Builder Buzz

Feel the Buzz every day
For the last three years, Builder Buzz has brought you interesting stories and anecdotes from around the rural building industry seven times per year, at the back of each issue. Now you can feel the buzz every day!

Hey there Grand Rapids!
Where do you turn to when you want to find the pulse of America, or the world at large? CNN? The New York Times? MTV? No, man — Google. The ubiquitous search engine can find you a pumpkin pie recipe, and now it can tell you what part of the country searches the Internet most often for pumpkin pie recipes (that would be Portland, Ore.).

Google Trends is a product of Google Labs that lets users enter search terms and see how often they’ve been searched for on Google over time. GT also displays how frequently these topics have appeared in Google News stories, and which geographic regions have searched for them most often.

The service is not perfect — most search terms I entered, like “post-frame,” were deemed too narrow — but it’s still fascinating. For instance, care to guess which part of the country has searched most often for “pole barns?” Grand Rapids, Mich. Grand Rapids is followed by Boca Raton, Fla., Southfield, Mich., Indianapolis, Detroit, Cincinnati, Rochester, N.Y., Cleveland, Kansas City, and Columbus, Ohio. New Orleans is the top search region for “metal roofing,” followed by Tampa, Orlando, Miami, Austin, Texas, San Antonio, Atlanta, Seattle, Rochester, and Portland.

What can we learn from this? The post-frame builders we know in and around Grand Rapids must be plenty busy these days.

Hey there Grand Rapids! Part 2
But hold on just a minute. It seems that the people of nearby Walker, Mich., may have had enough of the area’s love affair with post-frame buildings.

A July 13 story published in the Grand Rapids Press reports that the town’s planning commission is considering a proposal that would allow the panel to dictate materials and colors used in the construction and renovation of commercial, office, and industrial buildings. According to the story, “the ordinance would require developers to be creative in building designs and would prohibit pole barn-style and box-like buildings with no character. It also would discourage use of vinyl and aluminum sidings.” The ordinance would also give planners discretion in colors buildings could be painted.

The council appeared to be split on various aspects of the proposed ordinance, and we’re hoping it gets voted down. What is discouraging is that the closed-minded, outdated perception of post-frame buildings lives on, and lives on in areas where there are tons of quality post-frame builders putting up structures with plenty of character.

Are there character-less post-frame buildings out there? Sure. But there are also lots of tilt-up, stick frame, and metal buildings that would fall into the same category. Most any building type can be designed to be very attractive or plain and functional, so legislate against bad design, not building type.

It’s a small world after all
An interesting story appeared recently in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The story detailed how digital technology is making it possible for international companies to be based in small towns. In this particular case, the small town is Hilbert, Wis., with a population of 1,089, and the company is McKinley Reserve, an investment firm with offices around the world and $1 billion in assets under management.

“If the American heartland is to survive in a global economy, it will need more like (McKinley’s Todd Thiel),” the story says. “… Competitive pressures of globalization hit rural areas harder than metropolitan areas … Rural America, which often relies on one-factory towns, has a 16 percent greater concentration of low-tech industries that fare worse against global competitors …”

Thiel’s business is headquartered in a charming 100-year-old bank, but other similar businesses will probably call on rural builders to put up an office building or two.

Builders on the hood
Jim Austin and I took off work early one day this summer and headed to Slinger Super Speedway to watch the Slinger Nationals. It got me thinking: would we see any cars sponsored by companies related to the rural building industry? Lester Buildings has been very active in sponsoring motorsports events and drivers, and Leland Industries has become a player in Canadian stock car racing. Metal Sales Manufacturing brought driver Mike Skinner to its Frame Building Expo booth a couple years ago. ABC Supply sponsors an Indy car. And don’t forget about Menards, which has its own team and takes its racing seriously. That doesn’t even include the big NASCAR sponsors like Home Depot, Lowe’s, Caterpillar, and DeWalt.

Maybe we should do a story on this in Rural Builder next year … stay tuned — and buckle up!

Log Home Summit
F+W Publications, parent company of Rural Builder and log home magazines such as Country’s Best Log Homes and Log Homes Illustrated, in June held its second annual Log Home Summit. The Summit brought together building professionals from several disciplines, including log home producers, builders, roofing contractors, and manufacturers of components like metal roofing, SIPs, doors and windows, and fasteners.

The Summit kicked off with an announcement that F+W’s Custom Wood Homes Media Group would be participating in a multimedia campaign with “Bob Vila,” the nationally syndicated TV show, and website BobVila.com to bring more than 6 million consumers to the log home industry each month. The program will include 13 original television shows airing a total of 26 weeks beginning in September 2007. “Log homes are tailor-made for TV and we are honored to be working with the number one name in the home market to promote our industry,” says Hugh McAloon, F+W group publisher.

After the Vila announcement, educational programming took center stage.
Gregg Caldwell of BK Cypress Log Homes talked about NAHB’s Log Home Council. Jim Bush of ATAS International, representing the Metal Roofing Alliance, gave a thorough speech about the features and benefits of metal roofing, complete with plenty of photos of metal roofs topping log homes. (A recent Country’s Best Log Homes survey reveals that 52 percent of log home buyers plan to put a metal roof on their home, compared to about 25 percent for asphalt shingles.)

Bill Wachtler of the Structural Insulated Panel Association and Curt Stendel of Panelworks Plus introduced the crowd to the world of SIPs.

After lunch, contractors and component manufacturers in attendance visited with log home manufacturers in a spirited exchange of ideas. A panel discussion where log home manufacturers and builders answered questions about becoming a log home builder capped the programming. Log homes are a booming market, and the 100-plus attendees were enthusiastic about the opportunities to network with professionals from other disciplines.

Slot machines at Bethlehem Steel
It’s hard to flip through old issues of Rural Builder and Farm Building News and not see advertisements for Bethlehem Steel. The once mighty steel manufacturer was a powerhouse in many industries, but like many of its peers fell by the wayside as the steel industry consolidated.

Apparently the company’s storied old plant in Bethlehem, Pa., will receive new life as a casino-hotel complex, complete with retail outlets. According to a story in BusinessWeek, the $900 million project is being proposed by casino owner Las Vegas Sands and

BethWorks Now, an investor group that bought the 126-acre site for $4 million in 2004. “To win support, the partners have cast themselves as presevationists, vowing to maintain many of the plant’s buildings,” the story says. “The elevated rail system that once carried iron ore will become a people mover. The No. 2 machine shop? It will house a shopping mall.”

Not exactly the ideal scenario for once-proud space, but at least it will be put to use.

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