Builders discuss lack of skilled workers before House committee

Builders discuss lack of skilled workers before House committee

Youth Employment Standards Act hinders minors from working construction jobs.

By Mike Nichols

Could the lack of available skilled labor currently facing West Michigan’s construction industry be partially solved with a legislation change?

Members of the Home Builders Association of Michigan testified earlier this month before the State House. In a hearing held Feb. 5, they urged the House Workforce Development Committee to enact legislation to help increase the number of people entering the skilled trades.

The hearing comes on the heels of HBAM having completed its annual member survey of about 4,500 members. The survey found most HBAM homebuilders have a positive outlook for 2015, with about 90 percent of survey responders saying they expect business to go better this year than last year. But the issue of finding talent was still a major concern, with about 71 percent of HBAM’s members agreeing the biggest issue facing the industry is a workforce shortage, according to HBAM.

“Homebuilders in Michigan lost 60,000 jobs to the Great Recession. Literally, when the housing industry went south, so too did many of our workers,” said Dawn Crandall, public affairs director for HBAM.

“Fortunately, the industry is coming back, and there are good paying careers ready to be had. We will be working closely with Michigan policymakers and educators this year to increase the number of high school graduates seeking careers in the home-building industry.”

One of the members who testified Feb. 5 was John Bitely, owner of Rockford-based Sable Homes and co-chair of the Home Builders Association of Grand Rapids’ Next Generation Committee.

“The lack of workers going into the skilled trades is the biggest factor impacting the growth of Michigan’s home building industry,” he said. “The shortage of labor is resulting in construction delays and increased labor costs, and it’s dragging on our state.”

There are a couple of Michigan laws that make it unnecessarily “cumbersome” to hire younger workers, Bitely said.

He cited the Youth Employment Standards Act 90 of 1978, which essentially states that anyone under the age of 18 “may not work in any occupation deemed to be hazardous, which includes work on construction sites,” without parent, school and employer signed work permits, he said.

“(The) Youth Employment Standards Act 90 of 1978 defines a minor who is less than 18 years of age, including but not limited to employees, volunteers, independent contractors and performing artists,” according to “Minors under 18 years of age must obtain a work permit or have their school complete a training agreement before starting work. Work permits can be obtained from the school the minor attends or the school district where the minor will be employed. If the minor changes jobs, a new work permit is required for the new employer. A work permit may be revoked for poor academic performance. A work permit is required even if the minor does not attend school.”

The Act’s work permit process does more to hinder high-school students and the construction industry than it does to protect students, Bitely said.

“There are lots of high school students who could gain valuable work experience in the building industry over the summer, but the current law forces them into flipping burgers,” he said.

“With that in place, as a residential builder, I cannot hire ‘Johnny B. Tough’ to come carry lumber on my site or come seed the lawn because it’s a construction site. … The common joke I use is Pizza Hut. They will not let you cut the pizza unless you’re 18 years old. A lot of people don’t know that.”

Laws like this hurt the middle class, Bitely said, adding that such laws are a complete deviation from how many of the industry’s current leaders got their start.

“If you go back in years past, a bunch of us started our summer job with ‘Uncle Joe’ or ‘Neighbor Fred,’ and we got in his truck and helped out at a construction job,” he said.

“I cannot put a 16-year-old youth on a sawhorse and teach him how to use it. That’s considered too dangerous. But (they can) at Kent Career Technical Center in a shop class. Why can’t we do it in the field?”

Bitely said he was encouraged by the committee’s response, saying they seemed genuinely interested in working on the issue. He hopes they’ll act in time for his upcoming trade skills event for students, which is being held April 28 at DeVos Place in downtown Grand Rapids.

The event — Career Quest — will highlight about 25 potential trades for the 2,000 West Michigan students expected to attend, ranging from 7th-12th grade.

Career Quest is being co-hosted by Michigan Works! and the Construction Workforce Development Alliance.

