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Housing initiative seeks to dramatically increase community’s growth.

For several decades population growth in rural areas has been on the decline. Communities within a reasonable distance of metropolitan areas managed to hold steady, but small towns in rural Iowa have struggled to maintain residents, let alone attract new businesses and homeowners.

Some industry professionals have seen this trend beginning to turn since the pandemic. Developments like Middlebrook in Cumming, Prairie Trail in Ankeny, and Beaverbrooke Pointe in Grimes are attracting residents looking for a small-town feel within easy commute to the metro.

But families longing for a more rural community have also begun to realize that today’s technology makes earning a living from nearly anywhere possible. They can settle in their dream community, no matter where their employer is based.

That creates a different challenge for Iowa’s small towns—attracting builders and retailers to support that potential growth. Marshalltown is well on its way to meeting that challenge.

“Make Marshalltown Home is a cash incentive program that offers home buyers $10,000 when they close on a newly constructed home valued at $180,000 or more,” says Joe Carter, incoming Board Chair of the Marshalltown Area Chamber of Commerce. “The program applies to any permits filed after the first of June within the Marshalltown city limits.”

“The Chamber committee overseeing the program got started late in 2019,” he says. “We held the press conference to announce the program less than 18 months later.” But before the initiative went into effect, news of its potential spurred development in the community. “We have two developments already begun,” Carter says. “Those developers have both said this housing initiative was the impetus for their projects.”

Commercial growth was already taking place in the community of nearly 30,000. A new hospital, new medical clinic, and numerous retail and restaurant expansions are in the works. “We have some multifamily housing and senior residential facilities in development as well,” Carter says. “This initiative is a way to support more single-family projects.”

He says the average number of new homes built has averaged a mere five homes per year since 1975. Now there are enough plans in the works to build 100 in just the next two years.

“Marshalltown is one of the only seven ‘micropolitan’ communities in Iowa—a city with population between 22,000 and 35,000 not directly connected to a large city. But we’re one of the two micropolitans that’s actually growing,” Carter says.

The Marshalltown Area Chamber of Commerce realized that to maintain that and to grow wisely, the city needed a plan. “We wanted to manage the way our community grows,” Carter says. Part of that was ensuring the city had the services to attract new residents, and part of that was drawing the builders who could provide the homes.

“Marshalltown is a great place to live,” he says. “We have a beautiful trail system, and we’re expanding that to connect with other communities and trail systems nearby. We have a wide variety of employment opportunities. We have a diverse population, an historic theater, and so much to offer.”

The Make Marshalltown Home program is initially set to cover only the first 100 homes that qualify. Carter anticipates that it could continue, depending on funding.

Between the multifamily projects and the Make Marshalltown Home initiative, the Chamber hopes to nearly double the town’s population by 2030. “We would like to see steady, managed growth, with more residents living and working here,” explains Carter. “Cutting the commuter rate in half in the next five years is part of that goal. This program will help us achieve that.”

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HBAI scholarship program serves the future of the industry.

For nearly two decades, the Home Builders Association of Iowa Educational Corporation, a nonprofit entity that distributes scholarship funds, has been making it possible for young people to pursue careers in the construction field. Those efforts continue to grow, along with the industry.

“We’ve been holding the Doug Mayo Memorial Golf Invitational since Doug lost his battle with cancer in 2013,” says Jay Iverson, HBAI Executive Officer. “We limit it to 36 teams of four, and it sells out right away every year.”

Even with last year’s COVID pandemic, the HBAI was able to hold the event with some slight modifications to the day’s activities. This year’s outing is set for June 21 and serves as both fundraiser and celebration of this year’s scholarship recipients.

“Scholarship recipients have already been notified,” Iverson says. “But we invite them to attend the golf outing, and several are always able to come.”

Eighteen young people received scholarship funds this year, many of whom are repeat winners. “We have quite a few double and triple recipients. We don’t limit applicants to one time. They’re welcome to reapply throughout their program,” Iverson explains. “Recipients just have to be entering the skilled trades through an apprenticeship or educational program.”

