In the HBA role since October, Dori Grinder looks to build on her decade of experience with the Springfield and Ozark chambers of commerce to move the builders’ association forward.
SBJ: The elephant in the room this year: How has COVID affected the industry?
Grinder: We are one of the few industries that have not only maintained steady work, but have actually increased. There are a number of reasons for that. One, construction in general, commercial and residential, was deemed an essential business from the get-go. In general, residential construction is smaller teams, so distancing was sort of already in place and a good portion of the work takes place outdoors. We were a natural fit to be safe. We didn’t have to switch gears like so many other businesses. Two, people were home. You start looking around at your honey-do-list. Whether that means big or small or even just a leaky sink, you are home and it becomes easier to address. One constant during COVID: Home is now your family hub. It became your office, your school, your gym, your everything. So, if people didn’t have adequate spaces, they started pivoting. I heard of projects where people remodeled their garages and turned them into classrooms for virtual learning.
SBJ: What will be the lingering effects in 2021?
Grinder: We will continue to work through the backlog, but we’re currently experiencing a lumber pricing surge and other supply-side pressures. We expect building and remodeling will remain strong as people continue to upgrade existing homes. Builders are less likely to build things like (speculative) homes. You don’t want to buy in any market when the price is at its peak. There will be ripple effects, but we will remain at a high level for a while.
SBJ: Residential construction employment added 15,400 jobs in November, according to the Associated General Contractors of America, now recouping 96% of the employment losses incurred in March and April. What is the current climate for construction employment locally?
Grinder: We believe that will continue into the new year. I also think this industry has similar workforce woes we experience all across southwest Missouri in that there is a skills gap. About 10 years ago, high schools and area industries started to address it, but it still exists. Business leaders in our industry would like a few more good people to add to their teams. They felt that crunch pre-COVID, and it hasn’t dropped off because they have been so busy.
SBJ: What’s the biggest challenge, and what issues will the HBA advocate for?
Grinder: Speaking locally, workforce is No. 1, getting more trained folks into a position so they can be hired. Home affordability is No. 2. The HBA advocates for the American dream and access to homeownership. Increasing costs and regulations can increase the price of the home, therefore pricing people out of homeownership. Data show us that for every additional $1,000 in the price of the new home, 341 families are priced out of homeownership in the Springfield metro area.
SBJ: There are now more renters than homeowners in Springfield. Is that good or bad for residential builders?
Grinder: It’s a combination of several things. Local colleges and universities are growing, so we are seeing that rental number increase. It is important to remember this is a 10-year stat. In 2010, we were emerging from a recession that hit the residential building industry especially hard. Yes, this statistic represents an increase, but maybe it was because our residential inventory was somewhat low at that point. Construction is reflective of growth and that is always good, whether it’s apartments or single-family homes.
Mercy Springfield Communities is replacing its Mercy Clinic Family Medicine – South Creek building, located at 2711 S. Meadowbrook Ave., with a new building that is 1,500 square feet larger.