Focus, Construction, Economic Development, Real Estate, and Sustainability

Home builders group tries to rebuild its brand — and membership

HBAGGR touts region’s economic vitality as good reason to invest in homes.

December 4, 2015
| By Pat Evans |
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At its height more than 10 years ago, the Home Builders Association of Greater Grand Rapids had more than 1,300 members.

During the Great Recession, membership dropped to approximately 400, and HBAGGR lost brand awareness in the region.

Now, the association is up to 600 members and continues to grow, said Andy Lofgren, executive officer.

“People see HBA and it means something to them again,” Lofgren said. “With that logo comes expectations of quality.”

Lofgren said the association is a good one-stop source for industry information for members as it keeps up-to-date on market trends.

The major trend in homebuilding is it’s headed back up, Lofgren said. At its peak a decade ago, there were more than 6,000 housing units being built annually in the region. That number dipped to fewer than 500 a year during the recession.

“It’s a cyclical industry; it’s not like baby food,” Lofgren said. “It’s a reflection of the Grand Rapids economy, and I’m very bullish on the market. It bodes well.”

Lofgren said new home construction, like new jobs, are a good economic indicator. While people move from one home to another, a newly built home usually indicates a previous residence also has opened up.

“Show me a new job and that person needs a home,” he said. “Show me a new household and it needs an occupant, just like the older house. Job growth and creation drives housing, but new housing can support job growth, too.”

He said a supply of good, quality housing is attractive to people considering a move to a new region, and with West Michigan’s strong employers and great community amenities, those potential workers are more likely to choose to move here.

To help increase West Michigan’s attractiveness, Lofgren said HBAGGR tries to get as many members on board as possible. With a new generation of workers coming of age, it’s more important than ever.

“We need to get to new members as this generation is coming along,” he said. “We’re the leading agency for housing issues, and talent attraction is hugely important.”

Lofgren said the HBA collaborates with Associated Builders and Contractors to help attract talent to an industry that is in dire need of more employees.

“It’s a challenge and can limit our growth potential,” Lofgren said.

The HBA and ABC put together the Career Quest event at DeVos Place Convention Center to showcase various types of careers within the home construction industry for a young crowd.

“We can’t solve the issue by ourselves,” Lofgren said. “We’re trying to … show these kids in high school that there are a lot of cool things they can do in these industries.”

Those careers could also help keep talent in West Michigan, which is an increasingly cool thing to do, Lofgren said.

“If you told me three years ago I’d be living in West Michigan, I’d think you’re crazy,” Lofgren said. “Now I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. I discover something new about Grand Rapids all the time.”

Lofgren said the business climate in West Michigan is “incredible,” with almost every company understanding the importance of taking care of the surrounding community so the businesses will continue to be successful.

Along the same vein, he said, a focus for the HBA in 2016 is sustainable building. He said he doesn’t think sustainable building should be mandated, but it should be encouraged.

“People around here get it,” he said. “The manufacturing industry here is one of the greenest in the world.”

Lofgren added the idea of buying a home as an investment is again trending upward. He said for many years, a house was viewed as an investment and often comprised much of a family’s retirement plan. When the Great Recession caused a massive housing crash, however, Lofgren worried the millennial generation would stray from that viewpoint.

Really, it should have been the opposite, he said.

“I would have loved to be a first-time homebuyer in 2009 or 2010,” he said, referring to the steep drop in housing prices and the benefits available to first-time buyers.

He said the HBA is working on getting the information out there that a house is a good, stable investment that simply has ups and downs, just like the stock market.

With the bullish outlook on West Michigan, the investment in a house in Grand Rapids seems to be a smart move, he said.

“The economy is strong for people to find jobs, and it’s an affordable city with big city attributes,” he said. “It’s one of the better markets, currently.”

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