Bitely’s plans to combat the construction industry’s lack of labor goes back to 2013, when local leaders in the industry realized many workers had either aged out or left during the recession, and new talent wasn’t being trained.

Unless the problem is addressed soon, it could begin to slow the growth the area’s been enjoying lately, he said. That would become problematic for everyone.

“It’s going to stagnate us a little bit or greatly diminish the amount of growth and recovery that’s available. I don’t know any residential builder in West Michigan that isn’t ready to hire people or a design firm ready to hire. They cannot find people to fill the positions,” he said.

“(We want to be) telling young people, ‘There’s jobs for you and hope for you. I don’t want to be negative about college, but you can make a good living with us without student debt.’”

How Lower Mortgage Insurance Premiums will Affect West Michigan

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WZZM) — The housing industry has been steadily improving in West Michigan, and on Thursday, President Obama announced plans that could boost it even more by shaving the FHA mortgage insurance premium.

The President announced Federal Housing Administration mortgage insurance premiums will be lowered by half a percentage point, from 1.35 percent to 0.85 percent which means more Americans can afford to become homeowners.

Karin Kay from Sable Homes joined WZZM 13′s Meredith Terhaar to share what this means for West Michigan.

Sable Homes Exceptional in Customer Service & Quality Builds

We pride ourselves on our quality customer service along with quality homes. It’s great to hear others are happy with the work we do! This is from our friend, Ryan Gardner of SVG Real Estate Firm:

Sable Homes Exceptional in Customer Service & Quality Builds

Affordable. Energy efficient. Trend-right.

These are just a few benefits of buying a Sable Home. The West Michigan based company has been making families proud to call these newly built houses ‘Home Sweet Home’ for over 10 years.

What sets Sable from other builders? Well, to begin, the people behind the company name are doing more than just building homes – they’re building abundant communities where families can live a healthy, fulfilling lifestyle in a safe and friendly environment.

Yes, as an experienced Realtor, I can confidently tell my clients that Sable stands out when it comes to quality homes as well as communities.

Let me give you an example – I recently worked with a first-time home buyer couple who was looking for affordable options for a quality new-build home. I suggested that we look into Sable Home communities, and the rest, as they say, is history. Our home search process took off as soon as we reached out to company representatives at Sable, where our dedicated representative made herself readily available on a daily basis. If I had a question that my home-buyer needed an answer to, I could count on our rep to offer prompt assistance. Working with Sable was 100% hassle-free. The service was beyond staggering. Sable makes the home-search and home-buying process smooth, simple and even fun.

Not only was my client happy with the service provided by Sable, the first time he toured one of their quality constructed home, he left wanting to write an immediate offer on what he called his “dream home.”

Given the level of service and ease of transaction, not to mention the home quality, I can proudly say I would work with Sable Homes many times in the future. Already I am referring many of my clients who are looking for new-construction to this remarkable company. Sable Homes is a true stand-out housing developer in the West Michigan community.

Thank you for the great review Ruth!

“Chris Anderson was wonderful to work with.  She was always available when we needed to ask a question.  I picked Sable on how the model looked and how Chris described the construction to me and how energy efficient the home was.  The siding color and the stone made the home so wonderful.  The granite on the island and kitchen counter top with the back-splash are just beautiful.  They are eye catching when you enter the home.  The archways in the dining room made it separate but very open to the rest of the house.  There is lots of storage space in the basement plus the partial finished area for whatever you choose to do with it.”

Ruth Evans – Scotsmoor II – Caledonia, MI


Sable Homes sees major construction spurt

Our president John Bitely was interviewed by Mike Nichols of the Grand Rapids Business Journal to discuss Sable Homes’ recent growth spurt and how we got to where we are today.

Sable Homes sees major construction spurt

Mike Nichols – Grand Rapids Business Journal

There are bad problems to have and there are good problems to have.

John Bitely currently has what he believes are a number of very good problems. He can attribute those “problems” to being the owner of Sable Homes, a Rockford-based residential development firm that has been seeing phenomenal growth in recent years.

