The B&D Interview: Jonathan Paine, President & CEO, National Lumber & Building Material Dealers Association

Builder and Developer: Tell me about the National Lumber & Building Material Dealers Association (NLBMDA.)  When and why was it established?

Jonathan Paine: Founded in 1917, NLBMDA is the recognized national voice of lumber and building material dealers in the United States. Our organization represents lumber dealers before Congress and federal agencies on policies that impact the industry on issues ranging from legislative changes to the tax code, to supply chain challenges, to federal workplace regulations. 

NLBMDA has spent decades building relationships with policymakers and federal agencies. Those relationships have yielded successes in recent years that we are very proud of.  

B&D: What are some important policies the NLBMDA has been a part of that you are particularly proud of?

JP: NLBMDA’s recent victories include lobbying against harmful tax increases proposed for the industry in 2020, being recognized on the Senate floor as the lead industry organization with concerns about OSHA’s vaccine mandate, successfully lobbied for small business relief funds to respond to COVID-19, and provided our members with routine federal regulatory guidance to assist them with complying with regulations. Below is a summary of some of our successes that have lasted a couple of years. 

NLBMDA Publicly Recognized by Senate and House Lawmakers on Vaccine Mandate Concerns

Successfully Lobbied the Department of Homeland to classify lumber dealers as Essential so their doors weren’t forced to close during the peak of the pandemic like so many industries

Successfully Lobbied the House of Representatives to remove what would have been crushing tax increases on you and your business in the Build Back Better Act.

Successfully Lobbied OSHA to omit remote workers and those working exclusively outdoors from the Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) Vaccine Mandate.

Successfully Lobbied Congress for $350 billion in small business relief programs, including the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

NLBMDA was the only stakeholder invited to represent the independent lumber dealer industry at a White House Supply Chain Summit. 

B&D: What are some things NLBMDA looking to accomplish this year?

JP: NLBMDA is working this year to ensure Congress does not move forward with some of the harmful tax and labor legislative proposals that came up last year and we will be working on the regulatory side to address lumber price volatility. The supply chain issues that our dealers are facing are due to a range of factors and we are continuing our work in 2022 to mitigate the effects on our members through our relationships with Congress and the White House. 

Related to these issues are ongoing shortages in affordable housing in the U.S.  This has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and NLBMDA has been supporting the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act as one way to address this crisis. 

In addition, workforce availability, both for our members directly and for residential construction, remains an ongoing issue.  We were pleased to see Congress take some steps last year to address this through the NLBMDA-backed bipartisan infrastructure bill and we will continue that priority for 2022.

B&D: Talk about why lumber prices soared recently. What can we expect in the near future? How has this affected homebuilders?

JP: Price volatility is something that NLBMDA has been watching closely and dealers across the country have been giving us information on the impact they’re seeing.  There are a range of factors that have contributed to this and we are routinely looking at solutions.

We will leave the detailed forecasting to the economists but we do expect some additional volatility in pricing, especially in the spring. There’s an intersection of high demand for housing with constraints on the supply chain due to environmental factors and COVID-19.  This has certainly affected housing starts.  

B&D: Can you talk to us about any supply chain shortages we see happening in the industry?

JP: The supply chain has impacted many different products that our members sell and lead times have been significantly impacted. For example, windows remain a challenge to get to builders on time.  

In response to the volatility in lumber and other materials, NLBMDA was the sole representative of the LBM industry at the White House Supply Chain Summit in 2021 where we were able to give the perspective of dealers across the U.S. to the Department of Commerce and White House.  We also have direct contacts to senior staff at Commerce and have spoken with them directly about these issues.  

B&D: A report from the National Association of Home Builders showed that staggering lumber prices have added $20,000 to an average home price. Is there a plan in place to stabilize prices?

JP: Over the last several months, NLBMDA has been pressing the Biden administration and Congress to prioritize issues such as supply chain disruptions and labor shortages which are contributing to the volatility of lumber prices and other building materials. While there is not a single legislative or regulatory action that will solve all of these problems, NLBMDA supports free-market solutions to help stabilize prices and improve the affordability of housing. 

First, NLBMDA believes the Administration should return to the negotiating table with Canada and pursue a permanent trade agreement on softwood lumber. A new agreement that eliminates tariffs would help bring long-term stability to the supply and pricing of softwood lumber. The Administration should look to eliminate any unnecessary rules, regulations and mandates that are causing bottlenecks along the supply chain and impacting the availability of labor. 

NLBMDA also has urged Congress and the Administration to prioritize policies that will boost workforce development and help alleviate labor shortages in the lumber and building material industry and its supply chain. This includes expanding vocational training, apprenticeships and work-based learning.

B&D: How has COVID-19 impacted the functions of this industry? 

JP: The pandemic certainly changed the way so many of us work and live.  One of the first things NLBMDA did when the pandemic broke out was ensure LBM dealers were recognized as critical essential infrastructure to allow our members to remain open.  We lobbied the Department of Homeland Security who published guidance for states on those critical businesses and we were successful in getting LBM dealers recognized. We were proud of that work as it allowed our members to keep their doors open.

While demand for building materials has surged during the last couple years, those supply chain issues remain a concern moving forward. We will be continuing our focus on addressing those and keep LBM dealers thriving.