Laying the foundation for the future economy

The COVID-19 pandemic has battered the U.S. economy since its arrival early this year. Even with signs of partial recovery in recent months, there is still considerable speculation about when to expect economic activity to return to pre-pandemic levels. While a near-term recovery is front and center in AIA advocacy efforts, AIA is also advancing an economic policy platform that focuses on the future.

“When my firm begins a project, we aren’t designing for next weekend,” says Tim Hawk, FAIA, chair of AIA’s Government Advocacy Committee and an at-large director to the AIA Board. “It can be between 18 to 24 months from blueprint to building occupation. Everything we do has to include a long-term vision that carefully considers the building’s use on day one and its utility 20 years into the future. We need to apply this same discipline to economic policy.”

Hawk notes that most architectural firms, including his, are small businesses that cast a vision for the $1 trillion building and construction industry. The industry generates more than 4% of the country’s gross domestic product and is driven by architectural firms making less than $8 million a year. Hawk says policies must protect these small businesses that serve as the engine for our economy.

As unemployment rose to nearly 15% earlier this year, AIA fought for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which was a stabilizing force for many member firms. Eighty-one percent of architecture firm applicants received at least some of the funding they requested through the PPP, with 74% receiving the full amount. AIA supports a second-round investment into the program this year and the creation of a federally backed risk insurance product to protect against business loss from future catastrophic events. Hawk notes that these programs guard against a “snowball effect” of job loss in the future.

In addition to protecting small businesses, AIA’s economic policy platform includes a significant effort to boost education within the industry. As Benjamin Franklin famously said in the 1700s, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” Hawk agrees.

“In our industry, we are facing a lack of skilled labor and the need to upgrade our understanding of sustainable building practices,” says Hawk. “We also are earnestly seeking to diversify our workforce and give underserved communities a chance to help shape the future built environment. All of these challenges require a renewed focus on education.”

The platform describes the need for more “STEAM” education:  science, technology, engineering, architecture, and math. The policy document says, “As buildings grow in complexity, we must strengthen workforce training to match skills to jobs.”

The platform also outlines support for several tax incentive plans that encourage developers to invest in historic buildings, low-income housing, and energy efficiency. These investments are not only good for business, but they support AIA’s goals to help reinvigorate historically underserved communities. Hawk points out that these policies also encourage a deeper dialogue between developers and architects.

“Developers are often driven by short-term returns on their investments,” he says. “As architects, we should be thinking more about the building’s complete life cycle, not just its viability for the first decade of use. These tax policies help bridge the gap between financial return on investment and the long-term good a properly designed retrofit or new construction project can deliver to communities.”

The “future economy” platform is one of three primary focus areas for AIA this year, and Hawk notes that many of these priorities enjoy bipartisan support in Congress. Learn more about AIA’s economic policy platform and get involved with AIA Advocacy.

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