Michael O'Brien
Michael O'Brien

As the new president of the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association, I am pleased to have this opportunity to inform members and industry professionals about NLBMDA activities and the issues affecting the industry.

Some background about me: I come to NLBMDA with more than 20 years of housing and building industry association experience. For past 10 years, I was CEO for the Manufactured Housing Institute, overseeing government affairs, federation relations, economics and forecasting, and technical activities, among other areas. The 10 years before that I spent at the National Association of Home Builders as the assistant vice president in charge of services to NAHB's 850 state and local associations.

This is a very challenging economic climate for the industry, and it's expected to continue through this year. As the national association for the building material industry, it will be NLBMDA's task to serve as the voice and advocate for the industry at this crucial juncture in Washington.

In January, we will be dealing with a new administration and Congress, and the economy, particularly the housing market, will be at the top of the agenda. This poses great challenges and opportunities for the LBM industry. It is imperative that we are ready with an aggressive agenda that will promote and protect the industry during these hard times. There will be no housing recovery without lumber and building material dealers, and our voices must be heard. That is why one of my first initiatives since becoming president has been developing a national policy agenda. This agenda will clearly and concisely lay out the important issues to the LBM industry, and the principles we will use going forward to evaluate whether we will support or oppose an issue. Policy-makers and the media will know exactly where we stand.

The agenda has been developed with feedback from dealers in a consensus process led by the NLBMDA Legislative Advocacy Committee, chaired by Diana Perenza of The Florence Corp. in Huntington, N.Y., and the Regulatory/Codes and Standards Committee, chaired by Cally Fromme of Zarsky Lumber Co. in Victoria, Texas. At the fall NLBMDA annual meeting, the committees established the general issue areas and principles to be included.

Throughout the fall, NLBMDA's committees, board of directors, and federated associations provided comment on the draft agenda. Dealer members of state and regional associations were encouraged to share their views, and especially their examples, of how federal laws and regulations affect their business. The agenda's purpose is both to educate Congress and the new Obama administration about the state and challenges the LBM industry faces, and to make the case for pro-business policies that will support the industry's economic recovery and growth.

We will release the national policy agenda this month, as President Obama is sworn in and the 111th Congress gets down to business. It will not be something that sits on a shelf. It will be a living, breathing document that we can use to develop proactive legislative and regulatory initiatives to benefit the industry, and use as a tool to educate our allies in Washington about the priorities of the LBM industry.

The agenda will be an even more important educational tool as we head into our 2009 Legislative Conference in March, and we encourage every dealer to take a couple days to come to Washington to meet with their elected representatives at the start of the new Congress. There is strength in numbers, and I'm pleased to announce that, for the first time, NLBMDA will be holding its Legislative Conference jointly with the North American Building Material Distributors Association. This certainly will lead to a greater impact on Capitol Hill as we increase our numbers and present a united front on issues of concern to the building material industry.

Even if you cannot attend the Legislative Conference, dealers can use the national policy agenda when contacting their elected representatives by mail or e-mail, during a district office visit, or while hosting a yard tour. The stakes are too high in this economic climate for dealers' voices not to be heard.

As we enter a new era in Washington, and I can promise you that NLBMDA will be at the forefront to tackle the challenges that lie ahead. Please visit www.BuildtheVote.org to download a copy of the national policy agenda. I encourage you to share your thoughts and concerns with me at [email protected].

Michael O'Brien is president of the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association. E-mail: [email protected]