Greater Houston Builders Association Advocates for its Professional Membership
CEO Casey Morgan Brings Her Government Affairs Experience To Her Leadership Role
By Mara Soloway
Even when the national economy is slow, the Houston area economy generally stays robust. Housing is one indicator that reflects how good the economy is. According to the Greater Houston Builders Association (GHBA) website (ghba.org), home sales in Houston set a record for the first half of 2016, with more than 36,000 sales. The economic state that can bring about this 2.7 percent increase over the first half of 2015 is good news for area residents, and also for members of the GHBA, which is a trade association for a consortium of top homebuilding professionals: builders, residential developers, remodelers, and associate and affiliate members.
The GHBA considers itself the voice of Houston’s residential construction and remodeling industry. Its efforts in government affairs advocacy and member education are meant to enhance the business climate for more than 1,700 member companies across 11 counties in the region and to provide quality obtainable housing to the community.
Its executive vice president and CEO is Casey Morgan, who took the helm in February 2016. The 33-year-old is a confident problem solver with a career in public policy. She took the position when Kathryn Ann “Toy” Wood, who had been with the GHBA since 1997, retired. Wood hired Morgan in 2012 as GHBA’s director of government affairs. “Toy was a great mentor. She was great about seeing the big picture and built a really solid organization,” she said.
Morgan also credits the GHBA’s staff and membership for making it one of the most successful home builder associations in the country. “We’ve got some very active members who contribute so much personal time to its overall success. We wouldn’t be able to take on the large events that we do or have the resources we have at the GHBA without their contribution,” she said. A number of the staff have been with the organization for more than 10 years.
Morgan earned her bachelor of arts degree in journalism and political science in 2005 from Baylor University. Upon graduation, she moved to Washington, D.C., where she worked as a staff assistant to Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson. Shortly after, she moved to the White House in the Office of Legislative Affairs for President George W. Bush. In 2007, Morgan transitioned to the U.S. Department of Transportation working as a policy assistant to Secretary Mary Peters, and also began working on a master’s degree in public policy from George Mason University, which she earned in 2011.
By the time she arrived at the GHBA in 2012, Morgan already had honed her skills in assessing the often technical issues that are a major part of government affairs, which she feels is the most important part of the GHBA’s overall mission. “I have learned throughout my career to prioritize and determine what is urgent and what needs to be addressed,” she said. “I’ve had the responsibility of taking an issue or a report, understanding what’s most important, and quickly and concisely communicating that to a lawmaker.”
The GHBA’s government advocacy involves several of its councils working with those in power, including a developers council that reviews proposed policies from Harris County, Harris County Flood control district and others; a remodelers council; a custom builders council; a Bay Area builders division; and a Montgomery County builders and developers division. Its volume builders committee is made up of large builders with city-, state- and nationwide operations. The volume builders committee is currently working with the Montgomery County sheriff, Harris County deputies and Houston Police Department officers in order to address job site theft, including theft of metal and AC units.
The GHBA monitors regulations at the federal, state and local levels. Locally, it works with mayors, city council members and county commissioners, among others. Morgan feels GHBA has a good relationship with the City of Houston and with Harris and neighboring counties. GHBA’s government affairs committee meets quarterly with the City of Houston planning director and its current chief interim building official. “That gives us a great opportunity for good discussion and to learn what they are doing to improve services, or to discuss new code and ordinance changes,” she said. “It also gives our builders a chance to share problems they’re seeing in the field with inspections or with plan reviews and plan submittals. That’s something we started recently that has yielded positive results.”
Other issues that face the home builder market are stringent regulations and code changes. “Whether it is environmental regulations or energy code changes, what’s really important for the homebuilding industry is to always have a seat at the table, so that we can participate in the discussion and have appropriate notice of upcoming changes, allowing builders to adapt their business plans,” Morgan said. Another issue for builders is to ensure that there are adequate funds for infrastructure.
The GHBA also provides legislators information about labor shortages its members are facing. It is a priority for the GHBA to participate in construction-related workforce development. The GHBA has recently partnered with Jones Academy, a Houston high school with an emphasis in construction. The academy is a student chapter of GHBA’s national association, so the partnership was already established. The GHBA will be working with groups of students by providing in-class seminars, and job shadowing opportunities. Once a month, in the fall, a group of students will also come to the GHBA and attend one of its ABCs of Building classes.
“This is very new to us, and I’m treating it as a pilot program, but if we’re successful this fall and spring, I’d like to take what we do with Jones Academy and work with other local schools that have an interest in residential construction in order to give students hands-on classroom experience working with builders. I’d like GHBA to grow into becoming a leader in these types of educational opportunities,” Morgan said.
“A lot of our members are interested in participating in educational opportunities because there are good jobs in the homebuilding industry, and we want to be a part of providing those opportunities to anyone who wants to participate in the industry.”
Morgan encourages industry professionals to consider joining the GHBA in order to receive the many benefits of membership. “You’re immediately a part of a larger group that serves as your insurance policy by defending your business from onerous governmental regulations and communicating industry concerns to lawmakers. As a coalition, we can strategically approach legislators and educate them on the position of builders.”
GHBA also offers educational resources. “The continuing educational resources are very significant. Our ABCs of Building series is very popular. The classes are applicable if you’re a beginner or a seasoned professional.” Classes cover a wide range of topics including the most up-to-date curriculum on air conditioning, plumbing or framing.
Morgan sees the GHBA continuing its efforts to be a very relevant resource as its members adapt to market changes. “So far, 2016 has been a great year for the GHBA.” Personally, the organization has been very good to her. “This was my first job returning to Texas. Toy took a chance on me given that I was not from Houston, and the staff and the membership welcomed me with open arms and really gave me a chance to dive into home builder issues, and to get to know the GHBA membership and our elected officials.”