Despite the Booming Economy, a Talent Shortage and Tariffs Cast a Shadow Over Regional Design Industry
A new study ranks Utah, Colorado and Idaho among the top 10 states in the U.S. having the best economies, based on job markets, economic environment and several other metrics. The 2018 study, by finance website WalletHub, ranks the more energy-dependent economies of Wyoming, Montana and the Dakotas in the bottom 20 of the list.
Those findings will come as no surprise to design firms across the Mountain States, whose take on the current state of the industry arises directly from their locations. For example, in Utah, the market “continues to boom, and design activity is off the charts,” says Jim Lohse, senior principal at FFKR Architects and the 2018 president of AIA Utah. He notes strength in health care, K-12, multifamily and offices. “There’s no slowdown in sight,” he says. “It seems like we’re always hiring, or trying to hire, just to keep up.”
Heather Wilson, executive director at AIA Utah, concurs. “All of the sectors seem very busy right now. The West is outperforming other regions.”
That’s also the case in Montana, where design work has been steady in many markets. “Our commercial market sector has really been coming on strong in 2018, and early signs are it will continue to run strong for the foreseeable future,” says Scott Wilson, president, CTA Architects Engineers, Bozeman. “We’re also seeing some good movement in the government realm.”
In Colorado, design firms are scrambling. “We’re seeing nearly every sector of the market improving,” says Bill Green, president, The RMH Group, an engineering firm based in Lakewood, Colo. “Industrial, district-energy and private commercial projects are on the rise. There is almost nothing that isn’t booming right now.”
But Green, like many industry leaders, has some concerns, such as labor shortages and cost increases. “The threat of trade tariffs is having a negative effect on the industry’s ability to meet budgets, and significant commodity price increases are starting to hit,” he says.
AIA Colorado CEO Cathy Rosset agrees. “The work is there, but the pool of qualified workers is limited. And Colorado’s cost of living is compounding retention and recruitment challenges. Many firms are partnering with other firms within or across state lines and working with independent contractors to distribute the workload.”