Past honorees have been students pursuing degrees in the construction trades at state universities as well as individuals involved in community college and trade apprenticeship programs. This year, 11 of the 18 recipients were women, which Iverson says is another encouraging sign.

To date, more than $200,000 in scholarship funds have been awarded.

Iverson says, “We’d love to see the time when the scholarship program funds itself, when the interest from the funds is sufficient to maintain the scholarship awards. At this point, the fundraising events we hold annually raise enough to cover the year’s scholarships, and those donations continue to grow so we can continue to award more scholarships.”

Awareness of the skilled trades gap has risen in recent years, and enrollment in related programs has grown as well. However, the shortage of skilled workers remains a major concern in the industry. Scholarships like those offered by the HBAI of Iowa help bridge that gap and enable more young people to pursue these careers.

Doug Mayo, for whom the golf invitational is named, saw the declining numbers decades ago and became active in the HBA’s educational programs to help address that concern. Honoring his memory with this annual fundraiser helps keep both his passions and the skilled trades alive.

Similar scholarships have been established to recognize other HBAI members, including a new golf outing that expands the fundraising efforts to the eastern part of the state. “Cedar Rapids is holding its first golf invitational to honor late HBAI member Tari Dailey,” says Iverson. “Tari was past president and owner of Sunderlands and was active with Habitat for Humanity.”

The Tari Dailey Golf Invitational is scheduled for September 9 at Saddleback in Solon. Like the Des Moines event, registration is limited to 36 teams of four. Spots are still available for that event.

“We have a number of named scholarships that recognize longtime HBAI volunteers like Doug and Tari,” Mayo says. “When possible, we try to award those to applicants who have a connection with those members because that’s even more meaningful for everyone.”

Iverson says there are always opportunities for members to get involved and support the scholarship efforts and educational programs the HBAI supports even if there aren’t spots available for the golf outing. “We accept financial donations to the scholarship fund year-round. We also have a lot of members who have included a legacy to the fund in their wills,” he says. “Endowments, bequests, annuities, and trusts all ensure that the HBAI of Iowa Educational Corporation is able to support the industry well into the future.”

Continuing to support the education and training of future leaders is the best investment current members can make in the security of the industry. Closing the skilled trades gap may be a long-term project. These scholarship programs are one tool that makes that goal possible.


2021 Scholarship Recipients

  • Ulrich Wolfe (Clemons)
    Finance, Iowa State University
    $1,500 Bob Friedrich Scholarship
  • Allison Bermel (Ames)
    Interior Design, Iowa State University
    $1,000 Home Builders Association of Greater Des Moines Scholarship
  • Helen Bohnsack (Iowa City)
    Biochemistry, Wartburg College
    $1,000 Jeff Tegeler Scholarship
  • Miranda Farr (Swisher)
    Mechanical Engineering, U of Wisconsin Platteville
    $1,000 Garrett Farr Scholarship
  • Shanna Fellows (Albia)
    Civil Engineering Iowa State University
    $1,000 Professional Women in Building Scholarship
  • Ian Flint (Cedar Falls)
    Engineering, Iowa State University
    $1,000 Doug Mayo Scholarship
  • Aubrey Frey (Cedar Rapids)
    Mechanical Engineering, University of St. Thomas
    $1,000 Tari Dailey Scholarship
  • Kaitlyn Goth (Marcus)
    Architecture, Iowa State University
    $1,000 John Small Scholarship
  • Emily Greathouse (Ames)
    Interior Design, Iowa State University
    $1,000 Kenny Selzer Scholarship
  • Evaleen Hajek (North Liberty)
    Business, Kirkwood Community College
    $1,000 Home Builders Association of Iowa Past Presidents Scholarship
  • Izaak Hajek (North Liberty)
    Business, Brigham Young University
    $1,000 Home Builders Association of Iowa Past Presidents Scholarship
  • Sienna Hancock (Coggon)
    Neuroscience, Allen College
    $1,000 David Ealy Scholarship
  • Morgan Knoup (Urbandale)
    Biology, UNI
    $1,000 Home Builders Association of Greater Des Moines Scholarship
  • Korey Kramer (Iowa City)
    HVAC, Kirkwood Community College
    $1,000 Tim Ruth Scholarship
  • Liam Latham (Eldridge)
    Construction Management, Kirkwood Community College
    $1,000 Tim Ruth Scholarship
  • London Wille (Van Meter)
    Engineering, Iowa State University
    $1,000 Scholarship
  • Spencer Zoet (Adel)
    Business, Buena Vista University
    $1,000 Charlie Wasker Scholarship
  • Rachel Strang (Iowa City)
    Finance, University of Iowa
    $500 Charlie Wasker Scholarship

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Build My Future event continues to grow awareness of the skilled trades.

