A Conversation With: Rick Parrino

Parrino takes the helm of the SBCA.

In October, Rick Parrino started his annual term as president of the Structural Building Components Association (SBCA). This international trade group represents businesses that manufacture engineered floor, wall, and roof structural components. The components are custom-designed roof trusses, floor trusses, and wall panels that are installed with permanent bracing to create the overall structural framework of a building.

Tell us about your background in the construction industry.

I went to trade school to be a mechanic, but when I graduated in 1982, it was a tough economy and I had a hard time finding a job. I worked as a laborer and framer before starting at a truss plant in 1984. It’s pretty much all I’ve done since then. I’m now the General Manager for Plum Building Systems, a division of Gilcrest/Jewett Lumber Company in Waukee.

What does SBCA do?

We’re a group of manufacturers who combine our experiences and knowledge to develop best practices so we can provide consumers with the very best products possible. We try not to get caught up in the politics of the construction industry. Rather, we rely on information that’s been scientifically proven as the basis for what we do.

At the local level, we do a lot of education, from teaching proper component installation at high schools and colleges to talking with firefighters on how they fight fires. We also form relationships with building code officials, firefighters, and home builder associations in order to work more collaboratively on common issues.

At the national level, much of what we do is either about developing best practices or collectively addressing building code issues. For example, one of our main efforts this year has been fighting a change in the residential building code that requires fire protection be put on engineered wood products, namely I-joists and floor trusses. However, the code creates an exception for 2-by-10s and 2-by-12s, which are used in traditional stick-framing techniques.

The argument is that engineered wood products burn faster. After performing tests in a controlled setting at a third-party laboratory, we found the engineered wood products do indeed burn slightly faster than 2-by-10s and 2-by-12s. However, the latter burn much more quickly than previously thought, mainly because the wood today is coming from younger trees, which make them less strong and quicker to burn. Based on the testing, it’s clear all of these products need to be protected equally to keep consumers safe.

How did you get involved with SBCA?

I worked in Connecticut for a year and got involved with the local SBCA chapter there. When I moved to Iowa, I joined the local chapter, Iowa Truss Manufacturers Association. After about a year, I was asked to help at the national level. I’ve been chairman for various committees, including overseeing the association’s legislative efforts and our annual, national trade show, Building Component Manufacturers Conference.

What is your one main goal for the organization as president?

I preach a lot about relationships and working together. There was a time during the economic downturn when things became very difficult, not just on the business side but also within our organization. I worked very hard with our group’s past president to help members navigate the many challenges, to get them to see one another’s perspective, and to give everyone the opportunity to voice their concerns and opinions.

What has been the biggest change in your field in the last decade?

In the last 10 years, we have learned more about construction technology then we did in the last 30 or 40 years prior to that. Processing all that new information, putting it into our design software, and getting it into the hands of people who can make the calculations to help determine what can be improved has been really exciting.

What do you see as the biggest issue facing your industry today?

We’re having a hard time finding people who are excited to work in our industry. I think the most recent economic downturn was such a hard one that it made many people leave construction and production labor, and not want to come back.

We’re addressing our workforce shortage in a few ways. One is by reaching kids at job fairs, letting them know about the rewarding career opportunities we can offer. I share my personal experience, telling young people I have a trade school education, not a formal college education. I learned on the job, and was paid to do it. It was a great college education that I didn’t have to pay for. There’s a wide variety of opportunity within our companies. As you get better and add value to a company, you can move up the ladder quickly.

The employees who are coming to us are very smart. They are the type that can take this new technology to the next level. Many of these workers are Millennials, and you do have to use a different management style with them. It’s not the hardcore, work-20-hours-a-day type of environment it was in the past. They want to work their hours and go home; but they get a lot done during the workday. It’s a whole different atmosphere than it was 20 years ago. It’s pretty exciting.

We’re trying to retain and groom our talent with a new program the association calls Emerging Leaders. It brings together individuals from our business partners to teach them more about our group and encourages them to take on leadership roles.

Do you do any charity work?

With the Home Builders Association, I’ve assisted with building homes for Greater Des Moines Habitat for Humanity, and through a partnership between SBCA and Operation Finally Home, we help build mortgage-free homes for wounded veterans. I also volunteer for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, helping those in the military and their civilian employers by educating them about their rights and responsibilities.

Tell us about your family.

I live in Clive with my wife of 30 years, Susan. I have two grown children and three grandchildren.

Do you have any hobbies?

I love fishing, golfing, and running.