By Bert Selva. As an industry, builders have made a quantum leap in their businesses. They are savvier than ever before. They have greater financial discipline, manage their inventory better, and are more nimble. Overall, they simply run better organizations. However, our industry's perception in the general public has not made the same leap.

We provide the "ultimate consumer product" that enriches people's lives, fulfills dreams, and creates everlasting memories for families. With the tragedies of Sept. 11, home has an extra special meaning today as people seek to keep their lives centered, both physically and emotionally.

As a society, we are making progress. In 2000, the United States experienced the highest percentage of Americans who owned a home, 66 percent -- 69 million people.

From an economic standpoint, we employ hundreds of thousands of Americans and help fuel the economy. American housing collectively fueled 14 percent of the U.S. GDP in 2001, according to the NAHB, and housing cushioned the "recession." Beyond that, the products we create are undeniably a good investment. Since 1945, housing has yielded a 3 percent minimum appreciation and in recent years, that appreciation has been as high as 6 percent. Homeowners receive a greater cash-on-cash return than other investments including the stock market.

Photo: Courtesy Shea Homes

Bert Selva is president and CEO of Shea Homes, based in Walnut, Calif. Yet, too often we do not beat our own drum. We merely talk about deliveries and earnings and not about the good we do. We must continue to work at enhancing our relationship with customers, trades, media, government entities, and the general public. Our industry is about people who care. The Home Builders Care Relief Fund has raised nearly $10 million for the victims of last year's tragedy. More impressively, 100 percent of the funds went directly to the victims. With so much anti-growth sentiment, it is easy to take a defensive posture, but we must look at the positive. There is no better feeling than handing over the keys to a family that is eagerly awaiting its new home.

I personally take every opportunity I can to share our story, not just Shea's, but also the industry's. This starts with education about the impact we have on local economies, on individuals' and families' dream of homeownership, and on giving back to the community through the various charities builders support. Our industry has not gotten the respect it deserves. Part of it is our fault. We must do a better job of sharing our story.