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Fellow contractors say new president is hardworking, talented, dedicated

Gulfport contractor first woman to head up Home Builders

GULFPORT — Vonnie Ladner of Gulfport is the first woman in state history to serve as president of the Home Builders Association of Mississippi (HBAM), but as her fellow contractors will tell anyone, that factor played no part in choosing her to head up the association.

“We’re about housing and we need folks leading our or-ganization who understand our needs and have talent and can be good spokesperson for the industry,” said Marty Milstead, executive vice president and CEO of HBAM. “If that means they’re a woman, then that’s great. But that’s not why Vonnie was chosen. She works hard to accomplish her goals and that’s why she got elected.”

Ladner, who began working with HBAM in 1985, has also been the president of AFC Inc. since 1984.

“I enjoy it,” Ladner said of the construction business. “It is a little bit harder at first breaking into the industry as a woman, but once you earn that respect from your subcontractors you really don’t lose it.”

As passionate as Ladner is about her construction business and her work with HBAM, one might think they have been a part of her life forever. However, becoming a paralegal was once first and foremost on her mind. Her husband Ernest helped to change her course of action.

“Originally my husband was a framing contractor and I used to go out on job sites with him,” Vonnie said. “That’s how I learned to read blueprints.”

She quickly changed her focus from becoming a paralegal toward a degree in architecture. After studying at Pearl River Junior College and the University of Southern Mississippi, she was ready to begin her new career. She merged with her husband’s company, Action Framing Company, in 1984, and it became AFC Inc. She became president of the company and her husband served as vice president. Since Vonnie joined AFC, the company’s focus has changed from framing to general contracting, specializing in multifamily homes and motels throughout Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana.

Vonnie discovered HBAM shortly after merging with AFC. “I see its benefits through its resources,” she said of the association. Over the years, she has served as chairman of HBAM Gulf Coast (HBAMGC), HBAM state director and HBAMGC president. She was also appointed by the governor to serve on the Standing Committee for the Residential Builders and Remodelers this year.

During her one-year term as president of HBAM, Vonnie will be working on several legislative issues including, among others, affordable housing, building codes and tort reform. She also hopes to improve communication between HBAM members and help them better understand the benefits of the association.

“I want people to know more about why they should be a member — not just give them the membership money, but help them understand there is more to it than that. Networking, the way everyone takes care of one another…If people just realized the resources we have at our fingertips through the association everyone would join.”

Clay Easterling, owner of Easterling Enterprises in Gulfport and one of five HBAM regional vice presidents, is excited about what Vonnie Ladner will bring to the association.

“I hope she battles for the state like she does for her own business,” Easterling said. “I know she will.”

Charles Porter also believes Vonnie was a good choice to lead HBAM. Porter, who owns Porter Construction Inc. in Brandon, is also vice

president of HBAM.

“She does a good job in her profession and she’s helped the Home Builders Association with her participation,” Porter said. “I think she’ll do a good job of guiding the Home Builders Association.”

Porter also hopes Vonnie’s presidency will bring more women into the homebuilding profession and increase the number of women members in HBAM.

“For the most part it’s been a male-dominated association,” Porter said. “It’s not intended to be that way. We’re a pretty inclusive organization so it didn’t really catch anyone off guard to have a woman as president.”

Vonnie said running HBAM would be challenging but she can do it with the help of the HBAM staff and with the support of her husband and son.

“My cell phone, fax and e-mail work well, too,” she said laughingly.

Vonnie Ladner lives with her husband, Ernest, in Gulfport. She has three children and two grandchildren.

Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at ekirkland@msbusiness.com.

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