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Government work buoys Miss. architects

Laura Smith
Dolan Media Newswires

Jackson, MS — When architects Michael Grey Jones and Joey Crain attended American Institute of Architects meetings in Washington, D.C., they were struck by the horror stories told by their colleagues from across the nation.

“One of the larger firms had to let 80 people go,” said Crain, president-elect of the Mississippi Chapter of AIA and a principal of the Eley Guild Hardy Architects. “It’s all anyone talked about, and it gave me the sense that, as a state, we weren’t quite so hard hit … Of course, some would argue we didn’t have as far to fall.”

But, he said, architects in Mississippi aren’t hurting as badly as those in Los Angeles, New York or Miami.

“As a profession, we tend to be the canary in the coal mine,” Crain said. “We’re the first hit, and we’re still waiting for that surge of work to signify the end of the recession.”

A benefit to the recession for architects is more competitive bidding for work among contractors, he said.

“The silver lining is that we have more contractors and subcontractors, which drives the construction cost down,” Crain said. “It’s not like before the storms when labor and materials were at a premium and we saw some of the highest bids we’ve seen.”

But Jones, the current Mississippi AIA president, also noted the increased competition among architects.

“We’re competing against 10 people instead of five,” he said.

Recovery work on the Gulf Coast has helped soften the blow for some firms.

“Obviously, this year is nothing like the post-Katrina bubble we had with rehabilitation and repair work,” Crain said.

But projects such as the Biloxi High School expansion, work for the U.S. Department of Defense and the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art’s Center for Ceramics have kept his firm busy.

“There is reason for optimism,” Crain said. “I believe we’re through the worst, and next year may return to being a growth year.”

Robert Zander, past president of the Mississippi AIA and a partner in Jones-Zander Ltd., said his firm has been sustained through work for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in Yazoo City, Greenwood and Clarksdale.

The work includes replacing roofs and air-conditioning systems and rehabilitating apartments.

“This housing typically takes a lot of abuse, and we’re bringing them back up to livable standards,” he said.

“If it hadn’t been for HUD or stimulus work, we would’ve seen a slowdown ourselves.”

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