Building trust among the trades

Photo by Alastair Baker Dustin Stewart, Executive Director, Montana Building Industry Association, talks at the Red Lodge Home Builders Association membership drive.

 A membership drive for the newly created Red Lodge Builders Association saw approximately 60 people from builders to cabinetmakers to those working in masonry, flooring, banking and Realty, turn up to listen to Dustin Stewart, Executive Director, Montana Building Industry Association (MBIA) explain the benefits of belong to such an organization. The meeting was held at the Red Lodge Community Foundation building last week, and was spurred on by RD Kirkness, Rock Creek Home and Gardens, and Chuck Sallade, Red Lodge Furniture Studio, as a way to organize, protect and promote the trades and the economy around Red Lodge. Also present to answer questions were Denise Smith, Executive Director, of the Home Builders Association (HBA) of Billings, Mike Hughes, President of the Montana Home Builders Association and Ty Lantis, President of the Home Builders Association of Billings. Montana has seven very active chapters said Stewart who added, “Red Lodge is going to be the same way.”

The National Association of Home Builders has 150,000 members of which Montana makes up 1 percent. “When you look at our membership, about 35 percent are general contractors and the rest made up of specialty contractors, allied trades, suppliers and professional trades like title companies and banks that support us,” said Stewart. Stewart has two full time staff in Helena, whose job is to travel the country and help businesses build a safer company. They are currently training on forklift certification, fall protection training since OSHA changed their fall protection standards. “They can come to your worksite, walk you through, tell you what you’re doing right or wrong, so the next time OSHA visits it starts off in a much better way than you getting a $10,000 ticket,” said Stewart. “They also specialize in job site inspection and if you need questions answered, call them up and they will be at your site within a week.” Everything is confidential he added. “If you have a company with a good safety record you can enter into the GRIP Program, (Group Rewards Insurance Program.)  Currently 350 members participate and if the group does well, at the end of the year everyone gets rebate on their worker’s compensation policy,” said Stewart. “Everything that GRIP does is free to HBA Red Lodge members.” The group has operated for 15 years and so far $10 millions has been rebated back. Stewart went on to show a consumer marketing website, an easy way for the public to find membership businesses, and is managed by the MBIA. “Beneficial for people out of state,” he said. Stewart’s office also specializes in advocacy and electioneering. “We spend a lot of time in the halls of the Capitol talking to legislatures about zoning, subdivision regulations, building codes, growth polices, business equipment tax and others,” he said. The MBIA also offers a legal defense fund to fight issues that no one person can fight on their own. “We recently won a road exemption law suit in Lewis and Clark County, it cost $380,000. They essentially shut down all new development in the county, requiring, if you were building 3-4 homes in a subdivision, for you to bring miles at a time of road up to their county road standard. The point is, the developer couldn’t have done this on their own,” he said. Stewart said the MBIA is also involved in elections. “We do this by getting to know the candidates, finding pro-building candidates from both sides of the aisles. And get involved nationally with Build-PAC and locally with Montanans for Affordable housing. This is how we get to know legislatures and get a better chance of lobbying on your behalf.” “We’ve recently had an Energy and Building Code which will be adopted by the State in May or June, and you’ll see the changes coming in Red Lodge in the fall. If the standard had been adopted as it came down from the International Code Council, these codes would have been incredibly difficult to comply with,” said Stewart. Hughes spoke of the “huge value” of belonging to the MBIA and of having Stewart in Helena with his “wealth of legislative knowledge.” Lantis called the MBIA “strength in numbers, where we can be heard.”

“There are serious advocacy groups in Helena who want to stop us building our next homes, and Dustin is on the forefront of most of those, day in and day out,” said Hughes. “We have achieved one of the most well respected industries because of Dustin and his team. And whether we like it or not, home building is a real political issue. And to have that type of representation in Helena is extremely important.” Hughes finished by saying that, “when you build a home here in Red Lodge, that dollar rolls through the local community 7 times.

If you build a $200,000 home that's $1,400,000 into the community.” “Seed, time and harvest is what I use,” said Kirkness. “We planted the seed, it took some time and now we are here to harvest. And the only way we can build better businesses and the way we can be better tradesmen is with better tools, this is definitely a tool which all of us can use.” For more information on the Red Lodge Home Builders Association call Kristen Sallade at 591-3443; Chuck Sallade at 690 1347 or RD Kirkness at 425-3388.