By Phil Crone, JD, CGP, GSP
Executive Officer, Dallas Builders Association
I must admit, I really enjoy writing this “year in review” column. It gives me a chance to take inventory of all we accomplished. Especially this year as we celebrated the Dallas Builders Association’s 75th anniversary and all who contributed to it.
Much of my knowledge of our association’s history comes courtesy of the Dallas Builders Association’s third Executive Officer, Ed Cox. I never met Ed. He passed away in 2006, just a few days after I started working here as the Government Affairs Specialist. However, I feel like I know him from his book chronicling our first 40 years. It never leaves my desk.
In his preface, Ed writes, “What’s new with us is that this Association truly has been ‘different’ in the quality characteristics of its members and leaders, and in the dedicated abilities of its employees. These have been the vital difference that has blended everything together and has been the catalyst for the success of our Association.”
The challenges our industry faces now are not too dissimilar from the ones encountered by our founders in 1944. Back then a victorious end of World War II was in sight. The industry was ill-prepared for the avalanche of housing demand from returning GIs. Government control over raw materials needed for the war effort threatened to further constrain the supply of housing.
Today, we continue to face supply-side challenges. Our region is the epicenter of our nation’s growth, yet we are struggling to build homes where jobs sleep at night due to an ongoing labor shortage, tariffs, and exclusionary zoning.
Everyone deserves a roof over their heads and an affordable place to call home. This is the rallying cry of our advocacy efforts. Thanks to our member volunteers and our tremendous staff we’ve accomplished so much this past year. Here are a few of the highlights.
The state legislative session took center stage during the first half of 2019.
DBA staff worked with Rep. Justin Holland to author and pass HB 852. The bill prevents municipalities from requiring the disclosure of construction cost and sales price as a condition for obtaining a building permit. In many cases, this information was contributing to higher property taxes and inspection fees that exceeded state law limitations. HB 852 passed with overwhelming majorities thanks to the Texas Association of Builders and testimony from DBA members and staff.
The Association also weighed in heavily on HB 2439, which ensures that every code-approved product is allowed to compete on an equal regulatory playing field. In many cases, local product mandates were artificially increasing the cost of housing and prohibiting access to great schools and communities. Defending this bill is an ongoing effort as many areas stubbornly try to control who is in the home by mandating what is on the home.
HB 1743 was another massive win for housing advocates. The bill reduces the reach of the agricultural roll back tax from five to three years and the interest rate from seven percent to five percent. The bill saves some new developments over a million dollars! This would not have gotten done without the unique financial mind of Past President Frank Murphy. His steadfast, intelligent testimony on the bill, at all stages, led directly to its passage. Frank was deservedly honored by the DBA with the AP Roffino Award and by TAB as its Developer of the Year.
Rally Day was another highlight of the legislative session. More than 100 members stormed the capital, meeting with all of our area’s representatives and senators. Delivering our housing first message in one loud and unified voice contributed to our legislative wins.
Accomplishments at the local and federal levels were equally impressive. Locally, we weighed in on design ordinances, impact fees, development processes, tree exactions and continued our work on the City of Dallas’s Affordable Housing Task Force.
Nationally, Association members and staff met with our U.S. Representatives in June as a part of NAHB’s legislative conference. At that meeting, we introduced and passed an NAHB policy directive that provided their staff support and guidance to avoid federally-imposed building code mandates. The DBA took center stage again on Sept. 12 when we hosted a news conference with the EPA announcing the repeal of a cumbersome interpretation of the Waters of the United States rule.
Government Relations Director David Lehde instigated these accomplishments and many more advocacy milestones. Thousands of North Texans enjoy the opportunity of homeownership because of his incredible advocacy for their American Dream.
Along with crippling regulation, membership was another obstacle we confronted in 2019.
Last year, our “Swing for the Fences” membership drive, was a home run, netting us more than 100 new members. That drive and the plan that went with it earned us the coveted NAHB Membership Cup at a conference in July.
