Why we need the ‘whole crew’

There were good reasons why National Frame Building Association (NFBA) members were encouraged to “Bring the Whole Crew” to the 2010 Frame Building Expo held in mid-February in Louisville, Ky.

First, everyone — from the company owner, salesperson, crew person, engineer and project manager — stood to benefit from the variety of new products and service innovations showcased there.

Second, the whole crew and myriad other attendees — suppliers and manufacturers, building-material dealers, design and code professionals, students in engineering, architecture and construction management — learned about the many advantages of post-frame construction through the Expo’s educational programming.

“We had programs at Expo of interest to everyone, from owners to salespeople to crew members,” says Bob Brisky of Fingerlakes Construction, who served as chairperson of the event.

Likewise, the NFBA staff brought its whole crew, which increased when NFBA hired a new management company in 2009. At the heart of this crew, however, are NFBA’s active volunteer leaders and dedicated board members — the “owners” of the association, so to speak — who were highly visible at the Louisville Expo as they networked, spoke at sessions, and ran raffles, auctions and meetings.

Target: Light-commercial market
Without a doubt, the overriding issue affecting the construction industry is the floundering U.S. economy. Its impact is felt daily and coast-to-coast, and, with financing remaining tight, the prospects for a sustained recovery remain dubious, at least through 2010.

“If the economy is starting to show some signs of recovery, it probably means another tough year for most of us who are making a living in construction,” says NFBA Board Chair John Hill of Lester Building Systems.

Randy Ridenour of Atlas Bolt & Screw Co. believes that the economy will improve only when banks again start lending to small businesses. “Unfortunately, light-commercial construction follows the housing industry, so until the housing industry starts to improve, it’s going to be a real challenge,” he says.

Still, NFBA leaders are poised to take on the challenge and making plans to move beyond the agricultural market, where post-frame clearly dominates, into the light-commercial market.

Providing education to current and prospective members is key to this effort. To increase awareness of post-frame construction in the light-commercial market, volunteer leaders are hard at work developing educational programs—both online and onsite at colleges, universities, and technical schools—for builders, architects, engineers, designers, and code officials.

PFMI fund raising success

Funding is needed to support such initiatives, even if markets remain flat. Thanks to the leadership efforts of Post Frame Marketing Initiative (PFMI) Chair Randy Ridenour and other active PFMI committee members, PFMI raised $200,000 at a 1-day summit last October and later through an online fundraising meeting.

“Securing funds allows us to parlay those dollars into bigger dollars from industry associations such as Binational [Softwood Lumber Council],” Ridenour says. “The amount raised was above and beyond the monies that we normally get from suppliers through dues assessment. The funding came from both builders and suppliers, which is important because it sends a message to the industry that the entire NFBA membership is behind us.”

Jim Simon of Tailored Building Systems agrees that PFMI’s fundraising success opens up new markets for commercial building. “These programs target designers and engineers who will hopefully design, spec, and put out [post-frame] projects for bid that we might not have had a crack at before.”

PFMI supports education

PFMI funding supports myriad educational programs, many developed by NFBA Technical Advisor Harvey Manbeck, PE, PhD, professor emeritus at Penn State University. Ridenour notes that “the educational modules being offered to code officials, architects and engineers, as well as [curriculum for] colleges and technical schools, will pay back dividends for years to come.”

Among these programs are:
• A six-session curriculum on basic post-frame design concepts and applications. Developed by Dr. Manbeck, this curriculum consists of a student manual and six scripted PowerPoint presentations. The course materials are designed for professors at engineering schools who want to expose their students to post-frame design and construction as part of their wood structural design courses. The goal is to have many engineering schools across the country adopt the curriculum. Topics include post-frame building design without diaphragm action, post-frame diaphragm design methods, and a comprehensive design example of a commercial post-frame building system.

