Past presidents mark 75 years of Madison Area Builders Association: Memories to predictions
“I remember the first Parade of Homes, about 1954, and the impact it had on both builders and the Madison Area Builders Association (MABA),” says 1972 MABA 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.
Monson led MABA in 1972, MABA’s 25th year. He’s seen sweeping changes in the industry and in the association itself, while other things remain constant. He was followed by 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,” Elliott says. “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.”
Monson also talked about going to national meetings with fellow MABA members, socializing with members, and 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,” Monson says.
Burrs agreed 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,” Monson says, citing the training and mentoring he received from the association.
“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,” adds Elliott.
Building in a changing industry
Monson shared how MABA’s early efforts to support members — while protecting all builders’ reputations to the public —started with the formation of 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 recruiting new tradespeople in past years.
What are some of the biggest changes these three have seen over the last 50 years? For starters, houses got bigger and more complex. “Who ever heard of ‘flex-space’ a few years ago?” Burrs asks.
A current challenge is the need to remove the college barrier — especially for people of color — so builders have the workforce, leadership, and owners they need for tomorrow, the group says. “I used to hire young farm kids who were handy with equipment, and they would make great builders,” Monson says. “Very few of those kids are left now.”
While MABA responds to changing government policies and building rules, Elliott 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 to be 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,” Elliott says.
Addressing the need
The biggest change over the years has been the need to put more time into advocacy, all three presidents say. Specifically, that means getting members to run for office, be appointed to committees from local to state, or just communicate with policymakers.
Monson says 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 cites the example of the effort to legislate “inclusionary zoning (IZ),” which led to less housing being built and 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 mention component building as something to expect more of in the future. Affordability will need to be a priority for the industry also. Elliott says 10,000 more families will need a place to live in the next 10 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,” Elliott adds.
Burrs also mentions 3D printing as a possible homebuilding strategy of the future. Industry size and complexity of homes built will continue to grow, he predicts. Needs vs. wants continue to shift. Burrs 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” Elliott repeats.
“Mentor people,” Monson says.
“It’s about trust,” Brad adds.
To mark the 75th anniversary of the Madison Area Builders Association (MABA), Valerie Renk, a MABA member and CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Dane County, interviewed the 25th, 50th, and 75th MABA board presidents, all of whom still reside and work in the building industry in the Dane County area.
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