Jerry Konter has spent 45 years building homes and small commercial buildings in Savannah, Ga., as well as serving in various roles in his local NAHB chapter. On Feb. 10 at the 2022 International Builders’ Show, he will assume the role of chairman of the association for a one-year term, at a time when the home building industry faces a variety of critical issues: price inflation for a wide range of building materials, persistent supply-chain delays and skilled labor shortages, housing affordability pressure and a dearth of housing supply, and what he considers a gradual decline in local NAHB member involvement and a general disconnect from the national office. Konter says he will avoid any “pet issues” as chairman and will work with national, state, and local chapters to “rebuild a culture of membership” that responds to today’s home builder concerns and attracts a wider, more diverse community, while equipping members to succeed in their markets.
- Chuck Fowke, NAHB Chairman's Letter: A Look Back, Ahead, and a Note of Thanks
- NAHB News and Policy Briefs Archive
- Your IBS 2022 Pre-Show Planner
Pro Builder: What are your goals as NAHB chairman in 2022?
Jerry Konter: It's not typical for the chairman to have a specific goal during his year. I've always believed we have lots of issues that are far more important than some pet issue of an individual. And besides, the issues we face as an industry aren’t single-year issues but multi-year issues.
PB: Your predecessor Chuck Fowke was a champion of workforce development, but obviously that’s not a one-year issue. I imagine you’ll carry that banner forward?
JK: NAHB has been very much involved in workforce development with our Home Builder Institute [HBI] as kind of a mothership for training people. But we’ve learned that we have to build coalitions of others who are active in training trade skills. We also need to change the culture that says every person should be college-bound and [instead] promote the advantages of careers in housing.
PB: You’ve come up through the ranks of NAHB leadership. In fact, you still serve on the board of directors for your local chapter as a Senior Life Director for the Home Builders Association of Savannah, Ga. How do you view the current state of how NAHB engages and supports its local chapters?
JK: I think we need to regain what I'll call a culture of membership at NAHB. It's not just about recruiting new members, though certainly strength in numbers is important to effective advocacy efforts at the national level. But what I mean is getting back to a culture that helps members succeed in their markets. Local associations are critical to our membership involvement and anything NAHB does at a national level has to filter down to the local level.
It still gets me excited to turn over keys to somebody who has achieved the American Dream of owning a home. It's a real sense that you did something that mattered.
We also recognize that we need to foster diversity, equality, and inclusion; it can't just be a bunch of old white guys running or participating in the organization. There's a wealth of innovation from nontraditional members out there, so how do we attract those individuals and make them feel welcome? That's a very important part of building a culture of membership.
PB: How do you answer rank-and-file members when they say NAHB isn’t doing enough to address issues such as supply chain challenges, rising lumber prices, skilled labor shortages, and other concerns that affect their business on a daily basis?
JK: The best way to explain to a local member is to be specific about what we've done, what we hope to continue to do, and that we are working every day on a variety of issues that affect their market. Take lumber prices as an example. NAHB owns that issue. We get mentioned or quoted in about 900 news stories a month about it from all sorts of media outlets, and they seem to agree that we are on the right side of the issue.
We’re also constantly looking for better methods to deliver our message to NAHB members, and that relates back to those best practices of getting local executive officers to deliver the message from the national level. It’s a continuous work in progress. Our Monday Morning Briefing e-newsletter has been an effective tool for us.
- NAHB: Local Advocacy With National Significance
- NAHB's Toolkit to Combat the Labor Shortage
- NAHB Launches Diversity Compact to Expand Opportunities
PB: What inspires you about home building?
JK: It’s a much harder business than when I started. In 1977, I would develop a subdivision, put in the water and sewer system, and then sell it to the municipality. Today, I develop a subdivision, put in the water and sewer system, and they charge me for the hookups to each house. That kind of regulatory impact makes it a lot less fun than it used to be, but I still get up every day with a passion to go out and do what I'm doing. I'm very fortunate that we’re a family-run business: my wife runs our property management company and heads up our customer service department, and my son is right alongside me.
And it still gets me excited to turn over keys to somebody who has achieved the American Dream of owning a home. It's a real sense that you did something that mattered.
PB: What gives you hope about home building, given the current headwinds it faces?
JK: First of all, the demand—in spite of the headwinds—is still very strong. We had 1.7 million housing starts last year, and that was a banner year, but we're still 2.5 million starts behind. There is so much pent-up demand out there, and if we can solve some of these challenges—the biggest one being affordability—we can get there. I've seen what I've done to change people's lives in my own community, so that's what gives me hope. Home builders are a tenacious group, and we'll find a way. You can't outsource a place to live.
PB: Is there anything else you’d like to mention to members reading this article?
JK: It’s an honor to be able to serve the industry and it's a true honor that my peers and colleagues have put their trust in me. I hope to earn that trust by doing a job they'll be satisfied with. It’s about them, not about me.
Read Jerry’s Chairman’s Message every month in 2022 at probuilder.com/nahb.