2013 was a breakthrough year for Sable, a year in which the company built and sold more homes than ever before, Bitely said. In the years before and during the Great Recession, the firm sold about 25 to 30 houses a year, he said, a number the firm was comfortable with maintaining.

In recent years, however, that average has changed dramatically.

“We finally broke the 100-homes market last year. Last year, we sold 100 homes and we built about 10 percent more than that,” Bitely said. “If we wouldn’t have gotten buggered up by municipalities, we were on a pace to build 140 this year. As we get things ironed out, we’ll get there.”

Professional Builder Magazine recently ranked Sable No. 285 on its annual House Giants list, which includes 293 of the nation’s largest builders.

Sable has the potential to grow its home sales and builds by about 20 to 30 percent for the next three to five years, Bitely said. The growth is good, but it’s one of those “good problems,” he said.

“Most companies, if you’re growing more than 20 to 30 percent per year, those are numbers that make people pretty nervous,” he said.

Sable’s growth found its roots in the intense “grow or die” environment of the Great Recession. When the housing market was hit hard, the firm found it needed to expand its market area to keep its head above water.

“If we go back before the crash, we were selling 25 to 30 homes a year. … We were a big frog in a mud puddle,” Bitely said. “We traveled further to do (jobs), but after we had already begun travelling, we stayed in those areas.”

Need drove Bitely to create a system that became a production. Housing is like manufacturing in the fact that it is systematic and needs to be controlled, he said. Although the firm originally kept to the northern region of Greater Grand Rapids, it began to do business as far south as Wayland and as far north as Cedar Springs, he said.

“(The Great Recession) forced us to be a larger company today than we ever intended to be, because we had to expand into the markets to survive,” he said. “Well, when it turned around we were already there working and we had put these systems in place to reinvent ourselves into a larger company.”

Bitely believed if he could figure out how to build and sell houses under the adjusted prices, Sable Homes would survive the recession. Sable pushed hard to keep its volumes up through the downturn, and when the weight of economic turmoil were lifted, the firm found itself sprinting ahead.

“We paid our price to survive. … What wound up happening is we gobbled up market share as other people left the business,” he said.

“The homes we were delivering two to four years ago are going to go down in our history as the ‘Vanilla Age.’ There weren’t a lot of options. It was housing, and people could only afford to house themselves — and we built a lot of plain vanilla. But vanilla ice cream is still better than no ice cream. Now we’re building Moose Tracks and Cookies ’n Cream.”

The unexpected sudden growth of Sable Homes created a number of good problems, Bitely said. The Great Recession changed everything in the real estate industry, and the issues facing Sable are issues construction companies nationwide are attempting to address, he said.

“The problems we’re dealing with today are very different than the problems we dealt with three years ago,” he said. “They’re good problems, but still problems.”

The first major issue is a labor shortage, Bitely said. The industry currently needs more carpenters, cement layers, dry wall installers, roofers, electricians and other types of tradesmen, he said. Many of these jobs are trade jobs that are traditionally a younger person’s job. Often, subcontractors will hire teenagers to help out during the summer, and many of them eventually become part of the trade, he said. By the time they are in their late 30s or early 40s, they’re no longer “running and gunning” out on the job, but are in management or running a crew, he said.

However, during the recession, subcontractors weren’t as likely to hire teenagers as extra help, Bitely said, and some of the men in their late 30s and 40s — men who had families relying on them — wanted to get out of construction and into safer industries. That created a vacuum that is now a labor shortage.

“With the crash, we didn’t train people for six years, so we don’t have 18- to 20-year-olds in the cycle, and now we have no 40-year-olds because they got out,” he said. “A lot of people were jaded. We’ve got a lot of that because that last crash was so bad. Traditionally in West Michigan, we don’t get hit as hard (by national economic ups and downs), but this time, we led into the recession.”

