A Spartan’s Will

by Don Browne

VSI Vice President Matt Dobson Brings a Wealth of Experience

and a Strong Desire to Learn More

Although it’s been almost 30 years since he graduated, VSI Vice President Matt Dobson still has a strong connection to his alma mater, Michigan State University (MSU). His grandfather attended MSU, and now his second son, Jackson, is a freshman enrolled in the same school as Matt – the School of Planning, Design, and Construction. Matt switched to this program in his sophomore year after first majoring in public policy.

“Little did I know that I would devote most of my career to blending both of these passions,” Matt said.

For the past 16 years, Matt has played an integral role in VSI’s growth and expansion.  When he came aboard in 2004, VSI had a staff of three and a limited scope in terms of its advocacy efforts. Matt shepherded the association’s advancements in sustainability, consulted on the industry’s legislative reform efforts and helped drive the VSI’s educational programs. All of these developments have been instrumental to the industry’s growth, but it all stemmed from why the VSI recruited Dobson in the first place – his code work.

A Look Back

Before joining VSI, Matt spent 10 years with the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) – on two different tours of duty. During the first stint, he was assigned to provide coordination for log cabins, modular homes and panelization.  One of his early mentors was Barbara Martin from the Building Systems Council.

“Barbara was my first boss at NAHB,” Matt explained. “She did an amazing job of showing me the importance of association work as a way for industry players to collaborate towards common goals.”

When Matt returned to the NAHB after working with Timber Log Homes and an affordable home builder called GRZ Enterprises (both in Connecticut), he focused on building codes, especially fire safety and electrical codes. It was this move in his career that ultimately led him to VSI.


“VSI was expanding to include advocacy for code reform,” Dobson remembers. “Their first boss, Jery Huntley, came to NAHB in 2004 to learn more about what code work service could look like for the organization.”

VSI was so impressed with the work Matt was doing at NAHB, they made him an offer.

“Developing an advocacy component on the regulatory side has been a great addition to VSI. The regulatory tools we created have helped us achieve greater acceptance from the building community,” he said. “Codes have become an effective advocacy point, especially when explaining material benefits.”

Thanks to Matt’s work on code development, the VSI could then start to serve as a resource to building officials and planners, which significantly changing their perceptions about vinyl siding once they learned about its multiple benefits. Using codes as a foundation, the organization is now able to advance its mission in multiple directions.

“It was thrilling for me to start from ground zero and give VSI the focus on codes,” Matt said. “From there, we established a base where codes became the storyline for us. It has opened new doors for the industry in improving wind performance, understanding true sustainability and making a stronger case for housing affordability – which of course makes housing more accessible. Codes went from minimal to highly-comprehensive in both status and priority. It has been very rewarding to have been a part of this process.”


Sustainability Efforts

As Matt was developing VSI’s code program, he took on another big hurdle for the industry – the misconceptions that vinyl siding and polymeric products were not sustainable materials.

“We were an upstream organization working against the US Green Building Council (USGBC) who was assigning negative points against vinyl,” Dobson said. “We worked with the Vinyl Institute to understand life cycle assessment so that we could dispute the antiquated USGBC data. We also studied global warming as it relates to material manufacturing and other environmental factors, and when you look at how vinyl was made, we realized that we had a compelling green story to tell.”

Matt explained that the VSI dedicated 10-12 years of work on sustainability. The first three years were focused on studying sustainability and life cycle assessment, establishing what he called their “Green Team” in 2006-07, which was a partnership with Sustainable Solutions Corp – an environmental consulting group.

“Understanding life cycle assessment has been very enlightening for us and being able to combine science with facts helps us shatter a lot of barriers to including vinyl in the green conversation,” Matt asserted. “When stakeholders realize that vinyl is made from salt and natural gas and does not require a lot of materials in the manufacturing of their products, their impressions change significantly,” he said. “Vinyl siding is the most resource-efficient of all the materials out there.”

Matt is currently working closely with VSI’s Sustainability Committee on a recycling model for both supply chain professionals and consumers to learn how to recycle vinyl siding.  Again, there has been a learning process – in this case about logistics – and Matt views this work as “very cool.”

