“I remember the first Parade of Homes, about 1954, and the impact it had on both builders and the Madison Area Builders Association (MABA),” said 1972 Board President Terry Monson. “And I remember the first year an attached garage–and then a two-car garage– was included with a parade home. Those both got a big reaction!” There was no landscaping, no appliances, and few frills in those first homes. “
Terry Monson led MABA in 1972, MABAs 25th year. He’s seen sweeping changes in the industry and in the association itself, while other things remain constant. He was followed many volunteers, including 50th President Chuck Elliott in 1997 and today by 75th President Brad Burrs.
“We always told members, ‘Do Business with a Member,” Chuck said. “And that wasn’t just about keeping business within the association. It was about building relationships, mentoring each other, and with so many family-owned business, we came to know everyone like family.”
Terry also talked about going to national meetings with fellow MABA members, socializing with members, even forming joint projects. “Working together at MABA and then on our own ventures helped us build trust, develop new talent and serve customers better together,” Terry said.
Brad echoes that MABA’s family atmosphere hasn’t gone away, despite industry consolidation and with competition for supplies and labor.
Professional development continues to be important to builders. “MABA made me a businessman,” Terry said, citing the training and mentoring he received from the association.
Chuck added, “Our wives and husbands helped support our family and business, and we formed women’s’ councils and other auxiliary groups that evolved into the Women in Construction group now active in the association.
Building in a Changing Industry
Terry shared MABA’s early efforts to support members – while protecting all builders’ reputations to the public – by starting an arbitration committee in the 1960s. The committee is still active to resolve issues between members and customers.
MABA members also help build tomorrow’s workforce individually through apprenticeships and collectively through MABA projects such as the current McKenzie Regional Workforce Center project. These are a natural extension of the prior school programs and even a former statewide TV series aimed at new tradespeople recruitment in past years.
What are some of the biggest changes these three have seen over the last 50 years? Houses got bigger and more complex. “Who ever heard of ‘flex-space” a few years ago?” Brad asked.
A current challenge is the need to remove the college barrier – especially for people of color- so builders have the workforce, leadership and owners we need tomorrow, the group said. Terry said, “I used to hire young farm kids who were handy with equipment, and they would make great builders. Very few of those kids are left now.”
While MABA responds to changing government policies and building rules, Chuck sees it continuing in new ways to help members succeed in business. The group comes together cooperatively to ask for outdated rules to be improved and policies considered that help build strong communities. “Working together, we can ask more policymakers to talk with us and be part of the planning for future developed areas,” he said.
Addressing the Need
The biggest change over the years has been the need to put more time into advocacy, all three presidents said. Specifically, that means getting members to run for office, be appointed to committees from local to state or just communicate with policymakers.
Terry said MABA started bringing members together to communicate with policymakers to keep government from slowing industry down, get outdated laws off the books while keeping up with latest understanding of best ways to maximize land use and keep housing affordable. He cited the example of the effort to legislate “inclusionary zoning (IZ),” which led to less housing being built, which was counter to the IZ purpose. Another example was the effort to preserve farmland by requiring large minimum lots in rural areas to build homes, but experience found large lots just led to even more farmland converting to housing, rather than fewer rural homes.
All three presidents mentioned component building as something to expect more of in the future. Affordability will need to be a priority for the industry also. Chuck said 10,000 more families will need a place to live in the next ten years in Dane County alone. This can’t be addressed by single-family units alone. “Apartments – and those of scale – will be needed to address the need. Perhaps our communities will be more like those in other counties with more density, with more families living together in multigeneration settings,” he said.
Brad also mentioned 3D printing as a possible homebuilding strategy of the future.
Industry size and complexity of homes built will continue to grow, predicts Brad. Needs versus wants continue to shift. Brad suggests that while finishes will remain high quality, size might be sacrificed a bit to control costs.
Where there used to be growth through single-family subdivisions, for best land use and to control costs, the group predicts higher density products (think ADUs and multifamily), and homes will go “up” to avoid sprawl.
Whether it’s printing something from a 3D printer or talking over a sketch pad on a truck tailgate, the group sees relationships between MABA members as an important part of business success and customer service.
“Do Business with a Member” Chuck repeats. “Mentor people,” Terry says. “It’s about trust,” Brad says. (end)