Builder leaves solid foundation
Courtesty of Citrus County Chronicle 5-18-2008
A dean of the local building industry has decided that after a 38-year career, it's time to back away from the daily rigors of building homes.
Builder George E. Rusaw, who has a long list of awards and distinctions from his industry, will continue to own and operate the family business, BGRusaw Inc./Rusaw Homes, but he said he's retiring from the daily activities and home building at the end of the month.
Rusaw, who has a reputation for custom, upscale homes, said the new home market, which is just eking along in the current economic downturn, helped make his decision and enable him to wrap up his last homes. Though the market will come back to normal levels, he said, the current circumstances made it a good time for him to step back.
Rusaw said he may be retiring from active building, but don't expect to see him fade away in a complacent, glowing sunset of retirement. First, he's not going anywhere. He loves the county, he said and has always intended to retire here.
Now that he won't have a personal interest in the home building market, Rusaw feels that he can speak up more about county issues and not run the risk of someone trying to dismiss him as being self-serving. "I am very, very interested and concerned about what's going on in our county," he said. "I think I have a lot to say. I don't like what's happening. I intend to be heard from a lot more."
It's not like he has not had an influence on the county already, both as a local business leader in the building industry and in the planning and implementation of growth management, not to mention the 2,200 homes he built here.
In addition to founding BG/Rusaw Inc./Rusaw Homes in 1976, Rusaw was appointed by the county commission to serve on committees that developed elements of the Citrus County Comprehensive Growth Management Plan. The commission appointed him to serve as vice-chairman of the Blue Ribbon Committee for Infrastructure Financing, and he served on the original Citrus County Planning Commission, which became the Planning and Development Review Board, for 12 years.
During those times, particularly in the early 1980s, he said, he and other business representatives worked with citizen members of the environmental community like Hank and Miriam Cohen, David Walker, Helen Spivey, Charles Miko, Robert Schulties and others to come up with an acceptable plan that allowed for controlled growth while protecting the environment. He said that group worked with respect for each other toward compromises that laid the groundwork for today's comp plan.
On the business side, he was also a co-founder of the Citrus County Builders Association and served as its first president. He served in that role in three other terms and worked on many of its committees, such as the Governmental Affairs Committee. He also served on the boards of the Florida Home Builders Association and the National Association of Home Builders, as well as other industry organizations and was not only the county Builder of the Year four times, but the Builder of the Decade in 1990 and the Florida Builder of the Year, 1993.
In addition, he was a founder, organizer and shareholder of Citrus National Bank, for which he served as president and CEO, as well as chairman of the board before the bank was sold to South Trust. He was also appointed to the board of directors of that bank.
Looking back on lengthy career:
Rusaw said that when he looks back on his career, he is amazed at the changes in the industry. His father and uncle, who started the family building business in Holiday in 1956, simply concentrated on building good homes, one after another. It's a lot more complicated than that nowadays, Rusaw said, not to mention that the cost of just getting to the point of breaking ground for a new home could pay for a new house from that earlier era.
Building a good home for someone was and is a noble business, he said, something he has tried to instill in all who have worked with him through the years. At the core, you have to build a good home like his father and uncle did and then stand behind it, he said, but there is a lot more to it now than there was then.
"Today, you have to be a lot better at it," he said. That's because there are so many pressures and requirements a builder has to deal with in relation to issues such as zoning, planning and land use; financing; permitting requirements from numerous agencies; state and local building regulations; marketing and competitive challenges; labor and materials availability and costs; and taxes like impact fees that cut into slimmer and slimmer margins. Then there are the ups and downs of the market.
That's not to mention the political issues abounding in a given county and/or city. This involves dealing with elected officials, planning and permitting officials, citizens who want to slow or stop growth, environmental groups and homeowner groups.
"You're kind of in the fish bowl," Rusaw said. "It's easy to feel overwhelmed and picked on."
