Sunday, March 28, 2010

CEO Blog: 'Univerally-Mandated' Universal Design?

Recently I was invited to the state capitol by area legislators to testify before a house committee in Jefferson City about a proposal (House Bill 1737) that would require all new state-supported affordable housing in Missouri to meet Universal Design standards. The legislation is being advanced by well-intentioned advocates for people with disabilities to help meet the special accomodations that often become necessary in their housing options.

For those who may not know, Universal Design and its accompanying market opportunities are one of the few bright points in the residential construction industry right now.  Of all the professional designations offered by the National Association of Home Builders, the Certified Aging in Place Specialists, or CAPS – which is based on the principles of Universal Design) is the second fastest growing designation program in the country – just behind the certified green professional designation. Between 2005 and 2009, the number of people taking CAPS designation classes more than doubled. Thousands of builders are ahead of demand on this, even building the future of their businesses around it.

One example of where Universal Design is being incorporated voluntarily with great success is Sustainable Housing Solutions in Springfield. This HBA member specializes in construction of new affordable housing - housing made possible in part by state tax credits. I wanted to know what owner Debra Shantz-Hart though about HB 1737, as it could directly affect her company’s work.

Here is what Debra said: "We think that all projects should be evaluated on a case by case basis----for example, we are doing a version of universal design on our upcoming senior housing project.  We have planned and budgeted for it but there were trade-offs in our design in order to bring the project in at affordable level."

Debra reminded me what should be that the most important characteristic of affordable housing: that it remain affordable. While Universal Design serves an important purpose, it also adds a significant cost to construction projects. This bill’s requirements could add anywhere from 5% to 10% to the hard costs of a typical affordable housing construction project.

Of course, the entire reason the state is involved in affordable housing at all is that, in the normal course of the marketplace, there are some of our citizens who simply would not be able to afford to buy or rent a home otherwise. So, the state offers incentives and tax credits to get housing built that these citizens can, with help, afford to live in.

Well-intentioned requirements like HBA 1737 one jeopardize good affordable housing developments by causing the project not to “pencil out.”  And that has potential consequences for the broader economy. On average, 100 single family homes built equates to 284 fulltime local jobs. The ripple effect of these jobs and the construction activity is felt by our state’s economy, as well as by local economies. Government revenues are up when construction is strong; and they are down when construction is weak.

Affordable housing construction is a big part of the overall picture. In Greene County, one affordable housing single family project (Fulbright Springs) constituted 14% of all the single-family new homes permitted in 2009.

Mandating that all of these units should be built using Universal Design would undermine the whole reason the state assists in getting these affordable units built in the first place. The increased cost would lead to one of only three possible outcomes: 1) these affordable housing units wouldn't get built; 2) they get built, but go unsold or unrented; or 3) the state steps in to increase its subsidy for affordable housing.

None of these are attractive options when there are much more productive ways of ensuring that adequate Universal Design housing is available, even in affordable housing developments.

Universal Design can be incorporated more efficiently through incentives than through mandates. For example, projects using Universal Design could be given priority in the selection process.  Or, builders who set aside a portion of their development as Universally Designed units could be rewarded with greater densities or more total units. These incentives would increase the availability of Universal Design projects without undermining the fundamental purpose of affordable housing: that it be affordable. They also would not require additional subsidy dollars the state doesn’t have, just to make up for what would be its own self-inflicted affordability gap.

While incentives like these or others would be helpful; I am not certain that even they are really necessary. The industry already is enthusiastically and voluntarily responding to what it believes is a growing and important niche within residential construction in Universal Design. This might be one of those instances where government shouldn’t do for the people what the people seem prepared to do better for themselves.

Following my testimony, I was encouraged to receive positive feedback from the legislators who sit on the committee that is hearing the bill. I believe the HBA's case was well-received and had an important positive effect on the proceedings. As often is the case, the HBA brought the only testimony against the bill in its current form (many more testified in favor). If not for the work of the HBA, legislators would have heard no counterpoint to this proposal. And that could lead to some very bad decisions now and in the future.