A PBS program a few years ago described the skilled trades situation as a “cultural rebuild” after half a century of urging young people to pursue four-year degrees as the only path to financial stability.

Today we not only have an overabundance of overeducated but unskilled workers, we have skeletal vocational programs and factories and trades struggling to fill a wealth of openings.

The growth of the Alliance for the Skilled Trades’ Build My Future event is testament to this need.

First held in 2019, Build My Future offers high school students across the state the opportunity to learn more about the different skilled trades and the careers available. Last year’s event was canceled just weeks before its scheduled date and was reworked as a virtual event. This made the 2021 Build My Future day at the Iowa State Fairgrounds highly anticipated by all involved.

“We had over 2,800 students attend from more than 75 schools,” says organizer Brandon Patterson of the Greater Des Moines Home Builders Association. “That involved more than 100 volunteers and 65 exhibitors. We filled the building and the parking lot, too, with exhibits and hands-on activities.”

As before, this year’s event highlights were those that are most interactive—welding, heavy equipment, and masonry. New exhibits introduced attendees to even more fields, from law enforcement and the military to court reporting and health care.

“We not only included residential and commercial construction, but we also added hospitality, health care, trucking, law enforcement, military, and emergency services, all programs that do not require a four-year degree,” Patterson says.

To highlight the opportunities available, this year’s event included a Skilled Trades Signing Day with Klein Tool. “Klein hosted a signing day for students making the commitment to go into the trades next year. Governor Kim Reynolds was on hand to sign the commitment certificates and to participate in some of the hands-on activities throughout the hall,” says Patterson.

Feedback from the first Build My Future event led to other activities throughout the year, he adds, not only to maintain contact with participants but to provide ongoing educational resources. “We started Build University, which offers virtual classroom programs twice a month,” he explains. “One is a panel and the other is a jobsite or shop tour. Each month, we focus on a specific trade so that participants can get a closer look at the different options out there.”

Despite the increasing demand for workforce in the trades, Patterson says there aren’t enough opportunities for students to experience those career options ahead of time. The Alliance for the Skilled Trades was established to fill that gap. The Build My Future events are one of many tools the Alliance has put into practice in the past several years.

“Each year, Build My Future gets bigger and better,” he says. “We were so disappointed to have to cancel the in-person event last year. But we posted videos every hour throughout that day so people who had registered could still get a taste of what the event would have been.”

That approach was so successful, Iowa City opted to hold a Build My Future day as a virtual event this year as well. Sioux City chose to postpone its event until October in order to host it in-person.

“We already have exhibitors signing up for next year and sponsors lining up to participate, too,” Patterson says. “And we have ideas for expanding the event and adding more career path options like we did this year.”

After the 2019 event, Patterson says 14 students from Johnston alone were placed in apprentice or trade programs. Several attendees from this year’s event have already lined up employment or summer internships.

Patterson says, “That’s one of the things we’re developing for future events—a way to accurately track different statistics, like how many people stop at each booth, whom the exhibitors should follow up with, and who gets lined up with internships or apprentice programs.”

It may have taken half a century to ingrain the idea that college was the only path to success, but efforts like Build My Future are changing that perspective in a fraction of the time.

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Statistics reveal concerns for the construction industry.

Consider this: The private construction industry experienced over 1,000 work fatalities in 2018. That was the highest number of deaths since 2007 and accounted for 20% of workplace fatalities overall in an industry that only employs 6% of the U.S. workforce.

