Joe Riggs, group president of K. Hovnanian Enterprises and former president of the New Jersey Builders Association, was honored Tuesday by the organization. — Courtesy: NJBA/Joe Sharp
By Joshua Burd
Bob Karen thinks back to the dark days of the early 1990s, when the residential market had “bottomed out” and New Jersey’s home builders were left searching for answers.
Ultimately, many of those answers came from Joe Riggs.
Along with rallying his fellow members of the New Jersey Builders Association, Riggs was an instrumental piece of the team that crafted the landmark “Fix the Hammer” campaign, Karen recalled. The efforts resulted in the all-important Permit Extension Act of 1992 and other measures whose impact are still being felt today.
“Many of us are still in business and survived the 1990s because of Joe,” said Karen, the NJBA’s president from 1991 to 1993. He later added: “Joe had a firm grasp on what was going on — his leadership set a course of excellence for this association, which we all still follow today.”
Karen and other industry leaders hailed those accomplishments Tuesday night as the NJBA honored Riggs, a longtime group president with K. Hovnanian Enterprises, during an evening reception in Florham Park. The association hosted the event as part of a fundraiser for its political action committee, drawing some 250 homebuilding executives and professionals to the Park Avenue Club and raising about $150,000.
Riggs, also a former NJBA president, joked that he knew such an event “needed a fall guy” to help support the industry’s legislative efforts. But he said he was happy to lend his name and his Rolodex to the effort, noting the importance of getting involved in the legislative process ahead of the upcoming gubernatorial election — especially with major issues such as housing affordability still looming over the state.
“(We) should be better on guard, and I would suggest that we should be more spirited in our effort to defend our industry and make a better point of what it means when we have a vibrant homebuilding industry in terms of the state’s overall economic growth,” Riggs said. “Regardless of one’s Democratic or Republican persuasion, all of us are pro-housing persuaders, and I would suggest that this is a key time in our state to reinvigorate ourselves in that effort.”
The 35-year industry veteran also offered his own list of accolades to people in the room, from his family and past NJBA staffers to lawmakers and K. Hovnanian colleagues that he now considers friends. In fact, Riggs said, “it’s really about friendships” as much as business with the NJBA.
“Along the way you pick up some business acumen, you pick up some experiences that hopefully serve you well,” he said. “My experience has been what I would recommend to everyone in the room. It’s really very simple: The more you provide and the more involved you get, the more you get back, the more the industry benefits. It’s a true win-win-win proposition.”
It’s why Tuesday’s affair included a mix of personal and professional tributes to Riggs, who knew many in the room for upwards of 30 years. His standing in the industry was clear from the turnout, as noted by veteran developer Carl Goldberg, who chairs the Builders Political Action Committee of New Jersey and said the support was invaluable.
“Joe Riggs has been there for me, professionally and personally, in every way imaginable,” said Goldberg, managing member of Canoe Brook Associates. “He’s been an inspiration to me for the entirety of my career here in the builders industry, and my dedication to the political action committee, to a large degree, was motivated by what I saw in Joe during his tenure as the president of the NJBA.”
The tribute was fitting, in that Goldberg was honored last year as part of a similar fundraiser by the association. Carol Ann Short, the CEO of the NJBA, also noted that Goldberg and Riggs “share a lot of history, both personal and professional,” so it made for a natural decision to bring the event back for a second year, with Riggs now as the guest of honor.
She noted that members, industry leaders and lawmakers lined up to support Riggs, which she said will go a long way in supporting the association’s efforts.
“The reaction that people have to him is overwhelming, and you can see from the people here,” Short said. “We were not surprised that we were going to have this kind of response … but it’s still heartwarming to see it, so we’re delighted with the outpouring of support for Joe.”