The industry now has to train new workers and spark interest in the trades, Bitely said, adding that since there’s such a pent-up demand for work, he strongly believes it’ll be a long time before work runs out.

Sable is one of the firms looking to get key people hired right now, he said.

“We’re at max expansion right now. Businesses can only grow so much a year without having maxed out at the amount we can grow right now,” he said. “Our growth is controlled by how fast we can grow, be successful and not overextend it. I’ve got enough, but I’m not overstaffed and I’m still looking for key people.”

Another major issue is with the municipalities, he said. It takes about two years to get through all the procedures of land development in Michigan, he said, which means the current shortage of housing will not be cured any time soon because demand will continue to outstrip supply, leading consumers to face an uptick in prices.

“(There’s too many) systematic regulations that require a box to be checked and not enough people to check the boxes,” he said. “And they can’t hire enough people to check the boxes because of their budgetary restraints.”

As for the future, Bitely said he’s undecided about how much longer he will continue to run his business. In the next five years, he’s considering either selling Sable Homes or handing it off to his daughter, who is currently studying sustainable business at Aquinas College and works as Sable’s assistant general manager.

One thing is he certain about, however, is that residential construction is back in West Michigan and will be for a long time.

“We’re going to get by and we’re going to be strong. It’s going to be great industry to be in for a number of years,” he said. “There’s lots of work for those of us already here. We’re going to be busy for a while.”

First families move into new homes in Sparta’s Central Square VIllage

It’s exciting to see how fast we were able to move families into our new development in Sparta.

First families move into new homes in Sparta’s Central Square VIllage

Jeff Cunningham – Mlive

Center Town Square is expected to have its first residents this weekend as families begin to move into the first new housing development built in Sparta in more than a decade.

The driveways, porches and landscaping are not yet finished on the two split-level  homes located near the east end of Alma Street. ButSable Homes marketing consultant Karin Kay said the families that bought the first homes in the new subdivision just wanted to get in as soon as they could.

The homes range in size from about 1,000 to 1,900 square feet and in price from $120,000 to $170,000, depending on whether or not the lower level of the homes are finished.

Sable Homes of Rockford is currently working are transforming the former Central Park into a 20-home subdivision. Work began on four homes last fall, but the harsh winter has prevented contractors from finishing the outside work. “The contractors will get that done as soon as the weather allows,” Kay said.

Last summer Sparta Village officials reached an agreement with Sable Homes to build the subdivision on what was city property. The site had been home to Central School until 2009 when the school was torn down and the 4.46 acres of property was purchased by the village for a park.

From the beginning village officials said they wanted to see the property redeveloped for housing as there is little housing stock available in the village, let alone new housing that is near the village center. “These homes are less than a five-minute walk from the parks and downtown,” Kay said.

Village Supervisor Martin Super said he is pleased with the development. “I understand that they have sold four more lots,” he said. “What is good about this development for the village is that it is an ‘infill’ development that the village didn’t have to extend village services to.” Super estimated last fall the development will bring the village $36,000 a year in new property taxes and another $14,000 a year in new water and sewer revenues when the project is complete, perhaps as soon as the end of 2014.

Sparta’s continued industrial growth, which has brought hundreds of new jobs to the village in the last three years, has increased the demand for “starter homes” and affordable housing in the village. “The growth in manufacturing here in Sparta has driven everything we have done in the last few years,” he said.


Latest new home building technologies featured in 2014 Spring Parade of Homes

Wonderful story by Mlive’s Jim Harger regarding the new home building technologies. Our healthier-home initiative was a discussion topic in the article here:

Latest new home building technologies featured in 2014 Spring Parade of Homes

Jim Harger – Mlive

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Two West Michigan companies are using the 2014 Parade of Homes to show off the latest in new homebuilding technologies.

Pleotint LLC of Jenison is using a lakefront home by Celebrity Builders to demonstrate its “Suntuitive” windows designed to block unwanted solar heat gain.

Sable Homes is showcasing health-conscious technologies at two homes it has on display in Ada Township and Caledonia Township.