And, lest you think this is only an isolated piece of legislation that has little to do with your business, consider this: while this particular bill applies only to subsidized housing, advocates at the hearing made no secret of their ultimate goal of requiring ALL new housing to be built to Universal Design standards. They see this bill only as the first step toward the ultimate goal of "universally-mandated" Universal Design.

So, the HBA will continue to work toward cooler heads prevailing. Our goal remains common-sense solutions that won't needlessly damage the market for new homes. At its core, that is the purpose of an association like ours: strength in numbers. The HBA's testimony is given weight only because of your membership in it. And, in turn, as a member, you receive benefit from the successful advocacy of the association. Put even better by Benjamin Franklin in the early days of the American Revolution: "We must hang together or we shall surely hang separately!"

Matt Morrow
Chief Executive Officer
Home Builders Association of Greater Springfield

Monday, January 18, 2010

CEO Blog: Live from Las Vegas

It is Sunday evening and I'm in my deeply-discounted Las Vegas hotel room (Imperial Palace, if you must know) working to recap the highlights of my first day at the 2010 National Association of Home Bulders' International Builders Show (IBS).

If you never have been to an International Builders Show, you certainly should at some point give it a try. There is no bigger spectacle in our industry than this. The show always features state of the art displays, interactive exhibits, and the latest innovative products. But what some people miss (for all the spectacle of the show) is the pre-show education. Builders and other HBA members spent Sunday gaining continueing education credits and necessary education as they pursue designations. Others serve on NAHB committees and have spent most of today working on your behalf on may critical issues.

I spent most of today working with other HBA executives to identify ways we can deliver better value for the membership dollar to HBA members. It is clear that the realities facing associations is and will be different in the future than it was in the past. Programs and events that always have "worked" may seem less effective than they once were. The value proposition for HBA members is changing, and it is up to association executives, staff and volunteer leadership to identify where their HBAs can be of greatest value to their members and begin re-defining the very role of an association accordingly.

Practically, that can mean a more comprehensive incorporation of social media (twitter, facebook, linkedin, etc.). It also can mean an increased focus on education and designations. Perhaps it means delivering critically important, exclusive data and analysis of the housing market and the greatest opportunities for future success.

These and others all are in play as we consider what the future holds. It makes little difference what was important to our members in years past. It doesn't even make much difference what they find valuable today. What matters most is what members will expect an/or demand from their associations in the future. Those are the kinds of issues we are wrestling with in these pre-show education programs. I'm learning a great deal and am optimistic that what I am gaining here will directly provide value to our HBA members in the greater Springfield area.

Today I posted frequent twitter updates as I attended these seminars. I will continue doing that all week. I'm going to work to incorporate some photos with the tweets starting Monday. To follow me on twitter, click here.

Matt Morrow
Chief Executive Officer
HBA of Greater Springfield

Sunday, January 10, 2010

May I Tweet You from IBS?

If you haven't yet caught onto the Twitter bandwagon (or if you have but have yet to discover the new world of membership value provided through the HBA's social media connections), a grand opportunity is just around the corner.

The National Association of Home Builders annual International Builders Show International Builders' Show® (IBS) officially opens January 19, but pre-show education begins as early as this week (Friday, January 15). IBS is the largest annual building industry tradeshow in the country.  It's THE place to see and discuss the hottest products on the market and network with your friends and allies.  On top of that, IBS offers more than 175 education sessions taught by industry experts.

To plan your visit to the International Builders' Show, or just to see what all the fuss is about, visit Whether or not you plan to be there for all or part of IBS this year, you can keep up with much of what is going on there by following HBA President Rusty MacLachlan or by following me on twitter. Rusty and I will be in attendance and we will tweet our little hearts out about the very best of what we see, hear and learn. If we can make our respective blackberry technologies work (Rusty uses twitterberry, while I prefer the ubertwitter app), we might just go all multimedia on you with dazzling cameraphone pictures and video of some of the coolest stuff.

But you won't get all that goodness unless you get signed up for twitter now, set up an account, and sign up to follow us (and probably a bunch of other folks you will find once you are there) on twitter. Unfamiliar with twitter? I wrote a blog a few months ago about why I think twitter is such a perfect fit for the HBA, complete with a little tutorial on how to get started. To quickly read that primer (and watch a cool little video tutorial), click here.

