Way back around April 1, which seems years ago, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham gave a gift to the construction industry. She deemed it essential.
She didn’t have to. Many governors at the time did not. But she did, and the industry should be humbly and deeply grateful.
What is not essential are the organizations that represent the industry, like the Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association. That’s harsh, especially because their advocacy and educational roles have never been more urgent. But the things keeping the association viable, staging big public trade shows and home tours with mass gatherings, were wiped out in 2020 and are presently impossible to imagine for 2021.
In the past decade or so, the national rock star leaders of local homebuilders associations were those maximizing non-dues revenue as a proportion of gross income. Some claimed only 10 percent of dues was needed to cover expenses. Their members loved it because dues were low and they had lots of bright, shiny things.
We drank the Kool-Aid in Santa Fe and only relied on dues for a third of the association’s income — with two-thirds coming from events produced by dedicated volunteers and great sponsors.
It’s hard to survive on a third.
Historically, association income follows the robustness, or lack thereof, of a local building economy. From 2008-18, the local homebuilding industry was flatlined and so was the association. It survived and then rebounded. By March 2020, the industry and the association were buzzing. It felt like hang on tight, here we go!
And then came the shutdown.
For the industry itself, after being deemed essential, the shutdown was a mere speed bump on an even faster track. For the association, it was a concrete wall.
Coincidentally, it’s the smallest associations that are
faring best because they’re too small to stage big events. It’s all about the dues for them. With no events to plan
and manage, heads of small associations have always worked part time from home. They’re not missing a beat now.
It’s time for associations to find a new value proposition. It’s time to resurrect the notion of continuing education credits for general contractors to keep their licenses. Their plumbers and electricians have to. So does their barber, pedicurist, mechanic, Realtor, surveyor, appraiser and virtually every other profession subject to changing laws and rules for license holders.
In 2008, toward the end of the Richardson administration, a piece of enabling legislation was passed that allowed the state’s Construction Industries Commission, with industry cooperation, to promulgate rules for continuing education credits for general contractor licensing. “Enabling” was the compromise. There was no mandate.
As a builder who also held a Realtor’s license for a few years, I was familiar with the need to get my 30 credit-
hours in the three-year licensing cycle. Like many, I put them off as long as possible and then begrudgingly carved out the time. I also learned valuable information.
Back in 2008, state construction officials asked the
state homebuilders association if it wanted to write new rules, fashion new courses and offer instruction. The
reply: Thanks but no thanks. The state association’s plate was full as it minded the Roundhouse, offered workers’ compensation insurance and held back the tide on green codes, so nothing happened. A builder at the time, I wasn’t heartbroken.
A few years later, as the head of a local association, I realized that passive decision was a missed opportunity. If we were the go-to location for coursework, the way Realtors’ offices are, there would be a new revenue stream. Most general contractors are not association members, but they’d come for the education and license renewals. That would be good for the industry, the association and consumers.