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Association Bisnow
   
March 18, 2008
 
       
 

The Super-Sized Conference


 

You know you’ve got a big conference when only three cities in the U.S.—Orlando, Las Vegas, and Chicago—have enough hotel rooms and floor space to hold it. The National Association of Home Builders took its colossal act to Florida this year, and as usual drew nearly 100,000 for the week-long festivities. Just-returned CEO Jerry Howard was “completely exhausted” when we stopped by, but he soldiered through our interview nonetheless.

 
 

This unique decor was a gift from the North Carolina HBA, one of 52 state-level and 700 local associations that comprise the NAHB. (Note to astute readers: D.C. and Puerto Rico are counted as states.)  All together, the association represents 235,000 corporate members that build 80% of the homes in the U.S., plus associated members like Kohler, Whirlpool, and Black & Decker. Running the logistics of the annual convention—which includes a member meeting, Board meeting, nearly 200 seminars, and the International Builders’ Show—requires a full time staff of 35.

 

Check with Jerry before you make your NCAA picks: he got this football for his accurate football predictions in an online poll.  For entertainment purposes only, mind you. 

 

This year’s twist at the IBS, where vendors specialize in everything from log homes to senior housing, was a day devoted to green building. The overall convention accounts for a third of NAHB’s $120 million budget, which was less of a surprise after Jerry told us they sell advertising on virtually any space they can find . . . including the Segways staff use to get around the trade show. “We’re just like NASCAR,” he says.

 
 

NAHB visitors took up 50,000 hotel rooms in Orlando, with Jerry and other staff camped out at the Rosen Shingle Creek Hotel. His 18-hour days began at 4:30 with a trip to the gym before early meetings. They kept going through nighttime events like the “Spike party” for VIPs, for which NAHB turned Universal Studio’s CityWalk into the Las Vegas strip, with music by Rod Stewart and Tom Jones impersonators plus the real B-52s. Jerry seemed to have weathered the week pretty well, so we asked him his secret:  “I gave up alcohol for Lent,” he said.

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