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National Association Reports

We've selected some pivotal national groups to report what went on this year and what's expected for 2006








NAHB Forecast for 2006

By David F. Seiders, NAHB chief economist

The resilient U.S. economy will easily shake off shocks from the hurricanes

Real GDP strengthened in the third quarter despite Katrina-related disruptions in September. Recent data point to an upward revision to third-quarter GDP growth, including a larger contribution from housing production. The hurricanes certainly took some toll on economic activity and GDP growth is slowing to some degree in the fourth quarter, however, economic growth should strengthen early next year as rebuilding activities add to an economy that still has strong underlying momentum.

Labor market data are mixed, but consistently positive signals will reemerge soon

Strong economic growth momentum has been generating systematic improvements in U.S. labor markets since fall 2003, despite maintenance of historically high rates of productivity growth (output per hour). The hurricanes disrupted measurement of labor market conditions in September and October. It's possible that the recorded slowdown in national job growth reflects more fundamental factors, but it's more likely that fundamental trends in labor markets are still intact.

Payroll employment growth was limited in October (56,000) and revisions for the August-September period reduced the previously estimated employment level by 35,000. On the other hand, the household employment survey for October threw off positive signals. The labor force showed little change while civilian employment increased by 214,000, dropping the unemployment rate back to 5 percent.

We believe labor markets are in fundamentally good shape (partly because of the claims data) and the economy will soon restore pre-hurricane rates of payroll job growth. The unemployment rate should hang around 5 percent as growth in the labor force keeps pace.

Energy prices spur broad inflation measures, but core inflation remains benign

Surging energy costs drove broad measures of inflation sharply upward in September. The producer price index for finished goods increased at an annual rate of 25 percent; the consumer price index increased at a 16 percent annual rate. However, key measures of core inflation (excluding prices of food and energy) remained much more subdued, within the historically low ranges prevailing since early this year.

The Fed and markets are focusing hard on several factors that could generate increases in core inflation not far down the line. These include gradual shrinkage of slack in labor markets, an evolving slowdown in productivity growth and likely leakage of high energy costs into core inflation. Chairman Alan Greenspan recently reminded Congress of the destructive increase in core inflation associated with the surge of energy prices in the 1970s--an inflation issue that the Fed (under Arthur Burns) badly handled. The central bank is determined to prevent an energy-price induced rise in inflation expectations this time, though.

The Fed tightens further and signals that there's more to come

The Fed enacted another quarter-point increase in short-term interest rates at the Nov. 1 meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee, a move that took the federal funds rate target to 4 percent and the bank prime rate to 7 percent. The FOMC statement noted that monetary policy remains accommodative (even after the rate adjustment) and remaining policy accommodation can be removed at a measured pace.

Another quarter-point rate hike is a virtual certainty at the next FOMC meeting on December 13, and further increase likely. Our forecast shows a funds rate of 4.5 percent at the conclusion of the Jan. 31 FOMC meeting, with stable policy over the balance of the short-term forecast horizon. It's difficult to predict when the Fed will consider monetary policy to be neutral, however, particularly under a new Fed Chairman (Ben Bernanke) with a well-known bent toward explicit inflation targets for the central bank.

Long-term interest rates have firmed up considerably in recent times

Gathering expectations of future Fed actions and concerns of upward pressures on core inflation have put significant upward pressure on long-term interest rates in recent weeks. These rates are bound to move somewhat higher in coming quarters, although the Fed resolve to contain inflation pressures should put a lid on long rate movements.

The recent increases in long-term rates have essentially brought them back up to levels that prevailed when the Fed embarked on the series of short-term rate increases at the middle of last year. The yield curve has flattened by about three percentage points since then, leaving a 60 basis point spread between the three-month and 10-year Treasury yields and an 80 basis point spread between the three-month and 30-year yields. These are historically narrow term spreads, but a yield curve inversion does not seem to be a serious threat--at least in our forecast!

Housing market indicators are throwing off mixed signals and a cooling process may be underway

Recent data, on balance, suggest the housing market may be plateauing in volume of sales and starts. Surveys of builders and mortgage lenders suggest a flattening.

Our forecast recognizes emerging affordability created by the succession of rapid house price gains in many parts of the country. The affordability factor is putting a bind on home buying and we expect this issue to be complicated as the interest rate structure gravitates up.

