Annual Meeting Reveals Optimism
Nearly 400 APA members, Engineered Wood Technology Assn. (EWTA) members, staff and spouses gathered November 2-5 at the Hyatt Regency in Huntington Beach, Calif., for the 2013 APA Annual Meeting, which rode the theme: “Surf City APA: Catch the Wave of Opportunity.” The meeting and the weather more than lived up to the billing.
In the General Session and in the Marketing Advisory Committee meeting, attendees heard fresh perspectives on the economy and housing outlook from economist Diane Swonk, Mesirow Financial, and Professor Dowell Myers, Director, Population Dynamics Research Group, at USC Sol Price School of Public Policy.
Swonk said that major factors impacting the economic comeback and the housing outlook include the hollowing out of the middle class and problems of affordability for many prospective homebuyers. She noted that student loan debt now exceeds $1.2 trillion, slowing the ability of younger buyers to invest in their first home.
Swonk’s forecast calls for a 25% increase in housing starts in 2014. “Further recovery is slowed by uncertainty around federal fiscal policy. We haven’t had a government budget since April 2009,” she said. “The federal government is the biggest drag on our economy.” (Since the meeting she has downgraded her forecast to a 17% increase.)
Immigrants to the U.S. are playing a critical role in the housing market, providing extraordinarily strong, consistent demand amid the turbulence of demographic age waves, Myers told attendees at the Marketing Advisory Committee meeting. Myers noted there is a trend towards home-ownership with a decline in growth of immigrant renters as the number of native-born renters increases. Immigration plus revived demand among the native U.S. population makes for a stronger housing market outlook, he said.
However, he reiterated that the traditional home-buying age faces obstacles to home purchasing, ranging from high student loans to the need for mobility. He also noted that many younger people are questioning the merits of home ownership, having seen homeowners lose value in their homes during the recession.
Also addressing attendees in the general session were APA Chairman Mary Jo Nyblad, Boise Cascade; APA President-Elect Ed Elias; and outgoing APA President Dennis Hardman.
Nyblad praised APA and its members for pulling through the downturn with agile resiliency. “Throughout the recession, APA not only held on to its members, but also did the unthinkable for such challenging times – we grew! As an association, we clearly defined our priorities and kept our focus,” she said.
Nyblad acknowledged the retiring Hardman for his steady leadership and success in increasing member share across all product lines.
Elias elaborated on the strategies for the future, building on the four goals of the association’s strategic plan. He emphasized the importance of the third goal, strengthening the voice of the industry. “APA is truly the voice of the North American engineered wood industry. The strength of our voice has provided us with recent opportunities to address new market constraints, such as acceptance of APA structural panels as a nail base for siding, expanding the role of APA Product Reports to minimize construction stoppages, and collaborating with the Canadian lumber industry to attack Japanese domestic subsidy programs,” he said.
Hardman closed the General Session with his reflections on the state of the association and a little parting advice. He urged APA members to maintain their strategic focus. “We currently have the strongest membership in the history of the association simply because we have continued to add value through a focused set of services. If we were to move beyond our current scope to include other products, I believe competing priorities may dilute our focus and diminish that value.”
The EWTA Info Fair, a product and services exposition, featured 65 exhibitors, far exceeding the previous year count of 48.
A workshop organized by the APA Safety and Health Advisory Committee was chaired by Mike Wacker of Plum Creek. The lead-off presentation from Donna Bailey of RoyOMartin described the mill’s New Employee Mentoring Program that recently won APA’s Innovation in Safety Award. Other presentations provided hands-on expertise on mitigating dust hazards, reducing fire hazards and minimizing pedestrian-traffic risks within the mill.
The annual meeting concluded with the Chairman’s Dinner, where winners of the APA Safety and Health Awards were honored. APA Vice Chair Tom Temple, Potlatch, reported that 65 APA-member structural wood panel and engineered wood product facilities in the U.S., Canada and abroad participated in the Safety Award program. There were 23 entries in the Safety Innovation Award category. Temple noted that 17 mills earned a place in the Incident Free Honor Society, representing a combined total of 4.4 million hours worked without an accident. Accepting awards for their companies were Robert Fouquet, Ainsworth; Greg Anthony, Boise Cascade; Mike Dawson, Norbord; Tom Temple, Potlatch; Terry Secrest, RoyOMartin; and Steve Doffitt, LP.
Four EWTA member companies were honored as Supplier and Innovation of the Year Award winners. Westmill Industries took top honors in the Supplier Equipment/Tooling category; Willamette Valley Company was the winner in the Materials/Supplies category; and Panel World magazine was the Consulting/Services category winner. Ventek was the Innovation of the Year Award winner for its multi-point diverter system.