• PFA Online University (www.postframeadvantage.com) provides free educational programming for design professionals and structural engineers to learn about post-frame construction in commercial projects. The sessions are based on Dr. Manbeck’s aforementioned six-part educational module for designers and engineers. Plans are underway to expand NFBA’s Online University course offerings in 2010.

• Online guide specification. In 2009, NFBA unveiled its online version of a program for development of a Guide Specification for Post-Frame Building Systems. This online application is particularly useful to architects or engineers developing specifications for their first post-frame projects. It provides a user-friendly and editable specification document in Masterspec’s three-part format.

• Programs for building code officials. Many of these will be initiated in the second half of 2010. However, in April, building code officials in Pennsylvania will attend a new and comprehensive seminar on commercial and residential post-frame systems. The one-day program will likely serve as a prototype for similar programs throughout the country. The six-hour educational program was developed cooperatively by Dr. Manbeck and NFBA’s Atlantic Northeast Chapter members Tim Royer PE, Tim Little and Ken Kistler.

• Other educational programs for architects and engineers. In 2009 PFMI introduced architects and engineers to post-frame building systems at many venues across the country, including WoodWorks’ Wood Solutions fairs and workshops, Structural Engineers Association of Ohio meetings and American Institute of Architects state meetings.

Building, serving membership
There is a growing groundswell of excitement among NFBA members and volunteer leaders. Both Manbeck and Brisky report great interest in post-frame on the part of engineers and architects attending trade shows. NFBA President Tom Drake notes the enthusiasm and kinship among members at chapter meetings and in the field. Brisky adds that the atmosphere at Expo is filled with optimism. The following initiatives are underway to improve member services and expand membership:

New Heartland Chapter
NFBA has a new Heartland Chapter in the Southwest, thanks to the leadership of Brian Keane of National Barn Company-Central Division in Fort Gibson, Okla., and members such as Larry Edema of Wick Buildings who consulted members in Tulsa, Okla. The new chapter — comprising members from Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Louisiana, and Kansas — brings the total number of NFBA chapters to nine nationwide.

Throughout 2010, NFBA will work to strengthen this system by finding ways to allow chapters to share resources and best practices, says Drake.

“The chapter system is important because it connects the national organization to our members. For members, it allows them to conveniently meet with colleagues who share the same local economies and issues.” Plans call for having chapters eventually provide educational programs that allow attendees to earn continuing education (CE) credits.

Leveraging technology

Several technology-related initiatives are now underway:
• Updated Web sites: Efforts are ongoing to update the content and enhance the look and ease-of-use of NFBA web sites. “Our membership, including our Education Committees, really stepped up and helped with this work,” says Hill.

“We’ve developed some online content for architects and designers and will soon start developing educational content for our membership group.”

Meanwhile, Ridenour encourages members who attend trade shows or speak at conferences to direct people to NFBA web sites.

• Online Webinars: During 2010, NFBA will introduce online educational programming for architects and builders. These Webinars will provide CE credits to architects and building professionals. Accreditation credentials let companies and individuals stand out in the crowd, giving them an edge in a crowded job market. In 2010, members will be encouraged to get accredited and take advantage of the many benefits offered through the Accredited Post-Frame Builder Program.

• Online meetings: In April, the Technical and Research Committee will hold its first online meeting.

Bylaws changes

NFBA members recently approved several bylaws changes. According to Hill, the association’s previous bylaws were outdated and, in some cases, out of sync with how NFBA wants to operate going forward. Later this year, a policy and procedure manual that addresses how to handle day-to-day association issues will be available to members.

During 2010, NBFA looks forward to further increasing membership engagement and expanding its fundraising efforts through PFMI. But increasing awareness of post-frame construction will take more than money and programming; it will require effort on the part of the entire NFBA crew.

“Members need to promote NFBA and our initiatives as much as possible to contractors,” says Edema. “Spread the word — we’re getting bigger and better every year!” FBN

Jane Martinsons, the writer of this article, is a member of the NFBA staff.

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