Company News

HBA Does More than Put on a Good Show

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Over three days in February, some 12,000 people wandered through the Home & Garden Show, the signature exhibition of the Home Builders & Remodelers Association of the Valley.

For many, their experience with the association begins on the opening day of the show and ends the Sunday afternoon it closes. But for those in the industry – and for those who need the services HBA members offer – the organization is an invaluable resource all year long.

Members, all 243, are afforded the opportunity to take part in continuing education on matters such as Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations and building code updates, to join in networking events and receive referrals when consumers call the HBA office.

“First, networking and getting to know our customers socially,” says Rich Abel, owner of Banner Supply Co. and president of the HBA, of the benefits of being a member. “The discount for worker’s comp [through the group plan] can, a lot of times, pay for your membership. And it’s about supporting this whole industry.”

While he joined the organization just a few years ago, Abel’s family already had a long history with the Home Builders, with his grandfather, father and uncle all being members.

And it’s not just Abel’s family with that type of history with the organization. Looking through the list of past presidents is a veritable who’s who of the Mahoning Valley construction business.

The association was created in 1945 out of a need to regulate builders in the area and provide a line of communication between construction companies and local governments. Over the years, membership expanded to include not just contractors but companies that deal with them as well, such as banks, telecommunication companies and suppliers.

Membership – limited to companies doing business in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties – has fluctuated with the economy, says Executive Director Jennie Brewer.

During the Great Recession, she estimates about half of member construction companies either closed their doors or relocated out-of-state.

A similar ebb was seen in the years after Black Monday, she adds.

In 1978, the first full year after Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. closed its Campbell Works, there were 538 housing starts in Mahoning County, she points out. It would be 13 years until that mark was reached again.

The HBA has charters with the Ohio Home Builders Association and the National Association of Home Builders, with membership to both included with local membership.

“A big part of that is making sure our members are up to date with new codes and regulations. For consumers, it’s a great thing to know that the people you’re hiring are up to date with everything that’s going on,” Brewer says.

“We have criteria. We don’t just accept new members. They have to have ratings and insurance and are voted in from our board of directors,” adds Karen Ament, an agent with Burgan Real Estate and HBA president-elect for 2019.

For the associate members such as Burgan – the members indirectly involved in construction – the association provides avenues to better serve customers.

By talking to companies that are building, real estate agents can learn where properties are available or what kind of remodeling work is being done in the area, allowing buyers to keep on top of trends even after they’ve bought their house.

“We always have people who need things done,” Ament says. “If there’s a problem with the house during inspection, we look to members to fix it so we can close the deal. A lot of [real estate agents] got involved because of new construction and developments.”

Most of the issues members face today fall into two categories: banking and the labor pool.

Following the housing boom in the early 2000s and bust later that decade, federal regulations became more stringent, although how much and to whom banks can lend is getting easier, Ament notes.

When it comes to the workforce, almost everyone is seeing shortages, Abel says.

High school students rarely consider a career in the building trades, even jobs that wouldn’t place them in the field, he says. So as HBA president, Abel has put a focus on starting to address that problem.

“We have a group coming to [Banner Supply’s] Warren location to meet with me, the manager, a counter guy, a driver to show the different jobs that are in this business,” he says. “It’s a small step, but it’s a step in the right direction.”

Included in the HBA leadership’s responsibilities is community outreach. While the Home & Garden Show is the general public’s foyer to the organization, there are other projects.

Brewer expects the Parade of Homes, a mainstay for decades before being canceled in 2008, to return in the coming years.

And there are the community projects that members support.

Among such efforts are installing wheelchair ramps on houses across the Mahoning Valley, building a deck for a woman homebound after she severed an artery and replacing the roof at the Neil Kennedy Recovery Center’s Fellowship Hall.

“We try to do more things that will benefit a lot of people,” Brewer says. “And even if it’s not an HBA project, a lot of our members give back to the community. They’re giving people, if not with time, then at least with supplies.”

Pictured: Membership includes continuing education on safety and regulations, says Executive Director Jennie Brewer.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.