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Vegas building industry supports community in crisis

Longtime Las Vegas homebuilder Richard Plaster, CEO of Signature Homes, traveled to Singapore March 19. He is still there, riding out the global pandemic shutdown. Through text messages, he said he has been seeking medical supplies for Nevada.

“I, by chance, ran into a doctor who has extensive connections to Chinese supplies of medical equipment. I shared that information with some members of the COVID-19 task force in Las Vegas,” he said.

Plaster said when he arrived in Singapore there were few COVID-19 cases and no deaths. In a few days the numbers spiked to 1,500 cases and six deaths as of press time. Now, no Americans or Europeans are allowed to enter the country.

“Strange and disturbing times where ‘stay safe’ is the sign off,” he added.

Steve Menzies is the CEO of Las Vegas-based Focus Cos. and was appointed to the new Nevada COVID-19 Response, Relief and Recovery Task Force.

He said Plaster is helping the state seek medical supplies and equipment.

“The industry is coming together — subcontractors, general contractors, homebuilders. We are pulling together to help in this crisis. It speaks to the strength of our industry.”

It’s just one of the stories of homebuilders stepping up for Nevada.

Wayne Laska, owner of StoryBook Homes, and his wife, Catherine, personally donated $50,000 to the Nevada COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund. He pledged to match other donations made through the Southern Nevada Home Builders Association up to $50,000.

“This is when people’s true character comes out,” he said. “Step up and help your community.”

The SNHBA has been working to raise money for the Nevada COVID-19 Response, Relief and Recovery Task Force. SNHBA CEO Nat Hodgson hopes to raise more than $350,000 by the end of this week. His ultimate goal is $500,000.

“The homebuilders make their money through our great state and our great city. If there is a chance to give back, they do,” he said.

The new state task force is a public-private partnership overseen by Gov. Steve Sisolak. It will manage the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund. The governor appointed former MGM Resorts International CEO Jim Murren to head the task force.

The SNHBA is also partnering with other industry trade groups to gather trucks full of protective gear, such as masks and gloves, to give to hospitals.

Hodgson said the national trade group Leading Builders of America sent out a call for the industry across the nation to donate gear to health care providers. In Las Vegas, DR Horton’s local division stepped up to be the distribution point for national builders. No numbers for donated supplies were available as of press time.

He said in Las Vegas it’s been an industrywide effort with many trade organizations helping out.

Kelly Gaines, president of the Nevada Subcontractors Association, reported the group has collected 9,000 N95 masks and 745 pieces of eye protective wear for local health care workers.

Nevada Contractors Association CEO Sean Stewart said his group has committed to provide $50,000 worth of masks that will be given to Clark County to be distributed to front-line health care workers next week. Stewart said the group will continue to feed other donations, such as masks, paper towels and soap, from suppliers and vendors to the county.

“Our members and their companies account for approximately 100,000 jobs in Nevada. We’re grateful to be moving forward with critical projects throughout the state during this time, and it is our honor to give back to health care professionals who are working around the clock to end the spread of COVID-19 in Nevada,” he said.

Meanwhile, the trade organization is helping its members’ workers stay safe on the job by holding Safety Stand Down events at more than 150 construction job sites throughout the valley.

These events educate workers on precautionary measures, such as reinforcing Centers for Disease Control guidelines, social distancing, implementing fit-for-duty checks, disinfecting work areas and staggering work shifts to help fight the spread of COVID-19.

He said his group received 20,000 bottles of hand sanitizer Wednesday and will start distributing those to workers on construction job sites later this week.

“Our Safety Stand Down was a huge success with over 150 contractors participating. Other parts of the country are doing similar Stand Downs this week. We like to believe it was because of our example,” he said.

As the pandemic ranges on, many in the homebuilding industry are pondering its economic fallout. Overall, Las Vegas homebuilders appear to be a positive lot.

They acknowledge the valley will suffer dramatic economic losses, but many agree it will be short-lived and the city will soon be back in business.

StoryBook’s Laska was a former SNHBA president. He said it will hurt but won’t last long.

“It will be pretty serious,” he said. “Shorter (than the last downturn) but more serious.”

He said it will take time for Vegas to get back on its feet after the Strip shutdown.

“People will have to get comfortable coming back to Las Vegas. But Las Vegas will come back like nobody’s business,” he said. “I am so bullish on Las Vegas. I think we will be in good shape by May.”

Menzies, who is also a member of the SNHBA, agreed.

“This is is a different crisis (than the Great Recession),” he said. “Our economy was on such good footing (before this happened). When we turn this back around, we will be in good shape. That is what I am hoping.”

Stewart, of the Nevada Contractors Association, said the state will bounce back.

“Nevada has seen its share of economic hardships and has always come back stronger than before. We look forward to rebounding from this time in our country’s history as a smarter and stronger industry.”

SNHBA’s Hodgson predicts the city will be recovered from this economic downturn by next summer.

“”I do feel that we will experience a short-term pain, but eventual bounce back from the effects of pandemic. In my opinion, how we are seeing things at this time, I would say 12 months from June is likely to see a recovery. I don’t feel that this is a direct comparison to, for example, the 2008 downturn. It feels completely different in that this is a virus-related hurdle that will pass much sooner, and we are all looking forward to being well, and getting back to normal. All being said, homebuilders are resilient, we have faced hardship before, and with the support of all those involved, we will overcome the effects of this pandemic, much like we’ve overcome obstacles in the past.”

Frank Wyatt, president of Pinnacle Homes, has spent much of his life in the valley. He founded his boutique homebuilding company in 1992. He has nine employees, including himself and his son, Andy.

“We went through the real estate crash like everyone else. We got our noses chopped off like everyone else,” he said. “This is a different kind of financial stress we are going through. I feel like we are going to come out of this quicker than before.”

Wyatt said how and when the Strip opens will be key to the state’s recovery.

The giant gaming companies have long been Las Vegas’ economic engine that keeps its local economy humming and provides tax revenue and jobs. That engine has now stalled.

Still, Wyatt and other builders are positive on the future.

“If everybody does their part, we are going to be in fine shape,” he said.

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