So, lets get going. Many already are following us. Rusty has 71 followers and I have 198, and we both use our twitter accounts nearly exclusively for HBA and home building/remodeling industry content, so we won't cover you in useless drivel (now THAT'S something few twitter accounts dare to promise!). Just navigate to to set up a free account. Then find and follow those of us who tweet on behalf of the HBA. Here are our most HBA-focused twitter accounts (many other HBA members also tweet the goings on of the HBA and within the industry, and for that we thank you... they also are well worth following on twitter... you know who you are!)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

CEO Blog: Welcome to the NEW HBA Housing News Weekly E-Newsletter!

In September of 1908, Henry Ford released the first production Model-T automobile. Previous to the release of this car, horse-drawn carriage was the preferred mode of transportation. From 1908 into the late 1920’s, carriage and buggy companies worked furiously to improve their product in order to compete with the expanding automobile industry. Luxury seating and amenities were added, aerodynamics were improved and even a better buggy whip (used to whip the horses) was created. One by one, despite their best efforts and in spite of many legitimate improvements, buggy and carriage companies found themselves shutting their doors. By the early 1930s, nearly all of them were out of business. The few that remained were shadows of their former selves, doing only a fraction of the business they had enjoyed years earlier.

Our HBA Housing News monthly magazine is the best product of its kind in the U.S. In August the National Association of Home Builders Executive Officers Council gave Housing News the 2008 Association Excellence Award in the category of “Best Communication to Members – Magazines Published.” But the important question isn’t whether we have the best product of its kind. The question is whether the “kind” remains the best way to communicate with HBA members in 2009 and beyond.

Consider the simple fact that any significant news published in Housing News has long since been released on the HBA website (or elsewhere) before this printed document shows up in your mailbox. HBA members who advertise in Housing News rightly expect greater accountability and less competitive clutter than may have been acceptable in years past. And they expect to pay for actual return-on-investment value – not ever-increasing printing and postage costs. These expectations are very reasonable given how readily they are met in most places advertising dollars are spent.

Still, there is something to be said for holding a well-crafted, visually interesting printed product in your hand. HBA members want their news content delivered in real-time and digitally accessible, but they also want something that will look good on a coffee table.

In an effort to increase value, accountability and service to HBA members, the October issue of Housing News (which arrived last week in mailboxes and can be accessed online by clicking here) is the last monthly Housing News magazine the HBA will publish. The HBA board of directors has voted to replace this product with a combination of two new products: Housing News Weekly e-newsletter and the Housing News Quarterly printed version.

The goal is to provide HBA members and advertisers with the best of both worlds. The weekly e-newsletter (which will arrive in the e-mail inbox of every HBA member beginning Monday morning, October 12) will provide more hard-hitting industry-specific news, real-time content, greater advertising accountability, measurable return on investment, less ad clutter, and greater frequency. The quarterly mailer will be a gorgeous product that really puts our association and its members’ best foot forward. It will tell our most compelling stories in a visually satisfying medium. And it will provide limited advertising and advertorial opportunities for those members who benefit more from the printed and mailed product.

When the marketplace is transitioning to the automobile, it makes little sense to double down on manufacturing buggy whips. This transition is one way your HBA is on the leading edge of association growth and development. I am eager for the HBA to serve you better with these and other new products as we all work to position ourselves for the exciting new opportunities that lie ahead.

Matt Morrow
Chief Executive Officer
HBA of Greater Springfield

Sunday, August 16, 2009

CEO Blog: HBA Wins Six National Awards

You know it has been a full week when you sit down to blog and can’t remember what day it is. Tonight, on my flight home, I’m sorting through what has been a whirlwind week at the National Association of Home Builders’ annual Executive Officers Council Seminar. At the annual event (held this year in Louisville, KY), HBA Executive Officers and staff from across the country receive outstanding education and professional development programs, networking opportunities with fellow HBA executives, and behind-the-scenes peeks at new technology and services that can help local associations serve their members better and more efficiently.

