The nation is finally in full recovery mode. The housing market is improving and jobs are coming back. Commercial, residential, and nonresidential construction is, at long last, increasing. With Standard and Poor’s Rating Services also reporting the strongest state and local credit conditions in a decade, it’s time to get back to business as usual.

This sentiment is reflected in our 10th annual survey on how readers use architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) services. As one respondent whose department spent more than $1 million on outside expertise over the last year says, “Delayed projects are starting back up.”

The problem is, too many projects were placed on hold during the Great Recession. Now, public works departments have too much work and not enough bandwidth to deliver it on their own.

The public sector is recovering at a snail’s pace as state and local budgets await a boost from lagging property and income taxes. Despite five consecutive years of budget growth and low inflation, the National Association of State Budget Officers reports that general fund spending remains below the 2008 pre-recession peak.

Rising consumer confidence may lead to more sales tax-supported bonds and voters approving tax increases to support a return to pre-recession service levels — and, dare we hope, staffing levels. Until then, many agencies are turning to AEC firms for the expertise and manpower needed to complete projects.

To put it simply, “yes, the city has fewer employees,” says a streets operations manager from the West whose department spent $300,000 to $400,000 last year to complete six to 10 projects.

Next page: More funding, fewer engineers