Now consider this: The industry also lays claim to the highest suicide rate of any occupational category tracked by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). 20% of men who died by suicide in the U.S. in 2019 were employed in the construction/extraction industry. And yet, this industry only makes up 6% of the national workforce.

Those statistics led attorney Jodie McDougal to write a piece on mental health issues in the construction industry for the Davis Brown Law Firm blog. Her initial motivation, she says, was simply to share information with her clients.

“As I read more about this issue and what the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) is doing, I wanted to make sure my clients were aware of these issues,” she explains.

The more she read, the more she realized this was something the entire industry, locally as well as nationally, needed to address. “It’s not just about making sure the work environment is safe,” she explains. “It’s making sure employers are taking care of their employees, and that includes their mental health.”

The CDC shares this statistic as well: The #1 tool in preventing suicide is “promoting help-seeking.” Creating a culture that doesn’t stigmatize mental health issues will do more to change these statistics than any other effort, according to industry experts.

David Jaffe, Vice President of Construction Liability for NAHB, says, “It’s been noted by Bryan Kohl of MindWise Innovations that ‘for decades, we’ve been focused on what happens outside the hard hat. It’s time to pay attention to what’s happening inside the hard hat.’”

Although last year’s pandemic with its ancillary social isolation and record-breaking construction activity may have had some effect on mental health statistics, this is not a new concern. McDougal writes, “Per a CDC report, the construction and extraction occupational group has had the highest male suicide rate out of all major occupation groups multiple times within the last 10 years. And more construction workers die by suicide each day than all other workplace-related fatalities combined.”

Numerous factors come into play in making this industry so highly vulnerable to mental health issues: the volatility of the market and its attendant job insecurities, a culture of stoicism that values self-reliance and toughness, a lack of community resulting from transient jobs and short-term contracts, and the general demographics of the average construction industry worker.

Add to those the unprecedented situation of the past 12 months—a 58% increase in home remodeling inquiries, a 5% increase in housing starts nationally, soaring demand for single-family homes as a result of low interest rates, all coupled with the ongoing struggle to find skilled workers and to obtain materials amid a national economic shutdown.

Jaffe says, “Cal Beyer gave a presentation to an NAHB committee and put it like this: Skilled workers also tend to be perfectionists, a trait important to successful work performance. But when combined with tight deadlines and a physically demanding work environment, it can lead to escalating stress.”

McDougal says, “So many factors in this industry can increase the risks—the long hours, the stigma associated with asking for help, the emphasis on working hard, and just pushing through pain. It’s been a silent issue in the construction industry.”

NAHB had previously addressed some of these factors in its multiyear initiative to combat the opioid epidemic and its effect on the home building industry. This past year the organization launched a new mental health effort, focusing on mental well-being in the home building industry.

“Mental well-being can be a somewhat vague term,” Jaffe says. “What we are really talking about is mental health as defined by mentalhealth.gov: our emotional, psychological, and social well-being… that helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.”

The program seeks to improve awareness, facilitate discussion, advocate for wellness on the jobsite and workplace, and destigmatize mental health and addiction so employees feel safe seeking help. “NAHB wants to take a leadership position with this issue moving forward,” Jaffe says. “Recent research suggests that industry associations have been overlooked as an agent for change.”

Although it can be difficult to track the results of programs like the NAHB’s Mental Health Initiative, the organization plans to track views on the resources page, media reports, and educational programs conducted with its resources. “Ultimately, the success of an initiative like this will depend on the participation by our state and local associations who have much more frequent contact with the members and a way to directly engage with them,” says Jaffe.

Jay Iverson, Executive Director of the Home Builders Association of Iowa (HBAI), says the group has not addressed this specifically at the state level. Locally, the Greater Des Moines HBA is just beginning to look into ways the association can take an active role.

“The national initiative is a fairly recent program,” says Dan Knoup, Executive Director of the Des Moines group, “so we don’t have a lot in the works yet locally. It’s definitely an issue that’s on everyone’s mind, from drug addiction to mental health concerns, so we want to do whatever we can to help our members get the resources they need.”

McDougal says, “Every employer needs to address these issues in a way that best suits their industry and their specific business. We just want to help with that awareness—awareness of the issue and awareness of the resources that are available to them.”

