NECA TransmissionsNotes from the front lines of the electrical contracting industry
  • NECA Convention: The New(bie) Business Perception

    Posted on Oct 28, 2011 by Mir Mustafa

    NECA 2011 San Diego may have been my first convention as NECA’s new Business Development Director, but I immediately got a sense of renewed purpose for electrical contractors diving into new and emerging energy solutions markets. Whether renewable and alternative power generation or advanced lighting and building controls, many attendees were there to learn as much as they could about business and market development.

    There were many new things about NECA 2011 San Diego. The conference hosted the first-ever NECA Energy Forum, an event that saw a capacity crowd and received a tremendous amount of positive feedback.  It would have been impossible for anyone sitting in the audience to miss one speaker after another reinforcing the same positive message: Emerging technologies represent the direction in which our industry is moving and represent a tremendous opportunity for any contractor willing to tackle a new way of doing business.

    In addition to the Energy Forum, NECA also unveiled NECAWORKS™, an energy economic modeling tool. The web-based screening tool provides NECA members with the fundamental tools and resources to capture renewable and energy efficiency project opportunities by determining the Benefit/Cost Ratio. Since transitioning to a new way of doing business is never easy, even with the help of impressive tools like NECAWORKS, NECA went the extra mile in San Diego to describe the importance of business development.

    IBEW International President Edwin D. Hill spent much of his time as a guest at the podium for NECA’s 2011 Board of Governors meeting detailing the IBEW’s new emphasis on business development and expressing his strong belief in its importance in recapturing lost market share and gaining new market share.  NECA President and President/CEO of Valley Electric Consolidated, Inc. Rex Ferry also stated the importance of business development for electrical contractors during his keynote address at the conference’s opening general session. Ferry spoke of how there was a new paradigm at work and that NECA members could no longer afford to sit around waiting for bids, but how they needed to proactively engage in business development to capture work.  He talked about how VEC, Inc. was doing just that.

    NECA also successfully convened the first meeting of a new business development task force chaired by Daniel G. Schaeffer, NECA District 7 Vice President and President of Schaeffer Electric Company, as well as two meetings on the topic of business development. The first was an internal meeting of the business development working group for NECA and Labor-Management Cooperation Committee (LMCC) business developers, NECA chapter managers and staff working on business development, and IBEW business managers and staff working on business development. I was honored to host the meeting, and I had a great team of panelists: Jim Ayrer, IBEW International; Darlene Besst, Northern California Chapter; Jim Curran, St. Louis Chapter & IBEW Local 1, LMCC; Terry Hatch, Washington, Statewide LMCC; Bernie Kotlier, California, Statewide LMCC; Ken MacDougall, Penn-Del-Jersey Chapter; Thomas Martinez, Los Angeles Chapter & Local 11, LMCC; Jennifer Mefford, SE Michigan Chapter & Local 58, LMCC; and Karen Prescott, San Diego County Chapter.  Together, we updated the audience on our local and national initiatives and described the wide range of activities that constitute business development. James Willson, NECA Los Angeles County chapter manager, also spoke passionately at the event, as did President Ferry, reiterating his belief in the importance of business development.  The audience also deserves thanks for their interest, their questions and thoughtful interactions with the panelists.

    The second business development meeting was held as a convention management seminar. Karen Prescott started off the meeting with introductions. I followed with a recap of the prior day’s meeting and emphasized the wide range of activities a successful business development program can consider.  Next, Jennifer Mefford gave an impressive presentation on the nuts and bolts of business development and how to get started when it seems like you don’t know where to begin. Bernie Kotlier closed with specific game changing examples, including the California Advanced Lighting Controls Training Program (CALCTP), the Electric Vehicles Infrastructure Training Program (EVITP), and the Sustainable Sales Placement Program which is focused on retraining highly successful sales people on the art of selling sustainable services and placing these individuals at member contractor firms.

    NECA will hold its next meeting on business development at the Association Executive Institute (AEI) in at the Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, NV on Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012.  You can also expect to hear more from me on our business development blog, along with guest blogs authored by my business development peers from throughout the country. They are doing some amazing work, and they are growing in numbers. I wish all of them could have spoken at this year’s conference, but you will hear more from them shortly.

    I would like to close by giving thanks to all that help raised awareness of the importance of business development at this year’s conference. Emerging energy technologies and business development truly represent a paradigm shift for our industry and NECA will do everything in its power to help members prepare.

    See recent energy solutions projects from NECA Members >> Learn more about NECA’s business and new market development strategy >>

  • Field Trip!