The Grand Rapids Spring Parade of Homes is open for touring on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 1 to 9 pm through Saturday, June 7. This year’s parade features 78 homes in 19 different West Michigan communities.

Pleotint’s “Suntuitive” windows are designed to “optimize indoor comfort and views, and to block unwanted solar heat gain,” according to Rob Vis, co-owner of Celebrity Builders. The home can be found at 8769 Cedar Lake Dr., near Jenison.

“In addition to being highly energy-efficient, this home was designed for carefree, comfortable living,” Vis said. “The lake is to the west, and the sun’s heat is almost unbearable on summer afternoons.

“In addition to being produced by a local company, the unique, self-tinting glass adapts throughout the day without any controls or having to close the blinds as often,” Vis said.

Celebrity Builders installed low-e insulating windows with Suntuitive glass on the home’s west- and south-facing elevations to reduce cooling, heating, and lighting-related energy costs, while blocking damaging ultraviolet light and glare, the company said.

“The homeowners say the best part is that they can watch their kids play on the beach or the boat, while they have a perfect view from the cool house,” Vis said.

At the Sable Parade homes in Ada and Caledonia, the builders used Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) free paints and toxin free flooring glues on the interior of its homes. These advanced materials have been proven to reduce airborne toxins as the house and its materials age, the company said in a press release.

Sable Homes also used a high-tech VOC absorbing gypsum board drywall to reduce VOC levels in the air. They installed WhisperGreen fans for clean air exchange and ventilation.

The basements of the Sable homes were built with a “Superior Walls Xi Foundation System” insulation to keep basements, dry and warm while increasing the energy rating.

Both of Sable Homes’ entries into the Parade of Homes earned a Home Energy Rating System (HERS) 5+ star rating – the highest achievable rating on the HERS system.

The Sable Homes can be found at 7979 Sable Valley Court, Ada, and at 9445 Scotsmoor Dr., Caledonia.

West Michigan home builders struggle with a labor shortage

WYOMING, MI – West Michigan home builders say they need more workers as life returns to an industry that was on the ropes just five years ago.

But finding young people who are willing to put in a hard day’s work on a job site is no easy task, according to members of a “Next Generation Committee” formed by the Home Builders Association of Greater Grand Rapids.

High school counselors are pushing students into college and at the college level, kids are not signing up for programs designed to put them in the construction industry, according to committee members who gathered on Tuesday, Oct. 8.

“We have the programs, but nobody’s going through the training,” said Duane McIntyre, a construction instructor at Grand Rapids Community College, where only five students have enrolled in the school’s residential construction program.

Meanwhile, building trades programs in local high schools are “a thing of the past,” said McIntyre.

John Bitely, president of Sable Homes, said high school guidance counselors are pushing students into college programs to meet “No Kid Left Behind” goals while he’s trying to find carpenters and laborers to fill his construction crews.

“If we do have someone who has drive and ambition, they’re told not to get into our industry. Some of these kids need to see that there are good positions out there,” said Bitely, who said his lead carpenters are paid $35 an hour.

Bitely said the home building industry faltered in its recruitment programs in recent years because the jobs were not available. “We’ve been in survival mode,” he said.

Dave VanBaren, president of Great Lakes Superior Walls of Hamilton, said his company has problems finding young people willing to work. “Basically, we say if you show up every day, you can move up in the company,” he said.

Ryan Nettesheim, a youth services coordinator for Bethany Christian Services, said they preach the same “just show up every day” lesson in their “Youth Build” program.

Nettesheim’s seven-month program helps low-income students between 18 and 24 earn their Graduate Equivalency Degree (GED) and gain construction skills while working on Habitat for Humanity homebuilding projects.

McIntyre said many of the students he sees have not been taught the importance of showing up for work every day at home.

“There’s definitely a work ethic problem out there,” McIntyre said. “If you want to find a root cause, it comes down to family.”

Jim Harger

View the article here :