PUBLISHED: 5:43 PM on Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Five questions with SEABIA president John Wood
Five questions with John Wood, President of Southeast Alaska Building Industry Association.

How is the building industry doing in Juneau?

In 2007 we had an above average year in comparison to the last few years. Both building permit numbers and project valuations were up for 2007 in comparison to 2005/2006. Mainly the building upswing has been due to new commercial projects.

Our remodeling/addition sector, both residential and commercial, has remained steady over the last few years resulting in 564 permits of the 724 issued for 2007. New residential construction permits dropped from 86 in 2006 to 73 in 2007.

Despite the slowdown in new residential permits there is a potential upswing right around the corner. Most likely the slowdown is due to builder apprehension about capital move legislation, pending Kensington mine permits, sub-prime loan aftershocks, and the difficulty of obtaining and developing buildable land. However, after past capital move threats, Juneau historically experienced a building boom. Add the likely approval of Kensington permits and good paying jobs as well as the Federal Reserve's lower interest rates, we stand to see another surge in the market. On top of the variables is the trend of home buyers looking to live in more energy-efficient homes.

Courtesy Photo SEABIA
  President John Wood
We hear about challenges in finding contractors here-why do we have a builder and contractor shortage?

I don't believe we have a builder shortage. I don't find my business submitting the only bid on each project I look at. Right now we have a pretty good spread. Juneau, a town of 30,000, can only support so many companies before it becomes unprofitable for them.

In the contractor world there are specialist and general contractors. Over the past year or two it has been difficult to find certain specialty contractors due to several unusually large commercial projects taking place.

It's unrealistic to expect that one can find an established or reputable builder at a moment's notice. You may have to line up a desired contractor months in advance. Given our short building season most contractors line up as many projects as they can handle to carry them through the season. So start looking early if you are planning to build or remodel.

How is SEABIA doing as an association?

We are doing great. We have 110 members - 46 builders and 64 associates. Our board consists of a diverse group of professionals including accountants, bankers, realty industry professionals, contractors, and a city planner.

The board will be working hard to keep our association strong and informed about issues that come our way on local, State and national levels. Our association helps promote the building industry in our community through programs like sponsorship of our local Student Chapter. This year we helped send a team of high school students, under the guidance of JDHS teacher, Craig Mapes, to the International Builders Show in Orlando, Florida. Competing against 12 other teams they had to design and estimate a house under given criteria and present their project to a panel of judges. I'm very proud to say they took first place!

What are big issues within the building industry in Alaska this year?

Although all Alaskans are keeping our eyes on how the natural gas pipeline will play out, our organization's immediate issues are Workforce Development, wastewater permitting, residential fire sprinklers, and an Energy Assistance retrofit program.

Given that a good portion of our construction work force is nearing retirement, Alaska faces a skilled labor shortage. Because of that the Alaska Construction Academy was established with a statewide partnership of trade, University, and school district organizations. As of January 2008 over 250 people registered in local academies across the state-including Juneau. The academies offer free trade education programs---check your local papers for what your nearest academy offers.

Across the nation the federal government has implemented regulations for discharge of waste water on construction sites called NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System). Alaska is attempting to take over this federal program for our state and adjust it to our particular needs and conditions. NPDES doesn't take into account our unique local or statewide conditions and is very burdensome on Alaska contractors.

Another potential regulation that could be a burden to the building industry is a push for mandatory residential fire sprinklers. Smoke detectors are effective in saving lives and structures and not as structurally damaging as sprinklers can be. In a time when our industry is looking for ways to build affordable housing---this regulation would seriously add to initial and maintenance costs.

With the rising cost of energy across the state, Alaska's newly-built Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC), located in Fairbanks, is working on an energy retrofit and weatherization program. CCHRC is looking to expand this with the help of the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation (AHFC) to improve energy efficiency of homes and stimulate the building industry through loans and education.

Tell us about the Home Show, and what other big events you might have planned this year.

The Home Show is our biggest event of the year. We hope to see everyone this Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Centennial Hall. We kick off the show with a Wine Tasting Event at 5:00 pm Friday (over 21 years of age only). Tickets can be purchased for $25 by calling the SEBIA office @ 463-5774.

This year's Home Show will present primary aspects of our industry: contractors, suppliers, subcontractors and real estate professionals. We also have classes taught by industry professionals. If you are thinking of building or remodeling come to the Home Show and meet the industry vendors who can help you with your project. Tickets can be purchased at the door for $5. All ticket purchasers are eligible for a grand prize drawing of 4 round trip airline tickets anywhere Alaska Airline flies!

See you at the Home Show!!