    Posted on Oct 12, 2011 by Adrianne Gracias

    NECA Transmissions features posts from CEO John Grau and other NECA staff and leaders about industry projects or issues they are following. Today’s post comes from: Adrianne Gracias, NECA's Online Communications Manager

    Since I’ve lived in the D.C. area most of my life, it’s rare that I get to be a tourist in my own town. But this past Friday, I took at field trip to the Department of Energy’s 2011 Solar Decathlon, where 20 university-led student teams from around the world, were given two years to design, build and operate an affordable energy-efficient single-family home powered by the sun.

    The DOE developed 10 contests for grading team submissions to determine their successfulness in the real world. The “off-grid” homes were graded on: affordability, attractiveness, in-and-outdoor environmental conditions, practical living spaces, power production for home appliances, lighting, and the ability to produce hot water.

    The unfortunate timing of this event landed it during a week with barely any sun, which made the competition extremely hard. Go figure, the Solar Decathlon, without any sun! I immediately noticed just how much these homes depended on natural or ambient light. When asked why the insides of the homes appeared dark and dreary, over and over I heard students patiently answer, “Well, it is pretty cloudy today.”

    The University of Maryland team didn’t require cloudy excuses; their home was well lit and nicely landscaped. The WaterShed home was designed to promote a sustainable lifestyle, while protecting the Chesapeake Bay Watershed through a holistic approach.

    UMD Students tackled this obstacle by incorporating a modular constructed wetland to filter and recycle rain and graywater, a green roof improves energy efficiency and slows runoff, and an edible wall garden system and composter to encourage organic living practices.  WaterShed is a split-living design, with angled “butterfly” roofs that direct rainfall into the constructed wetland. Separate public and private living areas are connected by the bathroom and water axis. Having grown up in Maryland, I was particularly interested in this house, and after taking the tour I wasn’t at all surprised they took home this year’s top prize – Go Terps!

    While touring new technologies and listening to students’ worldly interpretations of the “green market” is fun, it’s also my job. Since I work for electrical contractors, I know how our members are closely following these new markets. Energy efficiency upgrades and renewable power installations are becoming the bread and butter for some electrical contractors. The innovative strategies I saw at the Solar Decathlon will directly influence the future of commercial, industrial and residential electrical construction.

    It’s imperative that we keep a close watch on these new technologies and develops training that keeps up with market innovation and customer demand. NECA works with the DOE and the NFPA to ensure that these new markets are implemented in a safe, effective and knowledgeable manner. The reassurance of hiring a qualified electrical contractor is what sets NECA contractors apart.

    So, what’s my actual reason for loving Maryland’s award-winning WaterShed home? It closely follows my personal ambitions, by promoting a clean, renewable, organic and healthy lifestyle, right in my backyard. That, and crab cakes.

    View all of my photos from the event on Flickr >>

  • When in Rome (and Lihue)

    Posted on Apr 07, 2009 by John M Grau

    I’ve been on the road again. This time for the Midwestern Region Conference in Lihue, Kauai, followed by the Eastern Region Conference in Rome, Italy. That’s half a world and twelve time zones apart.

    The meeting locations may seem a bit extravagant considering the tough economic times. They were booked a couple years ago when the work picture for our industry was much better. Still, those who attended found that the money invested in attending these meetings was well spent. Sure they had a good time, but the meeting program and discussions with fellow contractors were at least as important. 

    A comment from the keynote speaker at the Eastern Region meeting made it all worthwhile for me. Captain Gerald Coffee (U.S. Navy ret.) told us about his seven years as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam conflict. He related how he and other POWs, like John McCain, survived the ordeal at the so-called Hanoi Hilton.

    Coffee said that during his first few months of captivity he felt sorry for himself. He prayed for his release and an end to the misery. But then he slowly began to realize that this was the wrong attitude. He decided instead that his job was to make each day as productive and positive as possible. From then on, he worked hard to improve himself and the lives of his fellow prisoners. 

    If someone being tortured and held in a small, dank cell in a foreign country can have an attitude like that, then how much easier is it for us to live our lives in a positive and productive manner? It really puts it all in perspective.

    When NECA contractors get together for meetings, far away or close to home, they most often find that they learn something that will improve their lives and their businesses. A great opportunity is coming up at our NECA National Convention in Seattle this September. We’re pulling out all stops to make sure that the program is relevant and useful in today’s economic climate. 

    It will cost to attend. But it could cost more not to.

  • What I Brought Back From Chicago

    Posted on Oct 14, 2008 by John M Grau

    The just-completed NECA Convention in Chicago was my 31st. That doesn’t even come close to the record set by former NECA President Bob Colgan of Toledo, Ohio. This was his 57th!

