Friday, December 18, 2009

ABI Ends Up and Down Year on a Down Note

The American Institute of Architects' Architecture Billings Index (ABI) dropped more than three points in November, proving itself unable to sustain the positive momentum it generated the previous month, when it reached its highest mark since August 2008.

The November rating of 42.8 fell from its October rating of 46.1 and was the lowest rating since 41.7 in August (September's rating was 43.1). That August 2008 watermark came just before the fall 2008 credit crunch affected not only the AEC industry, but the entire economy.

As a leading indicator of construction activity, the ABI reflects the approximate 9- to 12-month lag time between architecture billings and construction spending.

The 42.8 mark indicates a continued decline in the demand for design services (any score above 50 indicates an increase in billings). The new projects inquiry score was 58.5, the same mark as in October.

"There continues to be a lot of uncertainty in the construction industry that likely will delay new projects in the near future," said AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker. "Perhaps the President's plan calling for loans for small business, funding for instructure projects, and rebates for homeowners making energy-efficient improvements will help speed a recovery in the construction industry."

Anything that would bring a measure of stability to the AEC industry, let alone growth, would be a welcome sign these days. The index was 42.9 in May, dipped to 37.7 in June, increased to 43.1 in July, dipped to 41.7 in August, climbed to 43.1 in September and 46.1 in October, and fell to 42.8 in November.

Numbers that constantly move up and down make it difficult for architecture firms to make strategic decisions with any certainty that their fortunes are turning for the better.

Regional averages were as follows: South (46.4, up from 46.1 in October, 42.7 in September, 44.1 in August, 43.4 in July, and 40.5 in June), Northeast (45.0, up from 44.3 in October, but down from 47.4 in September and 45.2 in August and up from 37.8 in July and 42.8 in June), Midwest (43.7, up from the 43.0 mark where it stayed the previous three months), and West (41.1, down from 42.8 in October, but still up from 36.0 in September, 37.5 in August, 39.7 in July, 39.9 in June, 39.4 in May, and 39.2 in April).

The November ABI breaks down by sector as follows: institutional (47.0, down from 48.7 in October, but up from 43.9 in September and 37.5 in August), multi-family residential (45.8, showing the continued uptick from 45.4 in October, 45.1 in September, 43.4 in August, 40.7 in July, and 42.7 in June), mixed practice (42.8, the highest it has been since July and up from 39.1 in October, 36.3 in September, 41.4 in August, but down from 42.9 in July, 43.5 in June, 44.5 in May, 44.2 in April, and 44.0 in March), and commercial/industrial (40.7, down from 41.7 in October, but up from 39.0 in September, and down from 45.6 in August and 42.9 in July).


SMPS Announces Call for Entries for 33rd Annual National Marketing Communications Awards Program

The Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) is accepting entries for its 33rd Annual national Marketing Communications Awards (MCA) competition. The MCA Program is the longest-standing, most prestigious awards competition recognizing excellence in marketing communications by professional services firms in the design and building industry. The early-bird entry deadline is March 1, 2010. Both SMPS members and nonmembers are eligible to enter.

Two new entry categories have been added to the MCA Program for 2010: Recruitment & Retention Communications and Social Media. As the name implies, Recruitment & Retention Communications are programs designed to recruit potential and retain current firm employees through print and/or electronic communications. Social Media entries will shed light on how A/E/C firms are using social media tools to provide a platform for collaboration, knowledge sharing, and interaction with clients, partners, employees, and others. Detailed descriptions and submittal requirements for all 20 MCA categories can be found here.

In addition, SMPS is pleased to offer an entry fee discount to small firms with 25 or fewer employees companywide. These changes, based on feedback from past participants, respond to profound shifts in professional services marketing and current economic challenges firms are facing.

Each year, this competitive awards program receives hundreds of entries from around the country and globe. Firms can select among 20 different marketing communications categories, and there is no limit to the number of categories that a firm can enter. Most categories are open to both print and electronic projects. Consistently popular categories over the past few years have been corporate identity, holiday piece, internal communications, promotional campaign, and Web site.

Entries will be evaluated on March 20, 2010, by a jury of experienced architects, engineers, contractors, marketers, business developers, graphics and PR professionals, and industry clients. Jurors use a numerical scoring system based on five criteria in order to evaluate effectiveness and return on investment, in addition to quality, message, and design.

Visit for detailed competition information, including categories and submittal requirements, a comprehensive FAQ, and a downloadable brochure and entry form, plus examples of past winning entries.

