I recently visited the Carolinas' Lathing and Plastering Contractors Association show where members met and focused on their goals of providing reliability, accountability and credibility. Despite several years of testing, the Carolinas' best and proudest contractors gathered and proclaimed that they stand by their work and the products they use. The association has been a major advocate for the EIFS industry in particular, regularly hosting hands-on EIFS training sessions, as well as seminars on insurance and its options for area contractors.

Attending these functions allows me to listen to the victories and challenges of our industry. The good news is that both states seem to be healthy in both the residential and commercial markets, with CLAPCA board member Danny Bonnell claiming that 85 percent of the high rises in Myrtle Beach have EIFS on them. The main obstacle mentioned echoes what our recent market trends study showed: labor. It's a problem that's been worsening for some time, though several of the comments suggest near-crisis.

The industry is being hit by the labor epidemic and the aftermath of Katrina doesn't help. When the rebuilding of the Gulf coast region accelerates, both residential and commercial contractors could see a fleet of their quality workforce chasing the next buck. One attendee remarked how we need to really consider the ramifications of how this event will influence the companies throughout the country.

It's a valid point. This disaster, as it relates to construction, could hit owners hard. Contractors who take pride in their work are at risk of losing their workforce, especially if construction in a particular region slows down as winter approaches. Soon enough we'll know what supply and demand will dictate but now is the time to study the forecasts and to devise plans to keep your strong workforce grounded. Here are some suggestions:

• Strengthen your benefit package

• Maintain competitive wages

• Give frequent company updates

• Present growth opportunity for

the workers

• Invest in employees (i.e., training, safety, tools)

• Keep morale high

That being said, W&C is an advocate for the aggressive rebuilding of the Gulf coast. However, and architects and developers take note, we are interested in the materials that will be used and if any green initiatives have been given much thought. Given that much of the construction will not begin for many months and the whole process is estimated to take seven years, there still is time to research affordable green building materials and designs.

If you have any say, fight for mold and mildew resistant paints, coatings, adhesives and sealants. Also, because health is an issue, choose low-VOC (GS-11 labeled) paints. Check out the availability of recycled-content wallboard and ceiling tiles for market-competitive prices.

Because much of the reconstruction in New Orleans will be low-income units subsidized by the federal government, it is worth investigating the information on affordable green housing. Visit www.eere.energy.gov/buildings/building_america for more details.

One final note: Following Katrina, our Division Publisher Tim Fausch joined a relief team and went down to help with the cleaning in Gulfport, Miss. Read about his journey in our Web exclusive feature "My Kingdom for a Tarp," found at this site.