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Sunday, 17 March 2013 22:00

Increase in national architecture billings showing up locally

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WEST MICHIGAN — The joke inside the architecture and construction industries is that if you’re not busy right now, you’re not trying.

That’s according to Brian Swem, chapter president of American Institute of Architects Grand Rapids.

While the new AIA Billings Index is set to roll out March 20, design and construction firms across the country should see more gains if data from the previous reports hold up.

Regionally, the Midwest posted the best numbers in the most recent index from January, coming in at 54.4. Any level greater than 50 indicates the industry is in a growth mode. Overall the index average hit 54.2, compared to a level of 50.4 for the same period in 2012.

More recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics dropped February’s unemployment rate to 7.7 percent, with employers adding 236,000 positions. The construction industry contributed to the month’s gains, adding about 48,000 jobs.

“Things are ramping up and we’re staying very busy,” Swem said of the West Michigan architectural industry. “If we were to have this conversation not too long ago, it wouldn’t have been that way.”

From March to July last year, the index sank below 50, but stayed in a growth mode for the second half of the year. Sources told MiBiz they’re seeing more projects get on the books, and general contractors’ project backlogs are extending.

Employment in architectural services has also been on the rise recently, reaching 156,000 in December (the most recent data available), its highest level in two and a half years, the AIA report stated.

Along with these payroll gains, the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumer Sentiment reported an increase in consumer confidence in its most recent survey from January, a rebound from concerns in late 2012 about the fiscal cliff, the report stated.

Interest and inquiries are definitely picking up, said Frank Stanek, president of Grand Rapids-based general contracting firm Owen-Ames-Kimball Co.

“I would like to think it’s shaping up to be a really good growth year,” he said. “We have bids out on a number of projects, and we continue to hear about new opportunities.”

In his own practice as an architect at Lott3Metz Architecture, Swem said projects run the gamut from small, local restaurants and breweries to mixed-use residential.

Looking ahead, AIA Grand Rapids’ spring meeting is approaching, but the focus isn’t on buildings. Instead, the group is focusing on multimodal transportation and how it affects urban development.

To understand why transportation matters to architecture, Swem said approaching the topic from a development perspective has the potential to benefit urban areas and the connection to neighborhoods.

It’s not just about streets and expressways, he said.

“Cars are unfortunately a big part of what we do, especially when we’re required to include parking,” he said. “We have to stop thinking about cars and start thinking about people.”

Read 2727 times Last modified on Friday, 15 March 2013 15:36

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