One of the silver linings of the pandemic-related travel restrictions is the ability to attend myriad conferences and events virtually. Although the coronavirus is indelibly shaping the industry, the industry events of late aren’t solely focused on the pandemic anymore. Rather, it appears to be evolving to a space where we can resume business and conversations that certainly address COVID-related challenges, such as supply chain disruptions, but are not hyper-focused on how to deal with COVID itself.
Although the International Builders’ Show virtual exhibit floor in February encountered technical glitches and had to be closed after the first day, the event still delivered with robust educational programming, much of which remains on demand through the end of June.
Mike Rowe, of “Dirty Jobs” fame, focused on the skills gap during his keynote address and, specifically, reaching younger people. One of the biggest things we can do to close the skills gap, he purports, is tell stories of success around the trades.
“If we do a better job presenting examples of men and women who are prospering today as a direct result of mastering the skill, sooner or later that will become overwhelming,” he said. “You’re fighting against stigmas, stereotypes, misconceptions and myths. People want to be challenged. Don’t be afraid to say you’ll work hard, and it won’t always be pleasant, but if you stick with it and apply yourself, here’s a path to prosperity.”
The Fenestration & Glazing Industry Alliance Annual Conference in late February was a packed three days that painted a positive picture of a recovering economy with a strong focus on sustainability and energy efficiency. One of the more profound takeaways for me, however, was Chris Kuehl’s economic update. Data shows strength in new construction and remodeling, and suppliers and manufacturers are working furiously to keep up with record-high demand.
But, Kuehl pointed out, prices are also high. Rising lumber prices alone have added an average of $24,000 more to the price of a single-family home since April 2020, according to NAHB. “If mortgage prices go up, along with the price of homes that has already gone up, it’ll throttle [residential] growth in a hurry,” said Kuehl. So, although residential is the clear bright spot in construction, it may not be as bomb-proof as we think it is.
The March NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index is beginning to reflect this caution, too, as builder confidence for newly built single-family homes fell two points and February housing production weakened. Experts attribute both drops to rising material prices and interest rates.
“Interest rates and regulatory barriers to construction need to stay low,” said Jim Tobin, executive vice president, governmental affairs, NAHB, during the Window & Door Manufacturers Association’s Spring Virtual Meeting and Legislative Conference. Despite the rise in interest rates, however, they still remain historically low.
As the country continues to emerge from the coronavirus and the Biden administration continues to take shape, industry associations are keeping a close eye on regulation, legislation and other policy that could affect the construction industry.
I look forward to continuing to connect during these virtual meetings and hope we can resume in-person conversations later this year.