Members of the door, moulding and millwork industries are in Reno, Nev., this week for World Millwork Alliance’s (WMA) Annual Convention and Tradeshow, where over the course of a three-day event the association and its speakers look to send a clear message: their industry is no gamble.

Instead, members must learn to play their hands amid general labor shortages and an “uncertain economy,” session topics suggested. That sentiment echoed in the areas surrounding the show’s entrance and with no lack of enthusiasm, as attendees gathered as much as two hours ahead of the opening session.

Amid conversations that centered on topics like jambs, composite materials and regional requirements, “We might go through all of one month with very few orders, but then all of the sudden, the next month goes crazy,” one attendee remarked. “If we just had some indicator—even just an email to let us know what’s coming.”

The industry expresses faith in the future at WMA convention this year.

Ahead of the annual convention, show officials weren’t shy about pointing to the industry’s leading challenges, including “an unprecedented shortage for skilled labor,” said WMA’s CEO Rosalie Leone.

But through the energy of 100 exhibitors and sessions that deal with those topics head-on, WMA is leaving no excuses on the table for its members, who have shown plenty of optimism. In the event’s first day, “We had so many people, we had to open the divider walls,” Leone said.

“I was privileged to grow up working in a lumber yard,” said outgoing chairperson Dennis Berry, of The Empire Company, recalling the event’s theme: remembering the past, while embracing the future. “Those years launched me into a full-time career that’s spanned 40 years,” Berry added. “There are a number of you in this room who can tell a similar story. Sawdust runs through your veins,” he said, after which he urged the need for younger, incoming talent.

“What other industry offers more security and longevity than housing?” Berry asked, rhetorically. “We have good reason to be optimistic.”

There are indications that younger Americans are “taking to” homeownership, he said. With that, “You can’t live in a virtual house, with virtual doors and virtual windows,” he suggested. “There’s a real need for housing and that’s never going to change.”

In order to overcome issues of affordability and labor shortages to meet those demands, the housing industry will need to approach things differently.

“I believe that it’s in our ability to adapt. It comes with great success and higher expectations, but also in our struggles,” remarked the event’s keynote speaker, Jim Abbott.

In a session titled “ADAPT: Overcome Adversity,” Abbott explained how he overcame the challenges of being born with one hand, in order to become a Major League Baseball pitcher and Olympian, drawing analogies to industry.

“If you were able to see a career baseball card for me,” there were some struggling years, Abbott said—including one year in which he lost 18 games, he added. “When we turn that card over, what do we make of those years? How do we continue to get better and move forward?”

Through analogies, Abbott called on WMA members to adapt to changing needs, in order to have continued success. The story of his life hinges on the ability to change directions and to do things in alternative ways, he suggested, demonstrating how he learned to pitch and catch by adding and dropping his glove in an instant. The event looks for the spirit of Abbott’s session to carry over to activities on the trade show floor, which opened immediately thereafter.

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