We're also looking for less support to the housing market from two special factors that probably are temporary: 1) heavy use of exotic forms of adjustable-rate mortgages. The financial regulators and rating agencies have been highlighting the risks to borrowers and mortgage investors. The importance of these types of loans in the market should recede. 2) heavy presence of investors/speculators in hot housing markets. As housing demand fades (because of the affordability issues) and price appreciation slows, a lot of speculators should go to the sidelines.

Housing markets should converge toward healthy and sustainable trend performances

The housing sector support is bound to weaken, though the housing slowdown should constitute an orderly adjustment toward sustainability, not the beginnings of a wrenching cyclical contraction.

NAHB's forecast depicts an orderly slowdown in home sales and housing production in 2006 and 2007, combined with deceleration of national house price appreciation toward historic norms (around 5 percent). The production level we're forecasting for 2007 is at the midpoint of the long-term forecast range we've established for this decade--an average of 2 million new housing units per year (including manufactured home shipments).








American Society of Irrigation Consultants

Business Is Good for Irrigation, Independent Design Professionals

By Dan Benner, president, Hydro Environmental, Inc., a full-service irrigation consulting firm in Marietta, Ga.

2005 has been a good year for the ASIC and the irrigation business overall. We added new membership categories this year to better represent the breadth of consultant skills and services. Our professional membership and industry support grew steadily over the past 11 months. The national movement toward resource responsibility continues to draw attention to the value and importance of irrigation design and management, which creates bigger budgets and a more rigorous selection process. We expect this momentum to continue.

Property developers and project managers increasingly understand that independent irrigation consultants assume the responsibility of an irrigation project’s success, extending far beyond a high-performance irrigation design. It also includes preliminary planning, design development, professional contract and construction documents, bidding and award services and contract administration and observation.

Low-interest rates and broad financing programs have helped the construction industry remain robust, also good news for the landscape and irrigation industries. Residential and commercial development are enjoying numerous hotspots throughout the U.S. Master-planned communities and business/commercial centers are providing good opportunities for professional proposals, although the golf course construction industry is relatively flat.

It's encouraging to watch irrigation design and management standards raised outside the industry. There’s a tremendous responsibility to the client, the environment and the community that goes into a large-scale irrigation project. Members of the ASIC embrace this responsibility and provide accountability for a durable, performing irrigation project.








International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA)

Founded in 1918, IAAPA is the largest international trade association for "permanently-situated amusement facilities." This nonprofit represents 4,000 facility, supplier and individual members from more than 85 countries. LASN attends the IAAPA Attractions Expo each year. This year the event was in the heart of Dixie, Atlanta, Nov. 16-19.






You can expect to see the unexpected at the IAAPA Expo.


IAAPA has political action committee (PAC) to make contributions to candidates for the U.S. Congress, ranking candidates based upon issues specific to the amusement industry. One piece of legislation IAAPA is keeping tabs on is the National Amusement Park Ride Safety Act of 2005 (H.R.2500 ) sponsored by U.S. Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass. 7th) and cosponsored by 14 Democrats. The legislation would restore the jurisdiction of the Consumer Product Safety Commission over amusement park rides at fixed sites. The bill would authorize $500,000 each fiscal year to CPSC. The bill has been referred to the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection.








Council of Landscape Architectural Registration Boards (CLARB)

The 2005 Task Analysis Answers Many Questions and Raises Even More

Clarence "Buck" Chaffee, CLARB executive director--James Penrod, director of examinations

In July of 2005 the CLARB completed their task analysis. Six thousand landscape architects were surveyed across the U.S. and Canada and 1,500 responses received. A 1998 study showed a median age of 45, now it is 49. This shift shows that the existing body of LAs is getting older and not enough younger people coming in to counterbalance the median. This is confirmed by licensure exams. Last year there was a significant decline in candidates testing for the first time. It may be a fluke, since CLARB computerized last year, but it may be the beginning of a trend. The numbers of graduates are constant, but the question is what is happening to them once they get out of school?

CLARB did a strategic plan three years ago and found an increasing demand for specialization. More LAs will become certified in certain aspects but not the full complement of services. CLARB points to legislation where existing specialty certifications have become mandated. For example, playgrounds need to be designed by certified playground designers. CLARB is concerned about this trend because specialty certification should come only after licensure, like the med school model.. People are getting specialization first and then coming into the profession through the backdoor. There has been a significant decrease since 1998 in single practitioner firms. Now, more firms have six to 10 members and more multidisciplinary. CLARB is following young people's attitudes towards licensure. Only half get licensed. Are the other half going into different professions? Are they simply unlicensed? More than 80-percent say they want to be licensed. It may be that in larger firms only principals need to be licensed.

