Economy Eclipses Other Challenges, Executives Say

What a difference two years of recession makes: According to a new survey from the consulting firm ZweigWhite, professionals in the architecture, engineering, and environmental consulting fields feel the performance of the U.S. economy is the biggest challenge they face in the coming year. In late 2007, overall economic performance wasn't even among the top ten challenges they listed.

By contrast, two years ago top executives said their biggest challenge was finding qualified staff. This year, firm leaders list a lack of talent as the ninth most important challenge they will face in 2010, according to ZweigWhite's 2010 AEC Industry Outlook, an annual report based on a survey of top firms in the industry.

A year ago, following the credit meltdown and bank bailouts, the economy emerged as the top challenge listed by firm leaders, but finding qualified staff remained the third most important challenge listed (with the cost of health care listed as the second most pressing concern).

However, as business slowed and thousands of architects and engineers joined the ranks of the unemployed, "the dynamics of staff recruitment and retention has become less pressing of an issue," said Steven Smith, president and managing director of WSP Sells in New York, a design, engineering, and management consultancy service firm, addressing The Zweig Letter, an industry trade publication. "With that said, all firms are focusing on retaining their key staff and, as a result, highly qualified star employees are still hard to come by."

Executives forecast that the economy will eclipse other challenges for some time to come, as firms come to grips with increased competition in the industry, their second-most cited challenge, according to ZweigWhite.

Roland Salman, president of RW Armstrong, an Indianapolis global design and management consulting firm, told The Zweig Letter, "Companies that were doing private work are now shifting to public sector projects, and larger firms are going after small and medium-type projects, where you wouldn't expect them to submit a bid."

ZweigWhite provides business management research publications and services for architecture, engineering, and environmental consulting firms. The firm is headquartered in Wayland, Mass., with additional offices in Chicago and Washington, D.C.

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