"At VSI, we are always learning, and applying association advocacy work to education," Matt noted. "Knowledge building is what association can do especially if the members want you to play a leading role on specific issues," he said. "And we as an industry do a great job of building knowledge first before we jump into anything. Thanks to this approach and the member support that we get, we are able to put a strong, offensive focus on sustainability."


A Bright Future

Matt feels that – after all the progress they have made in code work and sustainability – VSI is now in a position as a trade association in which the team can be more proactive (instead of reactive) about anticipating issues, trends and planning ahead.

“Kate [Offringa, VSI President & CEO] has great strategic vision, so it’s nice to be able to support this vision with a background on our history and all of our code work,” Matt said. “I am able to support our growing team in so many different areas. I still focus on codes, but now I oversee advocacy with regards to design and legislative reform, as well as support Lisa Dunn’s efforts on communications. And I love working with Coach Rob Balfanz on workforce development.”

Matt loves the VSI manufacturers he works with because they play a huge role in making homeownership affordable. He feels they make excellent products that are extremely resilient, highly cost-effective and continue to be a great asset for creating beautiful structures. And he appreciates how supportive they are to the VSI mission – especially when it comes to lending the expertise of their staff members to a variety of industry projects.

Matt also cherishes the strong ties he still has with the NAHB – a relationship that goes back to 1992. He serves on several NAHB Committees, including their Environmental Issues Committee and their highly-influential Codes & Standards Committee. Matt considers it an honor to be able to contribute to the key initiatives of these groups on behalf of VSI, including representing builders’ interests with the development of the International Building Code.

A Strong, Growing Team

Perhaps most of all, Matt is grateful for the growing team that VSI has put together in recent years.

“Rob’s (Balfanz) progress in Workforce Development has been super important to helping us meet the current demand for labor, which will help us meet future millennial demand for housing,” Matt said.  “We are also putting a big focus on architectural development, and Alex [Fernandez, VSI’s Director of Advocacy – Government Affairs] has taken the lead on developing new tools to help architects better understand the benefits of vinyl and how they make spec. Having Sara [Krompholz, VSI’s new Director of Technical and Product Certification] grab the reins on our technical work has galvanized even stronger industry collaboration in helping us break new ground in new product certification accreditation. And Lisa [Dunn] has put a more professional face on VSI’s communications program – our brand presence has gained so much traction in her first year with us.

“Working together, this team has turned a really difficult year on its head, and I am so proud to be part of their success story.”

On the Homefront

In his personal life, Matt enjoys quality time with his wife, Tonya, and their three sons, but his passion for building often overlaps in so many positive ways. He first met Tonya when she was a potential customer for Timber Log, and they recently oversaw the building of their new home in Burlington, NC.  His oldest son, Luke, is studying construction management at East Carolina University, and Jackson is studying landscape architecture at his beloved Michigan State.

“I never pushed any of my sons in this direction – and my youngest boy, Max has not expressed much interest in the trades (but he does love the Spartans),” Matt said. “It’s exciting to see them all pursuing their dreams and that the apples don’t fall far from the tree!”

Whether it’s being a good father or a good leader at work, Matt loves the mentoring part of his work that comes as much from learning how to navigate the latest developments as it does from sharing his years of experience. “We are currently forming an exploratory group in Texas, where we passed vinyl siding-friendly legislation last year,” he explained. “We’re looking at how we can gain greater acceptance in a market that’s been dominated by the mason industry.”

Ultimately, to Matt, it’s all about helping team members and developing new processes to move the industry forward. He loves the work and there’s nowhere else he would rather be (except maybe in East Lansing, Michigan on game days, or anywhere else his Spartans do battle).

“It’s been a great 16 years serving VSI, and I look forward to the next 16,” he said.


Don Browne is a writer, entrepreneur and local legislator who believes that the power of words can change the world. He provides unique writing services for clients in the construction, health care, IT and hospitality sectors. He has a passion for small business and start-ups, as well as writing about Irish history, family and corporate biographies. As a homeowner and father of four who is passionate about community development, Don looks forward to writing more about the exciting possibilities of creating traditional neighborhoods and more sustainable communities using modern materials.