This challenge this year was to continue our growth while retaining last year’s gains. Statistically, we knew it was going to be a tough task. If last year was a home run, this year’s drive was a double. We added 51 new members while volunteers also focused on membership retention.
Perennial MVP membership recruiter Donnie Evans did not disappoint as he brought in a dozen new members on his own. Donnie’s efforts with membership recruitment locally, the Sunbelt Builders Show at the state level and generous contributions to charities such as Operation FINALLY HOME earned him Builder of the Year honors from TAB and the DBA’s Shorty Howard Trophy.
I’m very appreciative of all members who helped with recruitment and retention efforts in 2019. I look forward to what next year has in store with your help and the eager support of Membership Director Coleman Yates, who joined us in September.
Thanks to strong leadership from their respective presidents, chairmen and boards along with Director of Member Services Misty Varsalone, our Divisions and Councils continued to meet the networking and organizational needs of our membership. Metro East continued to do incredible work in our community, raising more than $70,000 for Lone Star CASA with their annual Cars for CASA event. Metro North held a successful bowling tournament and continued to have strong attendance.
The Dallas Division delivered insightful programming and provided support for the next generation of our industry through donations to Collin College and construction trades program at Skyline High School. Not to be outdone by our Divisions, Multifamily Builders Council raised $8,600 for the Samaritan Inn and served dinner monthly at the shelter for abused women and children.
Our special events continued to grow in 2019. In total, 213 companies partnered with the DBA this year, up from 187 in 2018. The State of the Industry Summit provided a good overview of anticipated market and sales trends to a large audience of nearly 300 members. The McSAM Awards celebrated its 40th year in “Hollywood” style and was one of the best attended in recent memory. The Parade of Homes™ had an incredible second year in its new format. The Parade grew to include seven homes and exceeded financial and attendance expectations.
Casino Christmas had record ticket sales. Thanks to unseasonably warm weather, we were able to use our back patio to accommodate more than 200 guests.
The Dallas Builders Show focused on the future.
The area’s premier local trade show hosted more than 200 high school students enrolled in area construction trades programs. Students were treated to seven specific hands-on demonstrations in various disciplines.
These students have a bright future ahead of them if we can help guide them to it. DFW needs around 20,000 construction workers. More than two-thirds of member builders continue to report that the lack of labor is having a significant impact on their business.
The workers we do have aren’t getting any younger. The average age for an HVAC technician is 54, electrician 55, plumber 58. More than 40 percent of them will retire in the next decade. This is why 2019 focused as much on our future as it did on celebrating our past.
In addition to working with area high schools, the DBA furthered our partnership with Collin College this year. We have a substantial presence in the program thanks to Past President Jeff Dworkin serving as a faculty member and the establishment of a scholarship program to help students in financial need.
In September, dozens of members from our newly formed Young Professionals group visited Collin College to mentor students. I’m really excited about this group, which has formed under the leadership of Vice President/Secretary Andrew Pieper.
Our education program held 41 successful classes thanks to strong leadership including staff director Sheena Beaver. More than 700 industry professionals attended at least one class.
We developed and launched the successful “@ProjectSite” series that took learning “out into the wild.” The education committee also revamped and relaunched a successful leadership program, which saw large gains in attendance. We also created and launched a new local certification called the Certified Star Builder. The certification can be earned by builders who demonstrate a commitment to education and best industry practices.
We are blessed with outstanding people in the Association who are among the best that our industry has to offer. The Hugh Prather Trophy, the Association’s highest annual honor, went to Past President Donny Mack of Beaver Builders. Donny is a steady surespoken champion of our education program and a well-respected educator.
Another outstanding person is Accounting Manager Becky Warner. Becky has done a tremendous job managing a new banking relationship, various new initiatives and our investment strategy that’s doing its best to earn interest in this market.
A personal thank you from every member is owed to your 2018-19 President, Matt Robinson. Matt took a hands-on approach to the job from day one, making sure to spend time with every committee, division and council in the Association. He also represented us extremely well, serving on key committees at TAB and NAHB.
