struggle to keep the doors open while projects are few and far between.

Let's start with the Boston Globe article. In that story, Nancy Jenner, the acting director of the Boston Society of Architects, estimates that the average layoff rate in Boston architecture firms is already pushing a whopping 30 percent! In some, it is more than 50 percent! Firms say that with no new projects out there, things will only get worse in the next three to six months.

In that article, Kermit Baker, chief economist for the American Institute of Architects, says that from the level of peak architectural employment in July 2008 through January 2009, architects lost jobs at double the rate of lawyers and accountants. That's according to U.S. Department of Labor figures for the nation as a whole.

Some firms in the Greater Boston area have cut salaries from top to bottom. Others have switched to a four-day work week. Some no longer bring interns aboard. And other firms offer unpaid furloughs to select employees, aiming to keep them around for the future when things turn better.

The article talks with architects who were laid off at Cubellis (which the article claims has dropped from 500 people to about 300 and closed some offices entirely) and Arrowstreet (which has gone from 170 people to around 50 or 60 people.

Meanwhile, the same story holds true in Wichita, Kansas, where although firms are describing the cuts as minor and say recent business activity has shown signs of a rebound, they remain wary. Market instability is keeping some projects from even reaching the drawing board, the article cites local Wichita-area firms are saying.

One firm cut 6 of its 104 employees while other firms have laid off employees as their largest clients such as Cessna Aircraft Co. slow down work during the recession or even file for bankruptcy in the case of mall owner General Growth.

The article does conclude, however, by saying that many of the firms are hopeful that a couple of solid projects can either lead to more hiring or at least stemming the flow of layoffs.

It's a good attitude to take. If your rainmakers are out there finding potential projects and your marketing staff does a bang-up job in its proposals, you can find yourself shortlisted, selected, and on the road to recovery in no time!


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