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Builders’ Show begins in Orlando

Orlando, Fla. The International Builders’ Show kicked off in earnest Wednesday morning here at the Orange County Convention Center. Among the hot topics on the show floor and in the myriad seminar rooms: the economy and the environment, with a little politics in the mix.

The official opening ceremony keynote brought out political consultants Mary Matalin and James Carville, a married couple on opposite sides of the political spectrum. Matalin earned applause when she told the crowd that she was proud of the National Association of Home Builders for its decision announced Tuesday to freeze all contributions to federal congressional candidates through its BUILD-PAC political action committee. The action was based on the belief that Congress and the Bush administration have not done enough in the past six months to address the housing sector, and the freeze will remain in effect until further notice.

Several thousand builders crammed into the massive auditorium for the opening ceremony, which also featured a musical review of Orlando attractions, starring Florence Henderson (better known as Carol Brady from “The Brady Bunch”).

Apanel of economists participated in one of the more well-attended educational seminars, in which NAHB chief economist David Seiders described a relatively optimistic forecast. In his picture, the housing market will see an upturn either in late 2008 or early 2009. Further, the American economy as a whole will avoid recession, partly as a result of the economic stimulus plan.

Of course, many stats presented were bleak. One chart showed building permits in all 50 states -- every single state showed some degree of decline compared to 2005. “The wildcard in 2008 is the number of houses in foreclosure,” said Seiders. “It’s very difficult to estimate.”

David Berson, senior vp and chief economist of risk management firm PMI Group, was the most pessimistic of the panelists and said he believed the economy already was in a recession.

Despite the general market conditions, attendance was expected by organizers to reach about 100,000 people, a figure similar to that of last year’s event. Some attendees, however, said they observed a noticeable decline in traffic.

On the show floor, green products and green building practices were a common theme. Thursday at the show has been declared “Green Day,” during which the NAHB will officially launch its Certified Green Professional designation for home builders and remodelers.

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