Hanging up hard hat

Rebecca U. Cho, Staff Writer
Created: 07/10/2010 06:58:33 PM PDT

Frank Williams was pondering retirement 20 years ago following his careers as a police and fire chief and a six-term member of the Florida House of Representatives.

But instead, he got in a car and kept driving until he hit the Pacific Ocean. He answered a Rancho Cucamonga job advertisement in 1990 for the Building Industry Association of Southern California’s Baldy View chapter. And last month, after leading the chapter through the turbulent Inland Empire housing boom and most recent bust, Williams, 68, retired as chief executive officer of the chapter.

Carlos Rodriguez, formerly the deputy executive officer at the Baldy View chapter for seven years, has stepped in as CEO.

“I came to work for the building industry at a time very similar to today,” Williams, a Pomona and Victorville resident, said. “We were in a downturn.”

Under Williams’ tenure, the chapter grew from 100 business members to a peak of 5,000. The chapter’s legislative heft also grew as the group lobbied for the area’s quickly growing building industry, including for the recent government tax incentives for homebuyers.

For the past decade, San Bernardino County’s housing market was on fire. But the subprime mortgage debacle, which froze building activity throughout the U.S., hit the Inland Empire particularly hard, leading to the association’s most challenging period, he said.

“I have been in probably six downturns over my years in the building business,”Williams said.

“This one is definitely the worst experience.”

Williams worked in the affordable-housing industry with his father-in-law in Florida beginning in 1968 and began a mortgage and building company, FWE Inc. His interest in housing grew during his time in the legislature, he said.

Randall Lewis, executive vice president of the Lewis Group of Cos., said Williams brought continuity to the chapter’s leadership, which switches presidents every one or two years. He said he appreciated the passion for homeowners that Williams displayed during his tenure. Lewis is a former Baldy View chapter president.

“He’s not just thinking about the (building) industry, but he’s always talking about `I want to help the homeowners,”‘ Lewis said. “He’s been really passionate about homeownership and passionate about doing all he can to make homeownership attainable and also affordable.”

San Bernardino County Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt, who served under Williams as deputy director in the BIA, said the former CEO effectively advocated for the housing industry.

“Frank came from a background as a legislator,” Mitzelfelt said. “His natural talents revolved around his having a strong and articulate voice. I learned a lot of those skills from him.”

While serving as CEO, he was appointed in 2000 to the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control board by Gov. Grey Davis. He served for five years on the state’s California Architects board.

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