The WDMA’s Kevin McKenney went over a variety of issues boiling in Washington.

While politics remain a faux pas in some social and business circles, such was not the case at the Window and Door Manufacturers Association’s (WDMA) winter conference. And with numerous government-related issues hanging over the door and window industries, there was plenty to talk about.

Amid a brief set of opening remarks, WDMA CEO and president, Michael O’Brien, launched directly into the subject, explaining that, “While Washington continues to be dysfunctional, ever so more in recent years,” the association, he said, has managed to make considerable inroads, even amid a shutdown. WDMA’s director of government affairs, Kevin McKenney, stretched those remarks into an opening session on the 2019 legislative and regulatory landscapes—including a triage of issues currently boiling in Washington. Among those impacting door and window companies, he said, are a now defunct North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), tariffs on steel and aluminum, and important federal regulations.

“As you know, the government has reopened,” McKenney said, but for how long, no one knows, he added. In the meantime, McKenney explained, WDMA continues to prod government officials over issues affecting the current business climate. On a positive note, he said, the association expects further deregulations in 2019 to bring more favorable conditions for U.S.-based businesses. That boon, many hope will help to offset tariffs for steel and aluminum products, which continue to affect the industry. And while officials for WDMA are quick to admit that the future of such tariffs is uncertain, “We’re very proud of the fact that we spoke to U.S. trade representatives, to inform them of which items would impact our members,” McKenney added. The association, he said, is currently pressing for the reversal of approximately 30 tariffed items affecting door and window companies. Short of their removal, officials are urging for a system that allows member companies to appeal for individual exclusions.

As door and window manufacturers face tariffs and other issues, like labor shortages, they’re also forced to confront a housing market that these days lays relatively flat, said Danushka Skillington, assistant vice president of forecasting and analysis for the National Association of Home Builders. While the largest number of potential buyers has just reached prime age for home purchases—including more than 83 million Millennials—housing affordability and a lack of obtainable mortgages maintain gaps between those buyers and new home inventory.

“Student loans are crowding out mortgages,” Skillington suggested, along with debts surrounding auto loans and credit cards, all of which remain in a steep incline. As a result, regulations should be set in place to work with Millennials, in order to help solve those issues, she suggested. In the meantime, “This is the new normal,” she said. “Get used to it, because they may continue living in your basements.” So far as what’s keeping them out of the home buying market, “Price growth isn’t followed by wage growth,” she suggested.

Among those who are purchasing homes, the rate of owner-occupied housing has increased in recent years, Skillington said, after making a steady decline since 2004, when it peaked at around 70 percent. At the same time, “Results indicate that ownership rates follow areas of affordability,” she suggested, which is impacted by labor shortages. “Right now there are roughly 3,000 job openings in construction,” she said. “Younger people aren’t interested in working in construction trades.”

In an alternate take, “I may have a bit of a contrarian view of what the news tells you,” said Brad Farnsworth, president of market research firm The Farnsworth Group. As his firm looks at the data, “It looks pretty good to us,” he added. Unemployment levels are at all-time lows, while household income growth has begun to outpace inflation. “These things make people feel good,” he assured. And while interest rates, his firm expects, will rise by between 0.5 and 0.75 percent, historically speaking, mortgage rates will remain low. For this reason, market conditions, he said, are relative.

Regarding negative cues, “I’m afraid that we’re going to spend so much time talking about them, that they’re going to happen,” Farnsworth added. “How’s your business?” he asked attendees. “Good,” several replied. “Alright then,” he concluded, urging WDMA members to focus on immediate realities going forward.

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