I just returned from a four-day trip to the Greater Portland region and came across a number of issues and opportunities that may be of interest to the BC Wood membership. Like the rest of the West Coast, Portland suffered a serious setback and downturn during the financial crisis of 2008. Residential housing and real estate prices saw a decline of up to 25% from their peak in 2007. As a result, residential and light commercial building projects in the greater metropolitan region came to a near standstill. Today, there are significantly less registered builders and developers than just a few years ago. Those who are still standing have been forced to restructure or align with other builders in order to stay afloat. The same conditions have also hit building products distributors and lumber wholesalers in the region. Key players such as Parr Lumber, Orepac, Lumberman’s (now Probuild) on the distribution side and American International Forest Products on the wholesale side have been forced into staff restructuring and operational changes in order to stay competitive.
On the positive side, the common consensus from my meetings suggested that the worst is behind them and that the market should experience a slight recovery this year. In fact, one distributor I spoke with commented that sales for February, 2010 were up 62% from the same period last year. Builders in the region are targeting the “Eco House” by focusing on the design and building of high quality energy efficient and sustainable housing. The features of these homes include a smaller foot print (2500 sq ft or less), good energy efficiency and abundant use of sustainable building materials. This is a trend that I have noticed throughout the West Coast of the United States and one that I believe is here to stay. BC manufacturers will need to promote the sustainable nature of their products or risk losing market share to offshore suppliers. An example of this is Bamboo flooring and cabinetry from China when compared to Pacific Northwest harvested and manufactured Red Alder millwork products. When I asked builders which product they considered more sustainable the answer was always Bamboo even though it’s treated with formaldehyde, held together by resin and travels over 10,000 km to reach the Western United States. Work needs to be done to promote the sustainable nature of BC building products and their many attributes.
A potential opportunity to influence the builder and consumer market in Portland is available through the Greater Portland Home Builders Association and their “Street of Dreams” project this summer. They will be building 5 energy efficient green homes and will showcase these homes to over 55,000 attendees August 1st thru Sept 1st 2010. Manufacturers interested in supplying product to these homes should contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for further information on how to get involved.