CLARB sees many programs going toward masters degrees, however the firms say the masters programs don't provide the nuts and bolts of the four-year programs. CLARB seeks to know if firms feel the schools are putting out people who can work right away, or are the firms doing most of the teaching? What are the best ways to achieve well-rounded graduates?








Landscape Architecture Foundation

by Susan Everett, FASLA, and foundation staff

LAF's seeks to redefine the profession and develop a blueprint for the future, with the goal to assume an informed leadership role and offer vision and inspiration in the face of rapid landscape change. The Landscape Futures Initiative began with the identification of six drivers of global landscape change: urbanization; connectivity; culture and technology; politics and economy; global environmental threats; population and social dynamics. "Leadership in Landscape Change," scheduled for spring 2006 and hosted by Clemson University, is the seventh and final symposium in the series, will synthesize the themes of the six drivers of global landscape change.

Leadership in Landscape Scholarship Program

This program is growing, with $62,500 in student awards available this year compared to $20,500 last year. In the past two decades, the program has awarded over $475,000 to 369 students. The Dangermond Fellowship was launched this year to encourage use of GIS. It is sponsored ASLA, Environmental Systems Research Institute and LAF and named for ESRI President Jack Dangermond, FASLA.

In its first year, the program drew 32 applicants representing 16 accredited graduate programs. The fellowship winners will each receive $10,000, a computer, ESRI software, access to technical training via ESRI's Virtual Campus, and travel funds to present their projects at the ESRI Annual User Conference and at the ASLA annual meeting.

National Legislative Forum on Parks and Recreation

An important upcoming event is the National Legislative Forum on Parks and Recreation, February 15-19, 2006 in Washington, D.C. The NRPA feels that recent actions by Congress and the president "reflect limited commitments to investment in state and local park and recreation services." NRPA exhorts civic leaders and professionals to participate. NRPA says that attendees will become informed of changing conditions, new legislation and the political landscape, gain an insider's view of Washington and how things work on the Hill, learn how to create long-term relationships with legislative leaders, and "take your message directly to your senators and representative." On August 10, 2005, the president signed into law the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) with guaranteed funding for highways, highway safety, and public transportation totaling $244.1 billion. SAFETEA-LU represents the largest surface transportation investment in the nation’s history.

The NRPA called it a "long-fought battle," but expressed satisfaction that the bill includes hundreds of millions in annual funding for trails and community transportation improvements. SAFETEA-LU means more bicycle trails, pedestrian walkways, and community transportation improvements on public lands. Vitally important protections for parks and recreation areas contained in Section 4(f) were preserved in the bill.

National Association of Cities (NAC)--Harahan, Louisiana

Landscaping a Key Part of Rebuilding America's Devastated Communities

Kerry Lauricella, director

"One of our greatest challenges is to provide a high quality of life for our citizens, while keeping taxes down," says NAC Director Kerry Lauricella. Taxes generated from local businesses typically generate one of the large percents of cities, towns or villages total revenue and municipalities must continue to increase their recurring revenues to keep up with increasing expenses.
Properly installed and maintained landscaping creates "curb appeal" for a municipality. "In just my city, Harahan, Louisiana, it was heartbreaking to see truckloads of trees and shrubbery hauled to the dump," she says in reference to the hurricane damage. "Hopefully, America's landscape architects will continue to provide creative ideas and solutions for local communities and to help them replace their precious resources--their landscaping." The NAC is assisting over 10,000 communities.
Visit buildingamerica.org for more info.








National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA)

For more than 100 years, NRPA has been the voice advocating the significance of making parks, open space, and recreational opportunities available to all Americans.

The NRPA, headquartered in Ashburn, Va., is governed by a 70-member board chaired by Ronald Lehman. The executive director is John Thorner, the president, Steven Neu, CPRP.

An important upcoming event is the National Legislative Forum on Parks and Recreation, February 15-19, 2006 in Washington, D.C. The NRPA feels that recent actions by Congress and the president "reflect limited commitments to investment in state and local park and recreation services." NRPA exhorts civic leaders and professionals to participate. NRPA says attendees will gain an insider's view of how things work on the Hill and create relationships with legislative leaders. On August 10, 2005, the president signed the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) with guaranteed funding for highways, highway safety and public transportation totaling $244.1 billion, the largest surface transportation investment in U.S. history. The bill includes hundreds of millions in annual funding for trails and community transportation improvements. It means more bicycle trails, pedestrian walkways, and community transportation improvements on public lands. Important protections for parks and recreation areas contained in Section 4(f) were also preserved in the bill.