    Bob Colgan, Sr. recognized as Founding Fellow of the Academy of Electrical Contracting
    Bob Colgan, Sr. recognized as Founding Fellow of the Academy of Electrical Contracting

    Bob was recognized at both the Convention Opening General Session and at a special Academy of Electrical Contracting Reception marking its 40th anniversary. Bob Colgan and Bob Higgins, my predecessor as NECA’s Executive Vice President, are the only founding members of the Academy still living.

    Colgan attended this year’s convention with most members of his family. The kids tagged along to NECA conventions when they were growing up. Although not all of them at the same time, says Bob’s wife Emily. So it was a special event for the Colgan family, the Academy, and NECA.

    Here are some of my take-aways from the Convention:

    Many of the members I talked to are still cautiously optimistic about their work backlog. They told me that the financing is in place for most of their projects and they expect the work to continue into 2009.

    A couple members told me that they called their bankers to see if they could get credit if they needed it. The answer was yes. Credit is still available for “credit worthy” customers.

    A lot of members are excited about the opportunities available in energy conservation and alternative energy markets. Many are reformulating their business plans accordingly.

    Most left the Special Labor Relations Session encouraged that the IBEW and NECA are working in the right direction. Progress can’t come fast enough, however.

    After attending the ELECTRI International Meeting, the Student Chapter Summit, the Future Leaders Reception, and the International Group Lunch, I couldn’t help walking away feeling proud of NECA and what we are accomplishing in these areas.

    How does Bob Costas remember all those facts? After his speech at the closing general session, I told him that the political campaign “truth squads” were going to check on his accuracy. He said he’s confident that his record is better than the candidates’.

    Before the closing concert, I was able to say hello to performers Bruce Hornsby and Ricky Skaggs. Hornsby said that they don’t just walk through their performance but work hard at being entertaining and fresh. He said we were in for a treat. He was right.

    Wall of Vodka
    Wall of Vodka

    I keep thinking about the ELECTRI International reception at the Chicago Illuminating Company and the 20-foot-high wall lined with shelves of Grey Goose vodka. I wonder if they would agree to be a NECA Preferred Sponsor.

    Did everyone see president-elect Rex Ferry up on stage playing an inflatable guitar during the Opening Reception at Navy Pier? I have pictures.

    President-elect Rex Ferry
    President-elect Rex Ferry

    No doubt this was one of NECA’s best Conventions ever. Take Bob Colgan’s word for it. In our 100 year history he’s been to over half of them, so he should know.

  • Being the Best: A Lesson from the Marine Raiders

    Posted on Apr 22, 2008 by John M Grau
    Seated at the table are Col John Sweeney (ret.) and Lt Gen James Amos
    Seated at the table are Col John Sweeney (ret.) and Lt Gen James Amos

    Last weekend, I attended the final reunion banquet of the 1st Marine Raider Battalion held at the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va. Also known as Edson’s Raiders, this elite unit was created by an order from President Franklin Roosevelt as a counterpart to the British Commandos—a unique concept at the time. Raiders were trained to conduct amphibious light infantry warfare and operated behind enemy lines.

    About a dozen Raiders, all well into their 80’s, attended the reunion. I was there with my father-in-law, an original Raider and a recipient of the Navy Cross for his heroics at the Battle of Bloody Ridge on Guadalcanal in 1942. He went on to a career in the Marine Corps, serving in Korea and Viet Nam as well

    As the remaining Raiders made their way around the base at Quantico last week, they were treated like rock stars by young Marines. Many asked for autographs and requested stories about past battles. The featured speaker at the final banquet was Lt Gen James Amos, recently nominated to become assistant commandant of the Marine Corps.

    Amos talked about how the Corps is still focused on innovation (like the Raiders of World War II) while maintaining the traditions and discipline of the past. He noted that unlike other branches of the armed services, the Marines are not lowering their recruitment standards. He said that the Marine Corps promise to a new recruit is a trip to Parris Island for 12 weeks of boot camp where his head is shaved and he is stripped of his clothes and personal identity. Upon completion of his training, he will be sent to some remote part of the world where people will hate him and try to kill him.

    Yet with this pledge in mind, the Marine Corps has been able to increase its numbers to over 180,000 men and women, and it will increase that further to more than 200,000 in the next 18 months.

    As I listened to him, I thought about our need to recruit young men and women into the electrical trade. In the face of competition, we often look at compromising our standards. Wouldn’t we attract more applicants if we lowered our basic requirements or shortened our training? Why do we need tests and certifications? If the non-union can train someone in two weeks, why can’t we?

    Matching the lowest common denominator is easy. Being the best is hard.

