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ASLA Survey Shows Landscape Architecture Firms Optimistic About 2018 Business Conditions

Thu February 08, 2018 - National Edition
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Landscape architecture firms experienced consistently healthy conditions for the fourth quarter of 2017, according to the latest American Society of Landscape Architects' Business Quarterly survey.
Landscape architecture firms experienced consistently healthy conditions for the fourth quarter of 2017, according to the latest American Society of Landscape Architects' Business Quarterly survey.

Landscape architecture firms experienced consistently healthy conditions for the fourth quarter of 2017, according to the latest American Society of Landscape Architects' Business Quarterly survey. Although billable hours slightly retreated, inquiries for new work grew. A growing number of firms are planning to boost hiring during the first quarter.

A five-year comparison of survey results shows that numbers for the fourth quarter are well within range.

The survey found 82.4 percent of responding firms reported stable to significantly higher billable hours for the third quarter, a dip from the 85.7 from the previous quarter. This result is higher than what had been reported during the fourth quarters of 2016 (77.1 percent), 2015 (74.5 percent), 2014 (74.7 percent) and 2013 (75.7 percent).

Fully 84.8 percent of respondents said inquiries for new work were stable to significantly higher during the fourth quarter of 2017, an uptick from the second (83.1 percent) and third quarters of 2017 (82.1 percent). It is a jump from past fourth quarters of 2016 (77.8 percent), 2015 (71.7 percent), 2014 (76.8 percent) and 2013 (74.4 percent).

The survey found that year to year, some 81.6 percent of firms said that billable hours were stable to significantly higher — much higher than what had been reported for the fourth quarter of 2016 (77.3 percent). This number is within range of what had been reported for the fourth quarters of 2015 (81.7 percent) 2014 (80.2 percent) and 2013 (81.5 percent).

Year to year, 88.1 percent of respondents said that fourth quarter inquiries for new work were stable to significantly higher, a jump from what had been reported for the fourth quarters of 2016 (81.7 percent), 2015 (81.2 percent), 2014 (84.6 percent) and 2013 (81.5 percent).

The majority of respondents (82.4 percent) described business conditions for 2017 as stable to significantly better than the previous year. This number is a drop from what had been reported during the fourth quarter of 2016 (83.3 percent), 2015 (83.9 percent), and 2014 (87.5 percent). It is much higher than what had been reported for 2013 fourth quarter survey (68.4 percent).

Some 60 percent of responding firms with two or more employees said that they plan to hire during the first quarter of 2018, a significant increase from the third quarter of 2017 (49 percent). This number is greater than what had been reported for the fourth quarters of 2016 (57.3 percent), 2015 (51.4 percent), 2014 (50.6 percent) and 2013 (48.5 percent).

Fully 83.3 percent of firms with 50 to 99 employees added that they will hire either an experienced landscape architect or an entry-level landscape architect.

A new question added to the survey asked respondents to indicate whether or not their firms' recruiting and hiring practices seek to increase diversity. Some 63.1 percent of responding firms with two or more employees said they have an established diversity process or are planning to establish such a process.

The survey also asked respondents to answer questions about general business conditions in 2018. Fully 90.6 percent of responding firms said they expect business conditions this year to be about the same or better than they are now, a leap from the 81.3 percent from the 2016 fourth quarter survey.

In addition, about 98.1 percent of respondents said their level of optimism for the general business climate in 2018 is about the same or more optimistic. This number is greater than the 82.1 percent reported for the 2016 fourth quarter survey.

Key Survey Highlights:

Compared to the third quarter 2017, your fourth quarter 2017 billable hours were (all firms):

Significantly higher (more than 10 percent) – 15.7 percent

Slightly higher (5 percent to 10 percent higher) – 25.8 percent

About the same (plus or minus 5 percent or less) – 41.0 percent

Slightly lower (between 5 percent and 10 percent lower) – 11.3 percent

Significantly lower (more than 10 percent) – 6.3 percent

Compared to the third quarter 2017, your fourth quarter 2017 inquiries for new work were (all firms):

Significantly higher (more than 10 percent) – 10.8 percent

Slightly higher (5 percent to 10 percent higher) – 37.3 percent

About the same (plus or minus 5 percent or less) – 36.7 percent

Slightly lower (between 5 percent and 10 percent lower) – 12.7 percent

Significantly lower (more than 10 percent) – 2.5 percent

Year to year, compared to the fourth quarter in 2016, your fourth quarter 2017 billable hours were (all firms):

Significantly higher (more than 10 percent) – 26.0 percent

Slightly higher (5 percent to 10 percent higher) – 32.9 percent

About the same (plus or minus 5 percent or less) – 22.8 percent

Slightly lower (between 5 percent and 10 percent lower) – 10.8 percent

Significantly lower (more than 10 percent) – 7.6 percent

Year to year, compared to the fourth quarter in 2016, your fourth quarter 2017 inquiries for new work were (all firms):

Significantly higher (more than 10 percent) – 19.5 percent

Slightly higher (5 percent to 10 percent higher) – 32.9 percent

About the same (plus or minus 5 percent or less) – 22.8 percent

Slightly lower (between 5 percent and 10 percent lower) – 10.8 percent

Significantly lower (more than 10 percent) – 7.6 percent

How would you describe business results for 2017 compared to 2016?

Significantly better (more than 10 percent) – 26.4 percent

Slightly better (5 to 10 percent higher) – 33.3 percent

About the same (plus or minus 5 percent) – 22.6 percent

Slightly worse (5 to 10 percent lower) – 11.3 percent

Significantly worse (more than 10 percent) – 6.3 percent

Do you plan on hiring any employees in the first quarter of 2018 (multiple answers filtered for firms with two or more employees)?

Yes, we'll be hiring an experienced landscape architect – 20.9 percent

Yes, we'll be hiring an entry-level landscape architect – 30.0 percent

Yes, we'll be hiring an intern – 22.6 percent

Yes, we'll be hiring support staff – 10.4 percent

Yes, we'll be hiring other design/architecture/engineering staff – 15.7 percent

Yes, we'll be hiring other staff – 7.0 percent

No, we're not currently hiring – 40.0 percent

Do your firm's recruiting and hiring practices seek to increase workplace diversity 2018 (multiple answers filtered for firms with two or more employees)?

Yes, we have an established process – 54.1 percent

No, but we are planning to develop a process – 9.0 percent

No, we currently do not – 38.0 percent

Do you think that in 2018 general business conditions will be better than they are now, about the same, or worse?

Better than they are now – 37.5 percent

About the same – 53.1 percent

Worse – 6.9 percent

Not sure – 2.5 percent

What is your level of optimism regarding the general business climate in 2018 for the landscape architecture profession?

More optimistic – 51.3 percent

Less optimistic – 13.1 percent

About the same – 33.8 percent

Not sure – 2.0 percent

About the Survey

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) Business Quarterly survey asks quarterly benchmarks on key statistics including billable hours, inquiries and hiring plans. The survey is not intended to be statistically significant but instead provides a snapshot of the landscape architecture industry. The Q3 2017 national survey was fielded January 11 to January 25, 2018, with 161 primary firm contacts responding.

About ASLA

Founded in 1899, the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) is the professional association for landscape architects in the United States, representing more than 15,000 members. The Society's mission is to advance landscape architecture through advocacy, communication, education and fellowship. Sustainability has been part of ASLA's mission since its founding and is an overarching value that informs all of the Society's programs and operations. ASLA has been a leader in demonstrating the benefits of green infrastructure and resilient development practices through the creation of its own green roof, co-development of the SITES Rating System, and the creation of publicly accessible sustainable design resources.