Slumping economy hits engineering firms

The slowdown in the economy, has resulted in fewer building projects, which has resulted in less work for engineering firms.

The slowdown in the economy, and especially the national credit crunch, has resulted in fewer building projects. That has resulted in less work for engineering firms. Brookfield-based R.A. Smith National (formerly known as R.A. Smith & Associates Inc.), has reduced its staff this year by about 15 to 20 percent, said president and founder Rick Smith. This is the first time in the company’s 30-year history that it has laid off employees. The company currently has about 210-220 employees. "For me this was a very traumatic experience," Smith said. "This was cold water in my face for sure."

Many engineering companies in the state have made cutbacks said Carol Godiksen, executive director of the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) of Wisconsin. "We collect our dues based on employee counts and we did see a drop this year," she said.

Engineering companies that are members of ACEC in Wisconsin have reduced their employment by about six percent as of May, compared to May of 2007, she said. "It’s sort of a mixed bag," Godiksen said. "Some firms are doing quite well."

Private sector building projects have been slowed significantly because developers are struggling to obtain loans during the credit crunch. However, public sector projects have also been cut back, Smith said.

"Even municipalities, which are supposed to be a stabilizing force, are holding off on projects they would otherwise proceed with because they are not getting the revenue from developers for taxes," he said.

The rise of the cost of building materials is also contributing to the reduction in construction projects, Godiksen said. Long term, Smith said he expects the economy to eventually turn around and the nationwide need for engineers will again become a significant issue. "We have felt there has been a shortage of engineers in the U.S.," he said. "It’s my hope we will be able to bring (some of the laid off employees) back."

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