She says that although there are legal ramifications for employers regarding workplace safety, the real concern is for the individuals involved. “Caring for employees, in every respect, is good for business, too. Mental health issues, as well as associated behavior problems including alcoholism, have a direct impact not only on the employees suffering from those issues but also on their employers by leading to increased absenteeism, high turnover, lost productivity, and workplace injuries.”

One final statistic to consider: 100% of those who seek help are aware of their need. That’s what this initiative is all about. After all, you can’t change what you don’t know about.


The Right Tools for the Job

These resources and articles can help you understand the issues surrounding mental well-being and the workplace, as well as what various associations are offering to assist employers and workers in creating an environment where everyone is safe.


Further Reading:

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Ankeny’s Steph Reed named NAHB Professional Women in Building Member of the Year.

Anyone who knows Steph Reed says basically the same thing: Reed is relentlessly enthusiastic about the opportunities for women in the home building industry. That attitude and the work she’s done promoting those opportunities have earned her Member of the Year status with the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Professional Women in Building (PWB).

The award, presented annually at the International Builders Show, recognizes a member who has demonstrated experience with the PWB, leadership in the industry, and advancement of women in the industry.

As those who nominated Reed have said, she has been the driving force in re-creating the PWB committee locally, and she’s taken that drive to her role in the PWB regionally and nationally.

“Steph is dedicated to the promotion of our industry,” says Rachel Flint, Vice President of Hubbell Homes. “This woman knows how to get things done and makes everyone feel good about chipping in—a rare combination.”

Dan Knoup, Executive Director of the Home Builders Association (HBA) of Greater Des Moines, says, “It was pretty much unanimous here that we should nominate Steph for one of these national awards. Everyone who knows her, even at the national level, has nothing but fantastic things to say about her.”

Reed herself says she was “blown away” when she was told she’d won the Member of the Year award. “I knew who the other finalists were, and I knew how great those women were.”

She just learned of the award at the virtual PWB annual board meeting last month. Reed says she’s already excited about the opportunities it will provide. “I hope this just helps raise awareness even more about the opportunities for women in the industry. Jobs are genderless, and hopefully someone else will look at what I’m doing and see that you can still do this.”

She is a REALTOR® with RE/MAX Real Estate Concepts and owner of Partners by Design, a custom home builder in Ankeny. Her life more or less revolves around the idea of creating homes. “The accolades are great,” Reed says. “But what’s so amazing to me is that I get to be part of something that’s so rewarding. I’m proud of what I do, and I hope that inspires others.”

According to the HBA of Greater Des Moines, “Reed is active, knowledgeable, passionate, driven, and focused. She wants to learn and is equally willing to share her knowledge.”

“Steph is the reason we have a PWB council today,” Knoup believes. “She looked at the previous auxiliary we had in Des Moines, recruited volunteers to re-create that as a PWB chapter, established a budget, and developed an award-winning council in less than two years.”

Another one of Reed’s passions is educating young people on the opportunities in the skilled trades. One of her first projects with the Des Moines PWB was the production of a coloring and activity book highlighting careers in the construction industry. The book was such a success that it was donated to the NAHB to be shared nationally and has been used in more than a dozen other chapters across the country.

In her initial year leading the Des Moines PWB, the group earned first place from the national association for its girls in construction camp. Since then, Reed has worked on other projects promoting the trades, including partnering with the Iowa Department of Education to create and implement a Girls in Construction camp model to be used throughout the state, helping develop a video celebrating the 100th anniversary of the women’s suffrage movement for use on NAHB Now (the association’s news blog), serving as Area Trustee with the national PWB and signing up numerous new PWBs throughout the region, and traveling across the state and the Midwest to speak in schools about careers in the construction industry.

By far, one of her favorite success stories has been her role as a mentor to a young woman who is now an electrical apprentice. “She spends her own valuable time mentoring young women. Just ask her how her young mentee has progressed and watch her eyes light up,” Flint says.

“I’m passionate about what I do and about this industry,” Reed says. “Getting to volunteer and work on projects that promote this industry is amazing. To be able to give back to something that’s given so much to me is an honor.”