Being President of the DBA while balancing a busy home life and training for marathons requires a tremendous amount of focus and organization. Matt brought that steady, fundamentals-first approach that challenged his leadership team and me personally to take full ownership of our goals and not get complacent. I’m eternally grateful for Matt’s time, passion and leadership that created lasting results.
I’m also grateful for 2019-20 President Justin Webb. Installation celebrations usually focus on the incoming president. As mentioned before, being our 75th, this year was different. Our installation celebration also served as our 75th anniversary party. What resulted was an extraordinarily successful event that celebrated our past, present and future.
In March, we hosted our first Past Presidents Dinner in many years. We used that occasion to let all 28 who attended play a role in a five-minute video commemorating our history and positive impact on the area’s housing market. If you haven’t seen that video, you need to. It is incredibly well done and very moving tribute as is the 48-page historical highlights magazine that includes photos and letters from dignitaries such as Gov. Greg Abbott.
I can’t understate how large of a task showcasing 75 years of history is. Staff Communications Director Barcie Vilches took on this monumental job, picking up where Ed Cox left off.
Barcie’s wisdom, experience and resolute attention to detail combined with Holly Pemberton’s enthusiasm and propensity to perfect new skills took our digital presence to new heights. DallasBuilders.com was named TAB’s local Association Accomplishment of the Year and won an NAHB Association Excellence Award for Best Website. The site has about 6,500 users each month, up 58% from last year.
Both our consumer and member sites benefitted from enhanced digital marketing using Facebook, Google and geofencing techniques. This really came in handy following the October tornadoes that devastated many parts of our area. Just three hours after the storm, we had crucial consumer information in the hands of media, local officials and storm victims, helping them avoid being further victimized by unscrupulous contractors.
2019 also saw the launch of our DBA app on iTunes and Google Play.
Push notifications were very handy during Rally Day. The app also has a very effective member search and handy Association calendar.
Our social media following surpassed 10,500 this year and is growing steadily thanks to additional features that add value to our members. These include the very popular Dallas Morning News Home of the Week and regular builder features with Candy’s Dirt.
While we gained quite a bit in 2019, we experienced a serious loss right at the beginning of the year with the passing of Tom Greico. Everything about Tom was original and genuine from his pioneer approach to modern home building to his down to earth personality that had a joke for every occasion. I miss him dearly.
Our partnership with Operation FINALLY HOME continues to do wonderful things that I know Tom was proud of. OFH is our preferred charity that builds mortgage-free homes for combat-wounded veterans and their families. This year, we completed our seventh OFH project for U.S. Army Major Eric King thanks to the City of Irving, who donated the lot, and Matt Walls with Winston Homes. Our partnership with Irving continues as they are exploring the donation of additional lots in 2020.
In October, we invited all of our OFH recipients to a dinner at our office to let them know we are thinking about them and that they are forever a part of the DBA family. Most were able to attend, and the best part about the event was seeing them form lasting bonds.
Our OFH recipients and their families have given so much to our nation and all of us yet they continue to serve others. A great example of this is U.S. Army Sgt. Jerry Holcomb. Sgt. Holcomb brought a project to us for Patriot Paws, an organization that pairs service dogs with combat veterans. With the help of Mishler Builders, Altura Homes, DBA staff, and numerous trade partners, a new facility was constructed at Patriot Paws’ headquarters in Rockwall that allows veterans to stay alongside their new four-legged friends during two weeks of training. Special thanks is also owed to our Clyde J. Anderson Associate of the Year, Scott Roberts, who used his expertise to design and help secure necessary approvals for this project.
A huge thank you is owed to all who helped us get to where we are now. Especially our Industry Investors: StrucSure Home Warranty, BGE, Bravas, FACETS Appliances, Kitchens & Baths, Hotchkiss Insurance Agency, Fox Energy Specialists, L&S Mechanical and DuPont, Inc.
On the heels of celebrating 75 years, we are focused on the future and well-positioned for its challenges. We are now, just as we were then, better together.