Puget Sound Biz Journal Highlights Decline in Architecture Jobs

The Puget Sound Business Journal ran an insightful article on the financial and employment health of Seattle area architecture firms. The article cites several prominent local firms who have to cut back on their staffing levels due to the current recession. The article is copied in its entirety below.

Seattle-area architecture firms cut jobs as construction sector slows
Puget Sound Business Journal - by Clay Holtzman Staff Writer

With commercial construction freezing up, Seattle-area architecture firms are cutting hundreds of jobs and some are shifting their emphasis to public sector work. In January and February, there were three times as many unemployment claims in the architecture/engineering sector as in the same period of 2008, according to the state Employment Security Department.

MulvannyG2 Architecture, for example, has reduced its staff by 20 percent, cutting about 90 jobs over the past several months and reducing its head count to about 350. “The commercial segment of development has really fallen off, substantially,” said Mitchell Smith, senior partner and managing director.

The drop-off is widespread, from the office sector to multifamily to single-family. Many firms are trying to shift emphasis to the few business lines that are financially healthy, such as public sector projects.

The sectors that are doing better than most are health care, science and education, said Scott Wyatt, managing partner with Seattle-based global architecture giant
NBBJ. “These public stimulus packages are something that we are looking for — and most (other) architectural firms too,” Wyatt added.

NBBJ has reduced its local staff by nearly 30 positions, meaning a 7 percent reduction to a head count of 386, Wyatt said. Companywide, the firm has eliminated 7.5 percent of its work force and now employs about 680.

Callison, the Puget Sound area’s largest architectural firm as measured by revenue generated locally, said it has reduced its companywide staff by more than 10 percent. In Seattle, that means 75 jobs cut over the past several months. “It may continue to decline if we don’t get more work in,” said Steve Epple, Callison’s executive vice president.

Callison, whose clients included Washington Mutual before it was acquired, the cuts have come in waves. “The initial layoffs tended to hit the junior and intermediate people,” Epple said. “These later rounds are hitting these more senior, longer-tenured people.”

DLR Group, a midrange firm with about 65 employees based in Seattle, has reduced its staff by 10 percent, according to the firm. Miller/Hull, another mid-size firm with about 50 employees, has avoided layoffs to date, in part because a key project at Seattle Pacific University is moving ahead. “At the beginning of the year, we were very nervous about 2009,” said founding partner David Miller. “Now it looks better."

However, its firms like Miller’s that are most susceptible to the recession, he said. “The mid-sized firms and the smaller firms are more affected,” Miller said. “I think that people in the housing sector are particularly affected.”

Miller, who is also the chairman of the University of Washington’s Department of Architecture, said his students are very nervous about entering a job market already saturated with seasoned professionals. “It is just not a good situation,” Miller said. “They are very concerned about trying to get a job in the next few years.”

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