Building his role: Businessman faces different task in leading state group

Rob Griffin operates a Grand Junction business that designs and builds custom homes. It’s a perspective he brings to another role as chairman of the Colorado Association of Home Builders executive committee. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle
Rob Griffin operates a Grand Junction business that designs and builds custom homes. It’s a perspective he brings to another role as chairman of the Colorado Association of Home Builders executive committee. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle

Rob Griffin has been a builder most of his life. Through various jobs and his own ventures, Griffin has been involved with everything from apartment complexes to custom homes and even massive aquarium displays.

The Grand Junction businessman takes on a far different task, though, as chairman of the Colorado Association of Home Builders executive committee: building unity in an advocacy organization that represents members from diverse areas with disparate interests, not to mention the varied economic conditions under which they work.

Communicating a value proposition is key, Griffin says. “We have to communicate to everyone what we’re doing as an association and what we’re doing to help our members.”

Griffin serves a one-year term as chairman after a succession of three other positions on the CAHB executive committee: first vice chairman, treasurer and secretary. In addition, he has twice served as president of the Housing and Building Association of Northwestern Colorado based in Grand Junction, one of 11 HBAs in the state association.

Griffin also brings to his position his perspective as a home builder himself and more than 30 years of experience in the construction industry.

 As president and chief executive officer of Griffin Concepts, Griffin runs a family operated contracting firm he founded with his wife, Martha, in 2003 to design and build custom homes.

Griffin has lived in the Grand Valley since 1990 and worked in the construction industry since 1980, when he graduated from the University of New Mexico with a degree in civil engineering.

He says his career has been a natural extension of his ability to build things, his preference to work outdoors and the satisfaction of seeing progress at the end of a day of work.

Griffin’s first position out of college was field engineer for a Texas-based company building housing projects in the western United States, a job that had him moving from project to project about every eight months.

Griffin returned to New Mexico to work as a divisional construction manager for what was at the time the largest residential builder in the United States. But after the savings and loan crisis cut off financing for apartment complexes, the company closed its office in New Mexico.

Griffin said he had an opportunity to work in Houston, but at the last minute took a job instead with Alpine Construction Management to build a subdivision in Grand Junction.

His career — and life — changed again about five years later when Griffin accepted a position with International Concepts Management, a Grand Junction company that designs and installs aquariums, water features and other attractions. ICM is a sister company of Reynolds Polymer Technology, the Grand Junction company that manufactures the massive clear acrylic panels used in aquariums, swimming pools, zoos and architectural features.

Among the projects with which Griffin was involved was the AquaDom installed in a Berlin hotel complex. At more than 50 feet tall and 36 feet in diameter, the  cylindrical aquarium is the largest of its kind in the world. An elevator running through the center of the aquarium affords a view of more than 2,000 fish along with coral and rock formations.

Griffin says he initially enjoyed the international travel involved in managing projects around the world. But he eventually wanted to spend more time at home and decided to launch a custom home design and construction business.

Griffin says he enjoys designing and building houses to meet his customers’ needs and fit their lifestyles. That usually involves solving an equation with three variables: cost, size and the quality of various finishes.

Griffin says his homes typically fill a niche in the middle of the market with prices between $250,000 and $750,000.

Given what was at the time rapid growth promoted by natural gas development in the region, the timing to start a custom home business couldn’t have been better, he says. “I kind of hit it at a good time. Housing was going crazy.”

During his busiest year, Griffin Concepts built 35 homes.

Within a few years, though, slowing in regional energy development and the economy brought new home construction in Mesa County to a near halt. Builders and developers were forced to quickly adapt, move or go out of business, Griffin says.

Residential construction since has picked up a bit, with 444 single family building permits issued in Mesa County during 2013, up almost 12 percent from the year before. Foreclosure activity has decreased along with the inventory of bank-owned properties. That bodes well for recovery, Griffin says.

Overall, though, the slow pace of the market remains “frustrating” for many home builders, Griffin among them.

While Griffin continues to build homes in the Grand Valley, he’s also building homes in a subdivision in Fort Lupton.

In a reversal of fortunes, energy development along the Front Range of Colorado has helped create far more robust economic conditions there, he says. The difference? “They have jobs over there.”

Griffin holds out hope for the Grand Valley, though, in the growing health care industry as well as the growing campus at Colorado Mesa University. The boom and bust cycles of energy development repeatedly demonstrate the importance of a more diverse economy, he says.

Moreover, good builders continue to build good homes, Griffin says. And with land prices and interest rates down, new homes are actually more affordable. “Now is a really good time to build.”

Nonetheless, the stark contrast in economic and market conditions between the Front Range and Western Slope constitutes one of the differences with which Griffin must cope as chairman of the CAHB executive board.

The interests and concerns of home builders in Denver and Colorado Springs, who constitute about two-thirds of membership in the CAHB, are different from builders in Grand Junction and Durango. But the association  represents all of them, Griffin says. “We’re here for the entire state, not just the I-25 corridor.”

In addition to providing educational opportunities and insurance, the association lobbies on behalf of members at the Colorado Legislature for and against state laws and regulations that affect the home construction industry.

One priority remains addressing construction defect laws and litigation that make Colorado one of the worst states in which to build condominiums and townhouses because of higher liability insurance premiums, Griffin says. Home builders could have an ally in other organizations promoting housing in urban areas that’s more dense and affordable, he adds.

An executive board with geographically diverse membership helps to better represent home builders across the state. But Griffin considers one of his duties as chairman of that board to “keep the federation together.”

To that end, Griffin says it’s important that builders know what their association is doing and how those activities benefit them and their businesses.

Griffin has spent mos of his life building things: apartments, houses and aquariums. On occasion, he still swings a hammer. But for the next year, Griffin also hopes to build unity in the state association he leads.