How local architecture, engineering firms are being affected by COVID-19

Published: Jun. 22, 2020 at 12:12 PM AKDT
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Local and statewide construction activity is a key driver of employment in the business and professional services sectors, where nearly 28,000 Alaskans are employed.

Architecture and engineering firms are some of the businesses on the front lines of construction in Alaska.

The sight of empty space has become normal at many offices, including at KPB Architects’ downtown office. Its 16 employees have been working from home since the pandemic hit.

“Fortunately for us, we were mostly set up that way. About half of the people in the office were set up to work from home, so the transition wasn't that difficult,” Jae Shin, principal owner of KPB Architects said.

Shin says there have been no layoffs but lots of unknowns.

“Right now we are working primarily on military and private sector developer type projects, but a lot of those projects are just on hold because nobody knows, probably like any other industry, what's going to happen,” he said.

He says it’s staying steady but relying on existing clients because new funding it just not happening right now. It’s also keeping an eye on other industries.

“We are all interconnected in some way or another, Alaska, in particular, is going to get hit real hard because we rely on the oil industry and tourism, both of which are almost non-existent right now,” he added.

For Anna Lee out in Palmer, owning a small architecture firm has given her flexibility.

“I'm able to work on the smaller projects and do the smaller residential and I don't have all the overhead,” Lee said.

But projects are slowing down.

“We are slammed, until the end of June, I don't know what is going to happen from there,” she said.

Lee relies on the Matanuska-Susitna Borough for new projects, but those are on hold, for now.

“I may not be able to rent my cute little house anymore after July,” she said jokingly.

And contractors are taking notice.

“They'll call me up, and they're like if you aren't busy, we aren't busy.”

Work that can affect engineering firms, like PDC Engineers, which has five officers across Alaska. For now, construction projects are moving forward.

The company employees more than 100 Alaskans and is not looking at any layoffs.

“Down the road, if things don't open up, thinking about projects starting and people being able to get out to work then that will become a concern,” Matt Emerson, president of PDC Engineers said.

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