Work Dips, Hiring Inches Up for Landscape Architecture Firms

The economic rollercoaster continues for landscape architecture firms, as firm leaders reported modest decreases in work and increases in hiring compared to the previous quarter.

February 04, 2010

Washington, D.C., January 26, 2010 — The economic rollercoaster continues for landscape architecture firms, as firm leaders reported modest decreases in work and increases in hiring compared to the previous quarter, according to the latest American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) Business Quarterly Survey for the fourth quarter 2009. 

Less than half (45.5 percent) of firm leaders reported average or above billings compared to the third quarter 2009, a decrease from 51.3 percent last quarter. Levels of average or above inquiries also decreased from 55.4 percent previously to 53.7 percent. Though a modest decline, the levels of work are significantly higher than this time last year, when average or above levels of billings and inquiries were 31 percent and 21.5 percent, respectively. 

While work levels showed a small decline, hiring increased modestly with 16.4 percent of firms planning to hire in the first quarter 2010, up from 11.8 percent last quarter and 12.8 percent this time last year. In addition, 22.3 percent of firms reported work directly from stimulus funds, slightly up from 20.2 percent last quarter. 

“Public work continues to allow some firms to weather the financial storm, but financing remains a major stumbling block for commercial and residential projects,” said ASLA Executive Vice President and CEO Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA. “The industry has made significant economic gains compared to a year ago. However, today’s mixed report indicates that landscape architects still face major challenges moving into 2010.” 

The survey also asked about client demand and design alternatives for traditional turf grass. Overall, 35.2 percent of firms reported increased demand for turf grass alternatives. The top reasons clients request alternatives include saving money on utility/maintenance costs (42.7 percent), meeting green design benchmarks like the Sustainable Sites Initiative (39.6 percent), lowered upkeep time and effort (39.3 percent), reducing environmental harm (28.8 percent) and meeting a government ordinance or code (24.8 percent). The top design alternatives were regionally appropriate vegetation (57.7 percent), incorporating water harvesting elements (41.4 percent), using native grass (37.0 percent) and incorporating hardscapes/permeable surfaces (35.5 percent).

Compared to the third quarter of 2009, your fourth quarter 2009 billable hours were: Significantly higher (10% or more higher) – 3.4%
Slightly higher (between 5% and 10% higher) – 14.2%
About the same (plus or minus 5%) – 27.9%
Slightly lower (between 5% and 10% lower) – 26.3%
Significantly lower (10% or more lower) – 28.2% 

Compared to the third quarter of 2009, your fourth quarter 2009 inquiries were:
Significantly higher (10% or more higher) – 3.7%
Slightly higher (between 5% and 10% higher) – 20.2%
About the same (plus or minus 5%) – 29.8%
Slightly lower (between 5% and 10% lower) – 19.3%
Significantly lower (10% or more lower) – 27.0% 

Compared to the fourth quarter in 2008, your fourth quarter 2009 billable hours were:
Significantly higher (10% or more higher) – 4.7%
Slightly higher (between 5% and 10% higher) – 9.2%
About the same (plus or minus 5%) – 17.7%
Slightly lower (between 5% and 10% lower) – 20.6%
Significantly lower (10% or more lower) – 47.8% 

Compared to the fourth quarter in 2008, your fourth quarter 2009 inquiries were:
Significantly higher (10% or more higher) – 4.7%
Slightly higher (between 5% and 10% higher) – 13.0%
About the same (plus or minus 5%) – 20.6%
Slightly lower (between 5% and 10% lower) – 20.6%
Significantly lower (10% or more lower) – 41.1% 

Do you plan on hiring any employees in the first quarter 2010? (multiple answers):
Experienced landscape architect – 3.4%
Entry level landscape architect – 4.3%
Intern – 3.4%
Support staff – 4.0%
Other design/architecture/engineering staff – 5.2%
Other staff – 2.5%
Not hiring – 83.6% 

Has your market received any stimulus funds and, if so, has your practice benefited?
My markets have not received any funds – 30.5%
My markets have received funds, but my practice, thus far, has not received work as a result – 47.2%
My market has received funds and my practice has work as a result – 22.3% 

Rate client demand for traditional turf grass or lawns:
Demand has dropped in place of alternative design elements – 35.2%
Demand remains unchanged – 63.8%
Demand has increased – 1.0% 

Design alternatives used for turf grass in the past 12 months (multiple answers):
Retaining lawn, but replacing high-maintenance grasses with hardier, native varieties – 37.0%
Planting regionally-appropriate, non-invasive vegetation – 57.7%
Increasing use of a variety of hardscapes, including permeable surfaces – 35.5%
Incorporating water harvesting elements, such as rain gardens – 41.4%
Introducing food/vegetable gardens – 10.8%
Incorporating more structural elements – 5.9%
Other – 11.4% 

Reasons clients request alternatives to traditional turf grass (multiple answers):
Saves money on utility or maintenance costs – 42.7%
Preferred an aesthetically pleasing design alternative – 16.1%
Reducing environmental harm – 28.8%
Lowering upkeep time and effort – 39.3%
Received a government incentive such as a tax break or quicker approval – 3.1%
Required by a government code (stormwater management, irrigation restrictions, etc) – 24.8%
Meet green design benchmarks like LEED or the Sustainable Sites Initiative – 39.6%
Other – 5.9% 


About the Survey
The ASLA Business Quarterly survey asks quarterly benchmarks on key statistics including billable hours, inquiries and hiring plans. The Q4 2009 national survey was fielded January 4 through 22, with 329 firm representatives responding.
About ASLA
Founded in 1899, ASLA is the national professional association for landscape architects, representing 17,000 members in 48 professional chapters and 68 student chapters. The Society's mission is to lead, to educate, and to participate in the careful stewardship, wise planning, and artful design of our cultural and natural environments. Members of the Society use their “ASLA” suffix after their names to denote membership and their commitment to the highest ethical standards of the profession. Learn more about landscape architecture online at www.asla.org.


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