Award winners will be announced and honored on July 15 at a black-tie Awards Gala during Build Business: “Reinvent. Retool. Rebound,” the 2010 SMPS National Conference in Boston, MA. Winning entries will be prominently displayed throughout the conference. Industry editors and association executives will select the Best of Show, and all conference attendees can vote for the People’s Choice award. Award winners will be publicized via press releases sent to national industry publications.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Social Media in Government Agencies

Our CEO and founder, Frank Stasiowski, passed along this article from Federal Computer Week magazine that looks at using social media in government agencies. Here are some excerpts:

• Interviews with government officials, employees, consultants and interested observers suggest that although the true value of Government 2.0 has yet to be measured or even fully imagined, there will be no turning back the clock to a previous era. Much like the emergence of the World Wide Web some 15 years ago, the latest version of online interaction and information sharing promises to insinuate itself into every corner of government.
• As one of the [Open Government Initiative] directive's key principles, “every agency will be directed to publish and engage the public in their open-government plans,” said Aneesh Chopra, Obama’s chief technology officer. Furthermore, agencies must deliver “a structured schedule of how data will be released to the American people in a machine-readable format.”
• For Godwin of, social-media technology will likely lead to government employees and the public working together to solve problems. ... That concept could become the norm governmentwide, Godwin said. “I really see it moving in the future from an outreach to solving mission-related problems together,” she said. “I think it is a long journey. I don’t think we are going to get there in 2010.”
• Institutional hurdles must be addressed before those lofty goals are achieved. For example, some agencies still block access to social-media tools. Concerns about security and employee productivity are the two main reasons for such bans. Agency leaders must balance when information must be kept behind firewalls and when it is acceptable to venture into the public domain with tools such as YouTube and Twitter.
• Ignorance and indifference are other major hurdles for social media, Drapeau said. Agencies will need to offer training that shows how the tools can change the way government employees do their jobs, he added.
• “Part of the problem is [that] the people who are thinking about social media the most are the people who are the most interested in it,” he said. “But there are still a lot of people who this affects, and they don’t really know what’s going on."
• One clear sign that the federal government is committed to increasing the use of social media is the work GSA is doing to create a citizen engagement platform. GSA plans to offer best practices, assistance with selecting social-media tools and perhaps government-hosted technology through the program, said Martha Dorris, GSA’s deputy associate administrator of the Office of Citizen Services.
• “What we’re trying to do is create a program to help other agencies in conducting dialogues with the public,” Dorris said. “We know the open-government directive is coming out very shortly, and agencies are going to be creating plans on how to engage the public in making policy decisions within their agencies.”


Scary Look at the Recession

Haven't seen this anywhere else on the Web, so I figured I'd share it with you here. It's a month-by-month timeline of how employment rates change by county from 2007 to 2009. Notice how the map gets darker (i.e., unemployment rates increase) as the months pass. Scary stuff.


2010 SMPS National Marketing Communications Awards (MCA)

Communicating during extraordinary times: Tell your story. Society for Marketing Professional Services is accepting entries for the 2010 Marketing Communications Awards. Recognizing communications innovation by design and building companies, the competition encompasses 20 categories, including brochures, websites, social media. Discounted Entry Deadline: March 1. Details: Questions:, 800.292.7677, x231.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Surviving by Strategizing

Good blog post on the Building Design and Construction Building Team 360 blog from over the weekend about AEC strategies and tactics for 2010.

Robert Cassidy offers seven suggestions that AEC firms should do to survive 2010 while waiting for the economy to turn around, which he predicts will happen in either late 2010 or 2011.

Each of the seven is pretty solid advice ("1. Don't do anything stupid. This may seem obvious, but desperate times often lead to stupid decisions, like opening up new offices in so-called 'burgeoning markets,' either geographic or by market sector....Competitors who really do know those markets are already firmly in place and holding on tooth and nail; they won't be satisfied just crushing you, they'll do their best to emulsify you.") but the first three are the best (the other two are "doing well in a lousy economy" and "look to your strengths").

We're all in this mess together, but one resource that can help you navigate through it is PSMJ's 2010 AEC Firm U.S. Market Sector Forecast. It offers advice and insight into how your firm can improve its performance in 2010. Check it out here.

Bad news for the AEC industry

Interesting article this morning on the American Banking News web site that claims research firms are reporting that defaults on U.S. commercial property loans are surging, standing at the worst level in 16 years. The reports also indicate things will worsen in 2010 and 2011.

A report from Real Estate Econometrics states that the percentage of commercial real estate loans in default across the nation has risen to 3.4 percent in the third quarter, rising more than half a percentage point from the second quarter. That 3.4 percent default rate is the highest since 1993, when it stood at a 4.1 percent default rate.

There's a lot more to the article but this is bad news for the AEC industry because as the number of defaults increase, you can expect their lending standards to tighten, making it harder for potential clients to access capital and leaving possible projects on the drawing board.
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