Then add the new technologies for energy, heating and cooling, septic systems and so forth, not to mention factors like windstorm engineering. The builder has to master not only the traditional gravity loads of a house in Florida but uplift forces, positive and negative pressure and negative loads.
One of the last things Rusaw did was to get into the green building business, or building with energy efficient materials and in environmental friendly fashion, which he said will become the trend in home building in the coming years.
But with all that today for a contractor to contend with, it's a high pressure business, he said, and being the kind of person who demanded quality and constantly pushed and pushed, he said, it can be quite an intense business if you are building more than just a few homes.
The builder, the man:
Rusaw's longtime friend and business associate, real estate broker Jim Crosley, said not only did Rusaw always demand quality, but he built his business on it. Even in resales, Crosley noted, real estate listing will state right off, "a Rusaw home," which says it's a custom, quality home.
It was an extension of the man, Crosley said, who, when asked for adjectives to describe Rusaw as a person and businessman, said after thinking a moment: "Unique, of integrity, topnotch, honest, very loyal."
"He wanted nothing but quality," Crosley said, adding that the Nation Homeowners Warranty Association awarded Rusaw's "Customer Care" program as the finest one it had ever seen when it gave him it's product excellence award in 1994.
Crosley worked with Rusaw since 1981, and he said it was always a pleasure. "He's got a great sense of humor. He is a very intelligent man. He is an avid reader, but he is not a stuffed shirt," Crosley said.
As for retirement Crosley said of Rusaw: "He is very anxious to be involved with the growth of the county. He's insightful. He thinks things through. He's a good asset to this community, a great friend of the community � and he will be for a good time into the future. I think you are going to see a lot of action from him."
Mike Moberley, president of the CCBA, said today's organization is part of the legacy Rusaw and CCBA co-founder Jim Blackshear have left in the county. "George has really been a pillar of the building community," Moberley said. "I've never heard a bad thing said about him. George is a stellar guy. He is a very articulate guy, very intelligent. He ran his business the same way."
Rusaw said when he looks back, the county probably made some mistakes in planning for the future and now is living with them in the economic downturn. For one thing, he said, "Our economy stands on a monopole. We limited ourselves to a mailbox economy, a service economy. We were saved by Progress Energy."
Rusaw thinks that situation, growth, and impact fees need to be high on the public agenda. The county needs to do some honest, realistic economic analysis to consider changes to get it on a healthier economic basis, he said, and he thinks he can help in that dialog.
From the permitting side of the equation Citrus County Development Services Director Gary Maidhof has worked with Rusaw from the government side for many years and said he suspected when he heard of Rusaw's retirement that he would become more active in community issues.
While they don't always agree about issues, Maidhof said, he has highest respect for Rusaw and both welcomed and looked forward to his involvement in county issues because of Rusaw's insight and knowledge. Also, Maidhof said, his experience and incisive thinking would be valuable on a number of county volunteer boards.
"He is well-spoken, he is always well-versed in the facts and he is diplomatic," Maidhof said. "And the man believes in Citrus County."
He noted Rusaw's involvement from the beginnings of the comp plan committees and said he expects Rusaw to be an influential person in the community regarding growth issues in the future.
Rusaw said he looks forward to that involvement and said he might even be available for some consulting assignments in retirement, though he added, "not on a grand scale, mind you."
In light of his plans to be active in the community, though, when asked if that might include consideration of running for elected office, he said with a slight smile, "No comment."
The business details of retirement Rusaw said that as he steps back, he has agreed to license the use of the Rusaw Homes trade name to builder John Osborne, owner of Pinecrest Building Corp., and the use of the Rusaw Reality name to Crosley. Though permitted to use the Rusaw trademark and other intellectual properties like home plans, Crosley and Osborne will write contracts under their own names.
Rusaw said he felt he was leaving the reputation his company created for quality homes and service in good hands.
"They are both very, very good people," he said. Rusaw said the 15-year warranty agreements and obligations on Rusaw homes will be met by Elite Home Restorations, owned by Bill Moeller. He said the last home under contract was just finished, which wraps up his active building career.