Tens of thousands of builders descend upon the Orlando Convention Center for their annual convention this month knowing that they are the lucky ones—the survivors. They have jobs. They are still doing what they love. They are staying busy.

Others aren’t so fortunate. Familiar faces will be missing from the crowd, no surprise considering that sales and starts activity today is half of what it was two years ago. Some builders quietly folded their operations. Others switched to more lucrative careers. Some professionals are still out of work, wondering what to do after a lifetime spent building homes.

Builder’s 2008 “State of the Industry” survey shows that builders executed personnel cuts with some precision. They eliminated production and purchasing jobs first, since there’s less of that work to go around. They held on to sales and IT people, in hope of selling what homes they can and improving operations. And they took all the cuts that they could stomach—our readers cut an average of 25 ­percent of total staff last year. (You can read about the topline results on page 220 and download the complete survey results from our Web site, www.builderonline.com/industrysurvey.)

Cash is King

Reducing payroll as much as humanly possible is a big part of every builder’s primary challenge: to keep enough cash on hand to stay afloat. So is selling excess land for as much as you can get and deferring capital investments. For some companies, it also means closing mortgage and title operations, and farming out sales and construction functions.

But sometimes that’s not enough. As we learned in a series of roundtable discussions with a dozen builders in three cities late last year, many builders are writing checks from their own reserves to keep their companies in business. (The roundtable discussions were recorded, and installments are playing on our new television station, BuilderTV, which you can find at www.builderonline.com.) That’s often because banks require builders to put more equity into land deals that aren’t worth what they used to be.

The builders in our roundtable discussions were amazingly candid about their efforts to keep the wolf from the door. Everyone, it seems, has redesigned their homes to produce smaller and more efficient buildings. Value-engineering existing plans only goes so far—the real savings come from building smaller homes. Builders are mothballing outlying locations in favor of infill sites, regularly rebidding work, asking for price concessions, and forgoing equipment and other capital expenses.

Still Pages Run Deep

Given all the difficult actions being taken, the industry’s need for information has never been greater. In the last year, we’ve dramatically broadened the base of our information products, adding daily news reporting, Web seminars, blogs, videos on business challenges, and e-mail newsletters.

A year’s worth of effort converges this month with the re-launch of our Web site and a re-formatting of our magazine, recently named Magazine of the Year by the American Society of Business Publication Editors. Moreover, the two media—print and online—are now married in ways that two years ago we could scarcely imagine. Throughout the magazine, you’ll find references to tons more information available online. It’s as though the magazine is now the provocative tip of a robust information iceberg.

Our commitment to continual improvement reflects a cautious optimism that apparently pervades the industry we cover. Though most economists and analysts think recovery is more than a year away, the majority of builders we surveyed think it will happen this year. The best advice? As you hope for the best, plan for the worst. The very existence of your company may depend on it.

Tens of thousands of builders descend upon the Orlando Convention Center for their annual convention this month knowing that they are the lucky ones—the survivors. They have jobs. They are still doing what they love. They are staying busy.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Orlando, FL.