    We still need to be innovative. New methods of instruction like day-schooling and boot camps are worthy of consideration. Online courses support and supplement classroom learning. New worker classifications like CW/CE and unindentured increase our workforce and lower our composite labor rates. We have to embrace all these changes.

    At the same time, we can demand and expect the best of those who work in our industry. It’s a matter of pride and tradition. It means something special to be an IBEW journeyman or a NECA contractor. If we set the standard, then those who want to be the best will be waiting in line to join us.

    After hearing Amos’s stirring remarks, I think each one of the eighty-plus year-old Marine Raiders would eagerly re-up to serve their country once again, if they could. I know that’s how I felt.

  • Field Rep 2010

    Posted on Apr 07, 2008 by John M Grau

    In my last two posts, I’ve written about the NECA Field Service – its history and the challenges it confronts today. But what about the future?

    Will the job description for a NECA field representative of 2008 meet the needs of NECA members and chapters in the years 2010 and beyond? What will be expected of field reps then? What skill sets will be needed and how will they be organized?

    These are questions we are tackling right now in a project labeled Field Rep 2010. A small task force of NECA staff and chapter managers is working with me to create a profile of the skills and experience that the NECA field rep of the near future will need. Using that profile, we will lay out a plan to create the field service that our members will need in the year 2010 and beyond.

    NECA members can weigh in on this discussion. I recently sent an electronic survey to chapter executives to learn about what field staff services they find most valuable and what services they think we need to improve or provide. That same survey can be taken by NECA members reading this blog.

    Just click here, and you'll be directed to the brief online survey. If that link doesn't work, you may need to copy and paste the URL into into the address bar of your web browser to access the survey. 

    As we move forward with Field Rep 2010, I will keep you informed of our progress and plans. 

  • The NECA Field Service

    Posted on Mar 24, 2008 by John M Grau

    The idea for NECA “field service” came in the late 1930’s when the Labor Relations Committee reasoned that NECA could negotiate better terms with the IBEW if it represented a significant portion of IBEW-labor employers. The committee adopted a set of seven objectives to guide the work of one field representative whose first objective was membership. The fifth objective was “to give assistance to contractors locally, as needed.”

    In May 1939, NECA hired Paul Geary, former manger of the Youngstown, Ohio Chapter, as its first full-time traveling representative. He had one primary goal: Build members’ bargaining strength by soliciting electrical contractors to join and work together.

    As NECA’s lone field representative, Geary soon found himself concentrating less on his first objective to build bargaining strength and considerably more on his fifth to assist contractors locally. In an October 1941 report to the Committee, he wrote:

    When this Committee adopted that objective, I am sure that it did not fully appreciate how far it was “sticking its neck out.” I am sure that it did not foresee that our Local Chapters and members would need and desire so much assistance as they have; much less, that they would not only request it, but would demand it, backing up their demands with threats that they would drop their N.E.C.A. membership if we didn’t get them exactly what they wanted, when they wanted it. What they want ranges anywhere from the total extermination of Journeymen (working) contractors, to the removal of an alleged uncooperative, incompetent or dishonest Union Representative. Performing under this objective has taken up at least 80% of your Representative’s time and the expense connected therewith represents of course a proportionately large share of your revenue.

    Today the NECA field service team is a vital component in NECA’s service to its members. It is comprised of 16 field representatives organized into four regional offices, each under the direction of a regional executive director.

    Unique among trade associations in the construction industry, NECA’s field service is the link that connects the national organization with independent local chapters and local members.

    More on the field service in my next post.

  • SETS and CATS

    Posted on Oct 26, 2007 by John M Grau

    The boardroom at our national office has been taken over, and school is in full session.


    This is the week for SETS and CATS.   Those acronyms stand for Staff Executives Training School and Chapter Administrative Training School. They are orientation and training sessions for new chapter and national staff. Under the direction of “Dean” Stuart Binstock, who in real life is NECA’s Executive Director of the Management Executive Institute, attendees learn about administering a local chapter, and also what services are available from NECA and who’s responsible for them.

    This week we have 13 people attending the three-day SETS class which is geared for new chapter managers, assistant managers, and national staff associates. The two-day CATS class has five attendees who are chapter administrative personnel. The CATS sessions focus more on learning about processing membership and finance information at the chapter level.

    NECA has offered these courses in one form or another twice a year for over 40 years. Almost every NECA chapter executive has attended one sometime in his or her career. Some interesting topics covered include complying with anti-trust laws, chapter risk management (i.e. insurance coverage), strategic planning, chapter NEBF collection responsibilities and of course labor relations issues.