I could write a lengthy column just on all the HBA improvements that Operations Manager Charlyce Ruth and I have placed on our to do lists as we return from Louisville. But you will see these as they materialize in the months ahead anyway – and I promise that, as members, you will benefit significantly from each of them. Stay tuned for more on that later.

But for the time being, may I take a few moments to play the role of chief HBA cheerleader? This event also is where the annual NAHB Association Excellence Awards are announced. A variety of categories of Association Awards recognize outstanding work by HBAs of varying sizes from across the country. This year, the HBA of Greater Springfield received top honors in six categories.

That’s more AEA awards than our association has received in any previous year. It also is more association awards than any HBA – of any size – received this year. Briefly, here are the six awards your HBA received at this year’s ceremonies:
  • Best Service Delivered to Members: Housing Market Research Project (Polling and focus groups on green building & general housing market)
  • Best Communication to Members, Magazines Published: Housing News monthly membership magazine
  • Best Communication to Members, Update Publication: HBA Daily News Electronic Newsfeed (Subscribe)
  • Best Political Action Program Administered: Good Government Gameplan for Springfield City Council
  • Best Specialty Targeted Fundraising Program: HBA Charitable Foundation Auction & Go-Kart Races
  • Best Source of Non-Dues Revenue (under $50,000): Green Building Product Showcase Night (Coming up August 18)
Of course, receiving national recognition for our association’s work is gratifying and humbling. But it also serves to underscore what most of us already suspected: we live and work someplace special. The members of the HBA of Greater Springfield are remarkable people who do remarkable things, as if they were routine. Our HBA staff is hardworking and committed to serving those remarkable members at the highest possible level. And those who make up our volunteer leadership (board of directors, committees, councils, etc.) are people of extraordinary vision, purpose, and resolve. They are leaders who - even amid the unprecedented challenges facing our industry – consistently insist on excellence in everything they touch.

That’s a pretty good combination. So good, in fact, that others recognize something special about it – and they don’t have the privilege of living with it daily the way we do. In a word, our HBA (and our local industry) is special. What an honor it is - for me and for our entire HBA staff - to work with and for the extraordinary members and volunteer leadership of the HBA of Greater Springfield.

- Matt Morrow, CEO
HBA of Greater Springfield, Missouri

Friday, July 31, 2009

CEO Blog: Are We There Yet?

My wife Rachael and I recently drove to Chicago with our two young children. Being in the car that long brings a few repeat questions. Far and away, the question of greatest frequency was: “Are we there yet?” By my count the question was asked about 25,000 times on the trip (as if they somehow might miss our arrival at our destination).
Of course, many who make their living in residential construction and housing are asking similar questions, and some have been asking for a long time: Are we there yet? How much longer? Have we hit bottom? When does the recovery begin?
While nobody seems to think our current economic condition is due for a whiplash-inducing immediate and vibrant rebound, we are beginning to see encouraging signs.
Nationwide, housing starts and permits posted substantial gains in June. The U.S. Commerce Department reported a 3.6 percent gain in overall housing starts to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 582,000 units and an 8.7 percent gain in permit issuance to 563,000 units.
Locally, one of our most telling barometers is the number of building permits issued in Greene county (the largest permitting jurisdiction in the region). One comparison I watch closely is how our most recent monthly building permit number compares to the number of permits issued in the same month a year earlier. That comparison hadn’t looked good in a long time. In fact, through April 2009, we had experienced 22 consecutive months of decline by that measure. Then, in May, Greene county issued more permits than it had in May 2008. Then the same happened in June. After 22 consecutive months of decline locally, we experienced two consecutive “up” months.
These are encouraging signs. But we are far from out of the woods. Challenging times lie ahead. That’s why now may be the very best time to prepare yourself and your business for the coming recovery. Consider just a couple of upcoming opportunities the HBA of Greater Springfield is offering to equip you.

