This is a year of stabilization in the Northeast Florida building industry, according to Chris Wood, the 2023 Northeast Florida Builders Association president.
He sees a year where the industry becomes more accustomed to the challenges of inflation and higher interest rates.
Wood and business partner Matt Roberts started Riverside Homes 10 years ago. They build homes from Fernandina Beach to St. Augustine and have 45 employees.
They are active in the Nocatee, SilverLeaf and Wildlight master-planned communities as well as smaller subdivisions with fewer than 50 homes.
“Everyone would love to have the pandemic (sales) numbers. But what was happening wasn’t sustainable for our land, for our trades and quite frankly for the consumers as well,” Wood said.
Wood, 35, and his wife, Chloe, have three sons ages 9, 7 and 5.
Serving as NEFBA president will take time from his business and family, but he believes it will be well-spent.
“First, we sat down as a family and I explained this was something I wanted to do. My wife knows that I am passionate about NEFBA and what we do here and she was very supportive,” Wood said.
Roberts also agreed to pick up the slack at work when necessary, Wood added.
Wood and Roberts joined NEFBA when they started Riverside Homes. Wood soon attended committee meetings and began volunteering.
“We started off on the periphery, right. We really didn’t know what NEFBA did. We knew it was something we needed to be part of because it represents our industry. The more I got involved, it just got a hold on me,” he said.
Wood is particularly proud of the work NEFBA and other building organizations did to include the construction industry in the essential workforce during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Obviously, we have 45 families that rely on a paycheck and there are probably another 1,000 that work on our houses from start to finish,” he said.
Wood grew up in the construction business. His father, Rick Wood, owns Wood Development Co. of Jacksonville.
As a teen, Chris Wood spent summers working with his father and gained an appreciation for the business.
“The satisfaction comes from being able to drive through a neighborhood and see the results of your work. You’ve got a family that is living in it. That is very rewarding,” Wood said.
Woods earned a business degree at Auburn University, but knew he wanted to use his education in the construction industry.
And he does know how to use a hammer.
“Believe it or not, I can hold my own,” he said. “But that is not how my brain works.”
During his term as president, Wood wants to stress advocacy, serving the membership and concentrating on the NEFBA Apprenticeship Program.
He wants NEFBA to continue to have a voice in government regulations on the national, state and local levels.
Last year, NEFBA saw membership grow by about 150 builder and associate members to reach 1,185, with an 84% retention rate.
“That’s fantastic, but it will be hard to replicate year over year. It just doesn’t normally happen. One of the things we are striving for this year is member retention,” Wood said.
NEFBA’s apprenticeship program provides job skills that are no longer stressed in most high schools, he said.
Wood said 417 young people participated in the program of classroom and on-the-job training. Many who complete the program are hired by the companies where they apprenticed.
“College is great. But if you know you don’t want to go to college or can’t afford to go, here’s an avenue to be successful. There are multiple business owners that I know today that have come from our apprentice program,” he said.
With the pressures of higher interest rates and inflation, Wood has seen interest in homebuying return to pre-pandemic levels. One measure is open house attendance.
Before the pandemic hit, his show houses had 80 to 110 weekend visitors. During the pandemic, interest exploded with as many as 400 visitors in a weekend.
Building will continue to thrive as the area population grows and prices remain competitive with other parts of the state, he said.
“Compared to South Florida and Central Florida, we are so much more affordable. And we have the available land and resources here to support that growth,” he said.
“I’m bullish. I don’t think we are going to have pandemic level numbers of sales, starts and permits but it will be normalized to 2018-2019 type numbers.”