The Architecture Billings Index (ABI), calculated by the Economics & Market Research Group of The American Institute of Architects, showed a slight month-over-month increase in December 2008, following several consecutive months of record low scores. December's ABI rating of 36.4, up from an all-time low of 34.7 in November 2008, shows the severe effect of the economic downturn on the design industry, according to the AIA. Marking a new all-time low, the inquiries for new projects score for December was 37.7, down from November's 38.3.

According to AIA chief economist Kermit Baker, Ph.D., Hon. AIA, the primary reason for the continuing poor business conditions at design firms is the difficulty of acquiring financing for construction projects. "It will be important to see what the proposed economic stimulus package includes that is geared toward the construction industry, and how quickly developers who have had to put projects on hold can get them moving again," Baker says.

As an economic indicator, the ABI provides an approximately nine- to 12-month glimpse into the future of nonresidential construction activity. December's ABI regional averages are: 34.4 in the Northeast, 35.5 in the Midwest, 35.3 in the South, 35.3 in the West.