Building Industry Association of Hawaii (BIA-Hawaii)
We educate, advocate, and grow – together
Business View Magazine interview Jessica Leorna, CEO of the Building Industry Association of Hawaii, for our focus on the Hawaiian Construction Sector
The Building Industry Association of Hawaii (BIA) is The VOICE of the Construction Industry. A not-for-profit trade organization chartered in 1955, the BIA continues to fulfill a long-standing commitment to promote members through advocacy and education, and provide community outreach programs to enhance the quality of life for the people of Hawaii. The association’s key objective is both strong and passionate: Together We Ensure Competitiveness and Growth of the Construction Industry in Hawaii.
Business View spoke with Jessica Leorna, CEO of BIA-Hawaii for her insights into the industry and the overarching value of the association to support its membership and keep their businesses thriving.
BVM: Can you share some history on BIA-Hawaii?
Leorna: “The Building Industry Association of Hawaii was chartered in 1955 as the Home Builders Association of Hawaii through the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) in Washington, DC. So we’ve been going for 67 years. It’s interesting that the Association was created before Hawaii was actually a state – it was still a territory with a very agricultural economy but there were visionaries in the construction industry who foresaw the imminence of statehood and the building and infrastructure boom that would follow. They recognized that there would be significant growth to come in the home building and construction sectors and that there would be some value in coming together as an association before that happened.
“In 1959, Hawaii became the 50th state in the Union, and then in 1979, the original organization expanded its reach and became the Building Industry Association of Hawaii. NAHB is our umbrella entity on the national level, and there are also state and local associations. BIA-Hawaii is a local association.
We currently have 317 member businesses that include developers, general contractors, specialty contractors, suppliers, and associate members such as realtors, designers, and architects.”
BVM: What is your current mandate?
Leorna: “We see ourselves as the voice of construction in Hawaii. Our motto is: Together we educate, advocate, and grow. Meaning we educate our member businesses and professionals through professional development, we do advocacy efforts, and we do a lot of networking opportunities and other growth measures that professionals in the industry can partake in.
“One huge project that is ongoing, but especially during the pandemic, we are heavily involved in advocacy efforts. Last year, we poured over 3,000 bills in legislative session which begins in January and runs through May. In reviewing those bills, we submitted more than 50 testimonies some that supported and some that opposed certain bills. And we have a win rate of 41 percent. That’s something we’re really proud of. Our Government Relations Committee (GRC) meets as a group on a weekly basis to go over bills and discuss how the bills may impact different sectors of the industry. We take those comments from our committee and we write testimonies to support or oppose something that’s coming up.
“At this time, we’re watching over 237 bills – of those 21 are high priority and since January this year, we’ve submitted nine testimonies. Our committee is very well informed and that’s a valuable service that we bring to our members. In its 2022 economic forecast, NAHB reports that the cost of housing is continuously increasing, nationally, but in Hawaii, a $1,000 home price increase would price out 200 families from qualifying for a mortgage. That’s very significant here. We’re in the middle of a housing crisis and we’re trying to figure out how many multi-family homes the economy can support. NAHB also reports that regulatory costs add almost $94,000 to the price of each new home on a national average, and we believe that’s higher in Hawaii. So it’s very concerning that we have a population that’s starting to leave Hawaii because of the high cost of living.”
BVM: How have you supported members during the pandemic?
Leorna: “We worked with several other affiliates to create an industry commitment to show that we were dedicated to uphold jobsite safety in the face of COVID – industry-wide. We had many members and associations sign this pledge that we submitted to our elected officials as an effort to show that the industry is united and we want to make sure we’re being safe during the pandemic and to keep our industry up and running.
“Construction in Hawaii was considered essential – that was a first for our association during any kind of economic crisis. We had to support a full membership base and continue providing services such as advocacy and education to our members but interestingly the BIA-Hawaii was not considered essential, so the association had its own internal issues; had to find some creative financing means and we were facing a pretty dire situation throughout the pandemic, where we had to scale back on our own staff, and weren’t able to hold in-person events, which are our traditional revenue sources.”
BVM: Where are you based and what are some services and events you provide?
Leorna: “We are based in a beautiful building that we own called the Construction & Training Center (CTC) in Waipahu on the island of Oahu. We have classroom space and a great workshop where we do different types of training. Through the pandemic, we’ve gone virtual with many of our offerings as well. We grew our education offerings by 67 percent over the last 18 months. That really helped with our financial situation and also with continuing service for the industry.
“Waipahu is in central Oahu but we support the entire island. We have general membership meetings and events in Honolulu and across island on the west side, so we can accommodate different members’ needs. We hold a wonderful event called the Building Industry Design & Construction Awards (BIDCA). Pre-COVID this has been a huge, fancy event with fun themes like a masquerade ball. We gather applications for our design awards through the year and judges from our membership present the awards at this gala. Our members love it and we’re able to incorporate other industry professionals, such as designers and architects, as well.”
BVM: How important is the education component?
Leorna: “Moving into 2022, supporting the industry with education is a huge focus. Mainly because there’s a shortage of skilled labor. We work closely with the city and county of Honolulu to provide course content for their ‘Youth Build’ program, which is pre-apprenticeship construction training (PACT) for students who might be interested in a career in the industry. We teach that program at our CTC facility with a lot of hands-on work, math skills, and management skills across the board for a construction business. It really promotes construction training as an option for students.
“We also have a Leading Young Professionals Council – they travel to schools to teach about what it’s like to be in the construction industry and what kind of jobs are out there. Going forward, we want to focus some of our education and advocacy efforts on encouraging and incentivizing women in the workforce.”
BVM: What items are high on the agenda for the next three to five years?
Leorna: “Over the next five years, we want to continue what we’re doing because it is really helping the industry. Fire sprinkler systems is an issue that keeps coming up in the legislature and we need to keep our advocacy focused on that. With regard to environmental regulation, we want to make sure that there is a good balance. Obviously, BIA-Hawaii supports environmental safety and conservation but there has to be a balance for the businesses that have to function in Hawaii.
“Having our first BIG Home Building & Remodeling Show in two years – April 29th to May 1st – is super exciting for us and for the entire industry. Just for our members to be on the trade show floor interacting with consumers is really important to the industry overall and the economy. It gives a lot of positive energy, to be able to see one another and talk face to face – it’s that “Aloha” that everybody misses so much right now.”
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AT A GLANCE
Building Industry Association of Hawaii (BIA-Hawaii)
What: Non-profit trade organization representing the construction industry in Hawaii
Where: Based in Waipahu on the island of Oahu