It was 60 years ago when J. Rene Dostie packed up his family and moved from Welland, Ontario, Canada to Jacksonville in pursuit of homebuilding dreams and warmer weather.
Ever since, the Dostie name has maintained a consistent presence in Northeast Florida as the legacy has reached its third generation.
This month, Chris Dostie, president of Dostie Homes, becomes the first second-generation president of the Northeast Florida Builders Association, following in the footsteps of his father, Richard, who led the organization 30 years ago.
Such a legacy fits into the theme of his tenure as president of the state’s largest homebuilders association and the fifth largest in the nation, a theme that dovetails with that of immediate past president Lee Arsenault’s “One NEFBA.”
“‘NEFBA Tomorrow’ is sort of the theme,” said Dostie. “What do we look like going forward? Who is being groomed as the next legacy member to step into leadership?There are plenty of people out there whose family members have been involved.”
More than family legacy, Dostie intends to focus his year on industry legacy, preparing future generations of skilled tradespeople necessary to sustain an industry that is experiencing a shortage.
“Not enough people know about our Apprenticeship Program, which is a serious source of both pride and mission that NEFBA has,” Dostie said.
“We have a lack of skilled, qualified plumbers, carpenters, HVAC mechanics and more,” he said. “You can complain about it all the time or you can do something about it. Years ago, NEFBA started the Apprenticeship Program because we wanted to be doers, and not complainers, engaged in trying to train up a skilled, qualified workforce.”
The Dostie homebuilding history in Northeast Florida dates to 1958 when J. Rene Dostie and his wife, Doris, came to visit relatives who lived in the Starke area.
A builder in Canada, Dostie was told the growing Jacksonville area might be a prime market for new homes.
On their trip back home, the couple had to spend the night in their car near Buffalo, New York, stuck in a snowstorm.
“As the story goes they got out the next morning, drove home, packed the kids and the house, took a chance and moved to Jacksonville and, with what little bit they had, started a small homebuilding company and it grew from there,” Chris Dostie said.
Homebuilding became a family business as sons Richard, David and Rene worked with their father in various disciplines of residential development in the early to mid-1980s.
Eventually, all branched out on their own, Rene into land and lot development and David into civil contracting.
Collectively, they developed a few neighborhoods, from raw land to rooftops.
Richard Dostie stayed in home construction as his sons — Chris and older brother Rick — joined him in the business.
When Richard Dostie sold the company to Toll Brothers in 2003, Chris and Rick opted to start their own business.
Because of noncompete provisions, they individually built homes elsewhere until and through the Great Recession.
“We joined forces again coming out of the downturn and began building houses here when people were buying again,” said Dostie. Together, the brothers still operate Dostie Homes. “This is the 60th year with the Dostie name associated with homebuilding,” he said.
A big year
Dostie’s year as NEFBA president promises to be eventful.
In addition to working to secure the future of the 70-plus year organization through legacy membership and leadership, Dostie’s goals include continued strengthening of the Apprenticeship Program and further positioning its charitable arm, Builders Care, to provide more services to those in need.
He also will preside over the construction and opening of NEFBA’s new headquarters on Southpoint Parkway, a project with which he has been deeply involved.
“NEFBA is going to have an amazing year and I couldn't be more proud to serve as president during 2018,” Dostie said.
“We’re going to move into our new headquarters hopefully about mid-year and it's such a point of pride for us because for the first time we will have our own space that we built that was thought through by the NEFBA staff and key leadership to determine how could we really best serve the membership and the greater Northeast Florida area,” he said.
Dostie said moving into the Southpoint area is more relevant today.
“When the move was made to the Arlington area where our current location is, it made a lot of sense. That's where a lot of the development was at the time. The new location is so centrally located to our market and it will bring a lot of exposure to NEFBA from surrounding businesses,” he said.
The new headquarters also will allow NEFBA to house all its services under one roof.
Currently, the Apprenticeship Program is in different leased space. The auditorium area at the existing headquarters also is not adequate.
The Apprenticeship Program — which provides four years of training in trades paid for by employers while also providing the students with jobs and a paycheck — is a priority.
“The growth we have recently experienced there has been fantastic,” Dostie said.
“One of our challenges this year is to continue to position our Apprenticeship Program for the future to offer the very best education opportunity for kids coming out of high school or people who have been in industry and want to make a full career in one of these particular trades,” he said.
Dostie asks where else can someone get a four-year degree at at the same times to employed and working in the trade.
“How do we further position our program for really solid growth and give them the kind of space they need to really offer a top flight educational opportunity. I'm excited about that. It's going to be a central focus of our year.”
Also an advocacy group for the industry, 2018 represents an important year with gubernatorial, state and national legislative, and local elections.
“If there was one positive that came out of the collapse several years ago, the whole economy realized the value of the construction industry and the housing industry, especially with how many other industries that touches,” Dostie said.
“When the housing industry collapsed, the ripple effects it had on businesses that people probably had no idea would be impacted gave a new perspective,” he said.
Dostie days its “rare now when we sit down with a politician and they are anti-new construction and the housing industry.”
Builders who care
The four pillars of NEFBA are advocacy, apprenticeship, networking and charity. Dostie said the fourth pillar is enjoying its most sound financial footing, positioning Builders Care to better address need and raise its public profile to attract greater involvement outside the construction industry.
Providence Homes’ “Home for the Heart” provided more than $100,000 for Builders Care, and the organization also has qualified for grants.
“Builders Care now has solid, stable backing to pursue the kind of jobs they want to pursue,” Dostie said.
“We want to be fixing grandma's wheelchair ramp and we want to be repairing or putting a new roof on a veteran's house who can’t do it himself anymore. It was tough for a few years with our inability to raise any money and with what little bit we had coming in helping people out was such a challenge,” he said.
As the economy continued to rebound and grow, NEFBA has tried to be a good steward and position Builders Care to serve the community, he said.
“It doesn't have to be just builders and Realtors supporting it. It is an opportunity for public support as well,” he said.
Other issues facing the homebuilding industry, Dostie said, include supporting the toward development or redevelopment of infill tracts within the beltway, redevelopment of Downtown, working with elected officials regarding upward pressures on impact fees and large, new subdivisions west and north of the city.
And by the time his busy year as president of NEFBA is complete, he will also have marked 61 years of Dostie homebuilding.