Builder Breakfast
HBA leadership recently met with about a dozen area lenders to try to get our arms around the current credit environment and how it is affecting (and will affect) our members’ ability to shift their businesses back into a higher gear, once the recovery is underway. It was an enlightening conversation. Every builder owes it to himself/herself to get up to speed on this topic. The rules (both written and unwritten) are not the same as they were the last time many builders built their last house. For a quick primer on the content of the meeting, check out President Rusty MacLachlan’s blog.
On September 18, at the HBA’s quarterly Builder Breakfast, this issue will be the topic of a panel discussion/roundtable. The breakfast is no charge for HBA builders, remodelers & developers and it will be a valuable investment of time. Please join us (RSVP with a quick e-mail to Kay at the HBA office).

Get Certified & Get Green!
In September - for the first time in our 55-year history - the HBA of Greater Springfield will host a National Association of Home Builders University of Housing designation program locally. Members can earn their Certified Green Professional designation in Springfield in one three-day bundle on September 9, 10, and 11. Normally, to complete the education necessary to obtain this designation, a local HBA member would have to travel all over the country at considerable expense and inconvenience.
Not surprisingly, response to the designation courses has been very strong already, and we are anticipating a full house. If you ever have considered pursuing an NAHB professional designation, there is no better way to start than with the CGP. It is the hottest, fastest growing designation NAHB offers. It can be completed in a short timeframe. And courses you take for the CGP also can count toward other designations (Certified Graduate Remodeler, Graduate Master Builder, etc.). More information on this can be found by clicking here. You can also reserve your spot now by contacting education coordinator Carrie Smith in the HBA office
One way or another, recovery is coming. Will you be ready? Let the HBA help you prepare!

Blogging So You Don't Have To...
Matt Morrow, CEO
HBA of Greater Springfield

Friday, April 3, 2009

Why Twitter sooooo fits the HBA - and you

Are you on Twitter? If so, waste no time - skip right to the end of this blog post and start following us (I know that sounds uncomfortably like stalking if you aren't familiar with Twitter... keep reading)! If not, allow me to run through a little background on this Twitter craze. 

Like a lot of people, I've been hearing a lot about Twitter lately. I was especially intrigued to learn that it apparently had been a very effective tool for political campaigns in the most recent election cycle (most effectively utilized by Barack Obama in his successful presidential campaign). 

But, really, I knew only two things about Twitter: 1) Twitter messages are required to be brief, and 2) they can be delivered to and from mobile phones (as well as online). Knowing only those two characteristics of Twitter made me believe it had potential value for our HBA membership (since we like to get right to the point, and we live and die by our cell phones). I wanted to learn what more was involved in Twitter. Turns out there isn't much more involved in it (other than the fact that it is 100% FREE - which is very nice). It is a wonderfully simple and useful tool for quick and convenient mass communication.

Twitter is a social networking online program not entirely unlike Facebook or Myspace. The biggest difference is that Twitter consists of brief messages (limited to 140 characters - short enough for cell phone text messaging) posted online, or to and from your mobile phone. People sign up to follow the "tweets" of other people. Check in on the people you follow either on your computer or by having their "tweets" directed to your mobile phone or other wireless device. Here is a youtube video (less than three minutes) entitled "Twitter in Plain English" that helps with the basics.

HBA President Rusty MacLachlan is on Twitter (Follow him here)

I'm on Twitter (Follow me here)

HBA Public Affairs Director Jennifer McClure is on Twitter (Follow her here)

If you are reading this on, you might have noticed a "Twit This" button on several pages within the site. If you are a Twitter user, and you see something you find interesting on, just click the "TWit this" button and you can post a link on your Twitter page to that page in If you like it, why not share it? "Twit this" allows you to share the good stuff with all the people who are following you on Twitter.

So, why not give it a try? Just as an HBA member, the uses can have great value. Rusty, Jennifer and I recently "tweeted" hot news updates live from our recent Construction Forecast event with the Zanola Company. And, this Tuesday I'll Twitter local election returns as they are released each step of the way in real time. 

So what are you waiting for? Why not give Twitter a try right now?

Matt Morrow
Chief Executive Officer
HBA of Greater Springfield


HBA President Rusty MacLachlan is on Twitter (Follow him here)

I'm on Twitter (Follow me here)

HBA Public Affairs Director Jennifer McClure is on Twitter (Follow her here)