“It’s sort of like Comic-Con for the home-building industry,” said Borre Winckel, president and CEO of the Building Industry Association of San Diego County.
He was referring to the Pacific Coast Builders Conference, California’s largest and among the nation’s biggest regional homebuilding industry tradeshows, expected to bring more than 10,000 participants to the San Diego Convention Center June 5-6.
Better known within the industry as PCBC, the event is making its first appearance in San Diego, after being held exclusively in San Francisco for the past 53 years. The gathering primarily targets 14 Western states but typically draws an international crowd of homebuilders and related contractors, developers, lenders and supply firms.
The PCBC is presented by the Sacramento-based California Building Industry Association. Organizers said that depending on how this year’s event goes, San Diego could be placed on a permanent rotation to host the gathering, alternating with San Francisco’s Moscone Center.
Foundation for Improvement
The gathering arrives as building industry conditions in San Diego County and elsewhere in Southern California are now steadily improving, following a long and steep downturn.
“The industry has been asleep for the past six years,” said Bill Davidson, president and CEO of Del Mar-based home builder Davidson Communities, who is co-chairing the 2013 PCBC with his wife, Dawn.
“This event this year will basically have a coming-out party type of atmosphere,” said Bill Davidson, who has attended several PCBC gatherings. “We are just ready to get back to work.”
Since its 1959 debut, the conference has been seen as a key gathering for project networking, meeting with national bankers and other housing financers, and staying ahead of the curve on major U.S. housing trends that most often have started in California.
“Especially in the early days, this was always the place where we got the first look at the next generation of things that hadn’t gone on the market yet — all the latest designs and fixtures and appliances,” Davidson said. “Now with computers, the consumers see almost everything when we do.”
Linda Baysari, a California Building Industry Association senior vice president who heads PCBC planning, said the event regularly draws the largest national and regional homebuilders from throughout the U.S. In recent years, there have also been design and development contingents from countries such as China, Japan, Australia, Canada and Mexico.
“The overall attendance at the conference has always tracked the state of the industry, almost step-by-step,” Baysari said, noting that attendance peaked at 33,000 in 2007.
She said key trends to be discussed this year will include land-use strategies, at a time of shrinking land availability for certain types of projects; rising mergers and acquisitions among contracting firms; and how the industry will navigate its recovery from a labor standpoint, after several years that saw many industry professionals leave the business because of a lack of work.
“The building market was down for so long, that there is now a scramble to get the contractors needed for some projects,” Baysari said.
Marco Sessa, senior vice president of San Diego-based Sudberry Properties, master-developer of the mixed-use Civita in Mission Valley, said sustainability will likely be examined at the conference, as more stringent energy-use standards for projects are set to take effect starting next year in California.
Under laws enacted over the past five years, California is aiming for net zero energy usage for new developments by 2020. State and federal guidelines have also called for water conservation measures in housing developments, including more effective retention and recycling of sprinkler and storm runoff.
“I’m sure there’s going to be discussion about how the builders can incorporate these new regulations into their projects, and also get the most value from these changes,” said Sessa, who has attended several PCBC events.
The Local Picture
According to McGraw Hill Construction, San Diego County’s contracts for future residential construction, including apartment and single-family projects, were up 19 percent from a year ago for the first four months of 2013, with a value of more than $427 million.
In contrast, nonresidential projects were down 37 percent from a year ago, though the total value of projects in that category still reached nearly $680 million.
Winckel said much of the current residential activity consists of apartment projects, but single-family builders are doing much better than two years ago. The stage has been set for a larger recovery, but the industry must still navigate issues including rising labor and material costs, a still tight financing environment for homebuyers, and the possibility that communities will be tempted to raise builder impact fees as the housing climate brightens.
“The good news is that things are improving in terms of the volume of construction,” Winckel said. “The bad news is that it’s going to have to stay slow and steady if it’s going to be sustainable.”