National Trust for Historic Preservation

Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, along with a survey team, visited Lake Charles, Louisiana in October to assess hurricane damage of historic properties and provide technical assistance to residents and local officials. The Trust and its partners are working with federal, state and local governments to facilitate reconstruction and help prevent future disasters of this kind. At the federal level, these include pursuing the creation of a two-year, $60 million fund to be administered by the State Historic Preservation Offices that would offer grants to help preserve properties listed on, or eligible for listing on, the National Register of Historic Places; amendments to facilitate the use of existing tax-credit incentives for the rehabilitation of damaged historic commercial properties; enactment of the Homeowners Assistance Act to provide tax credits for rebuilding historic homes on the gulf coast. At the state and local levels, tools being considered include revising building codes to enable structures to withstand future hurricanes, and design guidelines to encourage new construction that respects the character of historic areas.

Through the new Public Lands Initiative, the National Trust plans to enhance federal stewardship of cultural resources on public lands by identifying ways to increase federal funding for cultural resource identification and protection. Encompassing 26 million acres in 12 Western states, the National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS) includes dozens of national monuments, conservation and wilderness areas, historic trails, scenic rivers, historic sites of Native American pueblos and traces of frontier-era migration routes. Managed by the Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the NLCS was established to conserve, protect and restore natural and cultural landscapes, however, BLM is seriously hampered by chronic understaffing and underfunding.

For more information, visit nationaltrust.org








Partners for Livable Communities

By Bob McNulty, President and CEO

As the baby boomers reach 60 in 2006, there will be a massive rethinking of community to allow the wish of 90% of all older citizens to age in their own home. This will require a complete rethinking of mobility, housing choices, zoning, walkability, and neighborhood-friendly aging strategies. A recent survey by the National Association of Counties shows over 90% of U.S. counties have not even thought about aging-in-place as an issue. Major forces such as AARP, Metropolitan Life, the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, the White House Conference on Aging, the International City/County Management Association, the National Association of Realtors, and the banking industry are mobilizing around this livability agenda.

The wellness movement is alive and well and will have major impact upon the design, planning and redesign of communities.

Communities need to be walkable and safe with visual stimulation and gathering places for socialization. In essence, our communities need to become more friendly and more conducive to nonautomotive nobility and neighborliness.

The wellness agenda includes reviving town collaboration, particularly with the university hospital as focal point and asset-based community development under the principles of John McKnight of Northwestern University. Landscape architecture combines the best of planning, design, public participation and community layout to achieve livability goals in these new areas of great challenge.








World Waterpark Association (WWA)

by Gina Kellogg, director of communications, WWA

The new chairman of our volunteer board, Tim Gantz, president of Noah’s Ark Family Park, Wisconsin Dells, Wis., began his term Nov. 1, 2005. The biggest trend in our industry is the growth of the indoor waterpark. They can operate year-round plus offer families a fun, safe place. The waterpark industry is growing and technology is contributing. Ride designers are creating different types of rides (bowls, oscillating rides, water coasters) and blending rides, e.g., combining wave pools with leisure rivers.

Our most significant event this year was the WWA’s 25th Anniversary Symposium & Trade Show. Twenty-five years ago, few could have anticipated today's successful water leisure industry. It was our most highly attended event in the last five years.

Incorporation of trees, shrubs, flowers, hanging baskets, etc., are adding significantly to the atmosphere of waterparks.

The waterpark industry has been on a growth curve for the last several years, typically growing by about 3-5 percent in attendance each year. The outlook is extremely positive.

Some of the new water leisure rides are similar to ones found in traditional amusement parks. Noah’s Ark in the Wisconsin Dells opened the “Black Anaconda,” a $2 million water coaster and Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon just launched the “Crush ‘n Gusher.” At the Kalahari in Sandusky, Ohio, guests can ride a “Zip Coaster.” All these rides offer a roller coaster experience except you're on a raft and jets of water or conveyor belts move the guests along.

Bowl rides are getting more elaborate. The Great Wolf Lodge in Wisconsin installed a six-story one and many of the Six Flags parks installed bowl rides this past spring. Bowl rides are like giant funnels dropping down into a splash pool or run-out. Parks all over the world are installing Flowriders, a surfing attraction that creates continuous waves. Another emphasis is family rides or raft rides. As families are the backbone of the waterpark industry. Thus, waterpark designers are keeping families in mind as they design the rides of tomorrow.



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