Architecture billings fall after recent uptick

The latest report from the AIA's Architecture Billings Index (ABI) dropped to 46.9 in September, which is the fifth time in six months that business has dropped in the industry.

10/28/2011


After an encouraging uptick in August, the AIA’s Architecture Billings Index (ABI) retreated again in September, falling to a score of 46.9. Since any score below 50 indicates a decline in billings at architecture firms, this was the fifth of the past six months in which business conditions have deteriorated. Additionally, backlogs at architecture firms—the amount of project activity in-house at present—dropped to 4.2 months on average in the third quarter, meaning that firms could keep current staff employed for 4.2 months without any new projects. This rate is down from 4.4 months at the end of the second quarter. Lower levels of project backlogs, coupled with less encouraging levels of new project inquiries in September, point to continued concern for architecture firms in the coming months.

Even with the national downturn in billings in September, some regions reported improvement. Regional billings scores are computed as rolling three-month moving averages, and recent numbers showed enough strength to boost scores for firms in the Northeast and Midwest into positive territory. Scores for firms in the South and West continued to show relatively steep declines.

Likewise, commercial/industrial firms reported reasonably healthy improvement in September, while residential firms and institutional firms were showing continued weakness. Commercial/industrial firms reported nine straight months of billings gains from mid-2010 through the first quarter of 2011, so there are grounds for optimism for firms in this sector.

The broader economy continues to show only modest growth. Just over 100,000 jobs were added in September, bringing the total added for the first nine months of the year to just over one million. That is well below the number required to generate healthy growth in the economy, and, as such, the national unemployment rate is up from 9.0% in January to 9.1% in September.

Construction employment saw an increase of 26,000 positions in September, the second strongest number of the year. However, only 53,000 positions in this sector have been added since the beginning of the year, or fewer than 6,000 per month. Architecture firms have added only 1,200 positions since January, to a current workforce of just over 153,000 in August, the most recent figures available.

Many economists feel that one of the key ingredients missing from the economy is greater confidence on the part of consumers and businesses. With a more positive outlook, consumers would start spending again, and businesses would begin adding employees and increasing their spending. But, unfortunately, business confidence has been falling recently. The third-quarter reading on the Conference Board Measure of CEO Confidence was 42 (anything below 50 is considered negative), the lowest score since early 2009, down 25 points since the first quarter of the year.

Consumer optimism has not fared much better. Consumer sentiment has fallen in four out of the past five months, according to the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index. With a preliminary October reading of 57.5 (on an index where Q1 1966 is set at 100), it’s down almost 17 points from its 74.2 reading in January. In spite of consumer concern over the economy, consumer spending is holding up quite well. In September, retail sales increased almost 9% over levels of a year ago, and average monthly gains in 2011 over levels from a year ago have been averaging about 8%. By comparison, there had been a 6.5% increase in retail sales in 2010, and a 7.2% decline in 2009.

Employment at U.S. architecture firms peaked during the summer of 2008, and exhibited steady declines for the next two years. For the past 12–15 months, employment levels have been bouncing around this bottom rung. This prolonged downturn has meant that many architects who were downsized at the beginning of the economic crash have been waiting a very long time for a recovery. This month, participants in the AIA Work-on-the-Boards panel were asked to comment on the current status of these downsized architectural staff.

Many who lost positions have either returned to their original firms, gone to other firms, or started their own architectural practices. However, those not currently working full-time in the profession are in a diverse set of situations. According to these estimates, about 30% of previously full-time staff who lost their positions are still working in the architecture profession, but are underemployed and working on a part-time or contract basis. These are likely the first people who would return to full-time status once design activity shows a more significant rebound. Well over a third of downsized staff is currently out of the profession, but waiting for business to pick up to return to architecture positions. This includes about 18% working in other jobs, but waiting for architecture positions to open up, and almost as many who are currently not working and waiting for architecture positions to open up.

However, this leaves a significant number of former employees who are not expected to return to the profession at all. About 9% are retired or not looking for work for other reasons. More than 12% are working in other jobs and are unlikely to return even when architecture positions open up. Nearly 6% are not currently working, but are unlikely to return to architecture even when the economy improves and positions open.

- Edited by Chris Vavra, Consulting-Specifying Engineer, www.csemag.com 



No comments
The Engineers' Choice Awards highlight some of the best new control, instrumentation and automation products as chosen by...
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners.
Control Engineering Leaders Under 40 identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
Learn more about methods used to ensure that the integration between the safety system and the process control...
Adding industrial toughness and reliability to Ethernet eGuide
Technological advances like multiple-in-multiple-out (MIMO) transmitting and receiving
Big plans for small nuclear reactors: Simpler, safer control designs; Smarter manufacturing; Industrial cloud; Mobile HMI; Controls convergence
Virtualization advice: 4 ways splitting servers can help manufacturing; Efficient motion controls; Fill the brain drain; Learn from the HART Plant of the Year
Two sides to process safety: Combining human and technical factors in your program; Preparing HMI graphics for migrations; Mechatronics and safety; Engineers' Choice Awards
The Ask Control Engineering blog covers all aspects of automation, including motors, drives, sensors, motion control, machine control, and embedded systems.
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
News and comments from Control Engineering process industries editor, Peter Welander.
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
This is a blog from the trenches – written by engineers who are implementing and upgrading control systems every day across every industry.
Anthony Baker is a fictitious aggregation of experts from Callisto Integration, providing manufacturing consulting and systems integration.
Integrator Guide

Integrator Guide

Search the online Automation Integrator Guide
 

Create New Listing

Visit the System Integrators page to view past winners of Control Engineering's System Integrator of the Year Award and learn how to enter the competition. You will also find more information on system integrators and Control System Integrators Association.

Case Study Database

Case Study Database

Get more exposure for your case study by uploading it to the Control Engineering case study database, where end-users can identify relevant solutions and explore what the experts are doing to effectively implement a variety of technology and productivity related projects.

These case studies provide examples of how knowledgeable solution providers have used technology, processes and people to create effective and successful implementations in real-world situations. Case studies can be completed by filling out a simple online form where you can outline the project title, abstract, and full story in 1500 words or less; upload photos, videos and a logo.

Click here to visit the Case Study Database and upload your case study.