    I teach a segment on chapter administration that I’ve dubbed “How To Get Fired.” It’s based on my observations of how some former chapter staff have gotten themselves in trouble. The number one, absolute best way to get fired is to cheat on an expense account. And there have been some very creative attempts over the years. The second leading reason is embezzlement. Not by the chapter manager, but by the person in the office writing checks and handling the books. While the manager didn’t steal the money, he inevitably pays the price by losing his job.

    I have long thought that chapter staff education is one of the great services NECA offers to its members and chapters. In additions to CATS and SETS, each NECA region holds an annual chapter managers conference, and we have a national association executive conference in the convention city each spring. We’re adding specialized labor relations training to the mix starting next year (more about that in future postings), and more advanced training through a recently formed Chapter Executives Institute (CEI) will continue next year as well. On top of all that, our field staff is available for individual consulting and assistance.

    The new chapter staff attending SETS and CATS this week are well on their way to becoming part of the best association staff in the country. But it’s only a start to a lifetime of learning.

  • Back from San Francisco

    Posted on Oct 11, 2007 by John M Grau

    NECA’s convention was great, but it’s good to be home. I’m sure almost everyone who attended our convention and trade show last week in San Francisco feels the same way.

    While the convention takes most people away from their regular business and routines, it is my business. Since almost everyone I need to talk to or meet with was in San Francisco, there was only a small pile of mail and documents to approve when I returned to the office. And, of course, I was able to keep up with my e-mail along the way.

    By any measure, NECA’s 2007 convention and trade show were a big success. The workshops and seminars were well received, the speakers were fantastic, the trade show floor was busy, the governance meetings went smoothly, and the activities in San Francisco were a delight.

    Many people took time to share some of their thoughts and opinions with me about our industry and what they think about what NECA is doing or should be doing. Generally, I found that our members think we’re heading in the right direction, and we’re doing the right things – although everyone would like to see change come more quickly.

    For instance, many members expressed their dismay over IBEW President Ed Hill’s comments about portability and other issues following our Town Hall meeting. While we work closely and progressively with the IBEW on most matters, this is one case where there are some deep-seated differences. I’ll explore some of these in more depth in future postings. 

    The point I’d like to leave with you is that despite these differences, we will not give up in our efforts to achieve the changes needed to advance and grow our industry. What gives me hope is that in all my regular meetings and conversations with the IBEW leaders, I know they want to succeed as badly as we do. All we have to do is agree on the right way to get there. And now that I’m back in my office, it’s at the top of my “to do” list.

  • Globalization and Our Industry

    Posted on Sep 26, 2007 by John M Grau

    Question: What are the top concerns of electrical contractors worldwide? Answer: Finding enough skilled craftsmen and getting paid by general contractors.  

    Question: What is the latest worldwide buzzword for work opportunities for electrical contractors? Answer: Sustainable construction

    These were the main issues of discussion at a conference of the European electrical and mechanical contractors associations last week in Rome. Milner Irvin, Russ Alessi and I participated in the conference, along with our counterparts from Australia and South Africa. (This definitely wasn’t a pleasure trip. I arrived in Rome on Wednesday just in time for the opening afternoon session, and I was back in Washington on Saturday afternoon.)

    What we learned is the electrical contractors all over the world see great potential in responding to global environmental concerns and challenges. Saving energy and reducing carbon production in the construction and operations of buildings is a task well-suited to the technical capabilities of mechanical and electrical contractors. 

    How to best position ourselves for these opportunities was the theme of nearly every conference speaker. As with most business matters, there were no magic solutions. In the end, I think it will come down to a matter of awareness, education and training.

    NECA can play a vital role in this regard for electrical contractors in the U.S. Through our research foundation ELECTRI International and other sources, we stay on top of the latest trends in markets and technology. We can use MEIELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR magazine and other communication vehicles to educate and inform the industry. Finally, the NJATC can develop the training resources needed to bring our workforce up to speed.

    A great example is the solar technician text recently developed and released by the NJATC. It’s the only book of its kind anywhere. Our challenge is to put it to use.

    By the way, I did have time for a quick walk through St Peter’s Basilica during my 72 hours in Rome. It was certainly one of the most impressive structures in the world, and it was built over 400 years ago. That’s quite a construction legacy.

    Next stop: San Francisco for the NECA Convention and Show.


About NECA Transmissions

NECA Transmissions is a collaborative effort from CEO John Grau and NECA staff to provide insight and feedback on key issues from the front lines of the electrical contracting industry.


1201 Pennsylvania Ave. NW Washington, D.C. 20004 United States |Phone: (202) 991-6300 |Fax: (301) 215-4500

|Contact NECA Webmaster

© Copyright NECA 1995-2011. All rights reserved