Amid a recovery measured by inches rather than miles, the Midwest's Top Design Firms took a giant step backward last year.

Photo courtesy of KJWW Engineering Consultants
KJWW Engineering Consultants is at work on the University of Illinois Electrical and Computer Engineering Building in Urbana.

Declines were deepest near the top. The region's 20 largest firms couldn't match—let alone surpass—the $1.24 billion in revenue earned by their counterparts in 2010. Collective revenue totaled $1.12 billion in 2011, a decline of nearly 10%, according to data derived from ENR Midwest's annual survey.

Declines were milder among mid-size and smaller firms, though few in the region found reason for celebration as the fundamentals required to fuel a sustained economic recovery failed to materialize last year.

No Simple Solutions

Lawmakers in Congress remain deeply divided on how to stimulate U.S. job growth further. Infrastructure and transportation programs are on the table, but decisive action has been tabled time and time again.

State and local governments continue to struggle with shrinking tax bases, putting school, transportation and infrastructure projects in jeopardy. Among the latest casualties are Illinois roadways now that the state has announced a program to slash billions of dollars from highways programs as part of an "austerity transportation plan" it introduced in late April.

Some states and jurisdictions have begun to take matters into their own hands. In April, the City of Chicago approved a controversial measure to create a $1.7-billion infrastructure trust that will leverage private investment and bank loans to fund hundreds of millions of dollars in energy and transportation projects. Likewise, the Ohio Dept. of Transportation in March formed a division of innovative delivery to focus on alternative forms of funding for road and transportation projects.

While an impressive start, the region continues to await opportunities that have a greater potential to go the distance.

To see a listing of this year's Top Design Firms in the region, click here.