Memphis, Tenn.-based Looney Ricks Kiss (LRK) is an award-winning 25-year-old firm that had only reduced staff once prior to 2008. “We were fortunate that the very first real slowdown where we had to lay anyone off for lack of work was after 9/11,” says principal J. Carson Looney, FAIA.

But LRK—coming off its most financially successful year in 2007—had to trim numbers twice in 2008 as large-scale projects got shelved, production home builders lost financing, and custom clients got nervous. “From September through October, almost every time the phone rang, I'd hear two words” from custom clients, he says: “On hold! The project is on hold.” Only a few custom projects proceeded as planned, he adds.

In addition to layoffs, LRK closed its Boulder, Colo., location and downsized small offices in the resort town of Rosemary Beach, Fla., and in Baton Rouge, La. Like everyone else, Looney is unsure what happens next. “I don't know about tomorrow,” he says. “I don't know if we'll land a job or lose two more. I literally don't know.”

There's no quick fix, but Looney says the new administration can help by promising to hold off on any tax increases for at least 24 months. “That's a big one that would open some flood-gates,” he says. Moreover, lending institutions need to find a way to distinguish between good, viable projects and bad ones.

For projects that have moved forward, clients are scaling back and asking the firm to trim costs. “All the fluff is gone,” he says.

J. Carson Looney, FAIA
Steve Hinds J. Carson Looney, FAIA

age of firm: 25 years
firm specialty: Planning, single-family production and custom, multifamily, mixed-use, commercial, and interiors
staff: 165 (2005); 240 (prior to layoffs in early 2008), 146 (end of 2008); 144 (2009, projected)
total revenue: $27.1 million (2005); $33.5 million (2008); +/- $25 million (2009, projected)
completed projects: 303 (2005); 370 (2008); Unknown (2009)