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Home show promises optimistic building season

Think Mutual Bank's entry in the Doors Unhinged Design Contest is displayed as part of the Rochester Area Builders Home Show at the Mayo Civic Center in downtown Rochester over the weekend.

In the same way that exhibition games signal the onset of baseball season, so does the Rochester Area Builders Home show herald the beginning of the construction season in Southeast Minnesota.

And based on the activity of this weekend's show, the area continues on a trajectory of robust commercial construction and steady-as-she-goes residential building, said John Eischen, executive director of Rochester Area Builders Inc.

"Commercial in the last couple of years has been very strong," Eischen said, adding that there was a 25 percent leap in such construction driven by multi-family dwellings, hotels and apartments last year, "(Destination Medical Center) is gearing up."

Eischen was referring to the 20-year plan to transform Rochester into a global medical hub through a $6 billion investment by Mayo Clinic, the state and private partners.

The 37th annual builders show featured 337 booths and nearly 200 exhibitors, filling up every room and auditorium of the Mayo Civic Center. The number of booths was about the same from last year, but the quantity of businesses and exhibitors, ranging from builders and remodelers to insulation and appliance companies, was up.


The home show is a key weekend on the calendar, because many businesses that attend the event book a third of their business there, Eischen said.

Anywhere from 5,000 to 6,000 people attended the three-day show. The reasons for coming are as small as wanting to replace a toilet to as big as building a new home.

Dan Aguilar, president and CEO of Smart Home Innovations, was on hand to answer questions about home theaters and home automation.

"It's a huge trend," Aguilar said. "People are just too busy to go to movies, even though it's great when you have the time. Now we have access to so much content."

Aguilar said the ease with which people can manipulate a home theater, thanks to smart phone technology, is creating an appetite for control throughout the home. With a smartphone app, people can choose not only between Netflix and Amazon but can control the lights, the thermostat, the blinds, the home alarm and security system.

"It's not so much for security. It's more because you like checking on your house, checking on your pets," said Aguilar, referring to a camera system that permitted viewing from his phone.

Eischen said Rochester was the last to feel the effects of the Great Recession and among the first to escape its impact. Typically, when businesses are expanding or building, it creates a demand for people, and those people create demand for homes. With strong commercial construction activity, it will only be a matter of time before its impact is felt on single-family home arena.

"We should see some more in growth in single-family residential in 2016," Eischen said. "I expect to spike in 17. The concern we have with that is the number of lots available could be a challenge. So there's concerns with housing affordability in the future."

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