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 >>

  • Reaction to the Grass is Greener Post

    Posted on Aug 20, 2008 by John M Grau

    My last post drew more comments and responses than I’ve had for awhile. Some people commented on whether we should be optimistic or pessimistic. Others commented on the future of energy-efficiency markets.

    A thoughtful response came from Columbus, Ohio, member Greg Stewart who wrote:

    The "Good Old Days" are in reality always right now. Through challenge comes opportunity and through opportunity comes success, if we are wise enough to recognize it and act upon it. The way it was will never be again, yet the way it will be is very much up to what we make it.

    Oregon member Nathan Philips suggests a method for going after PV work:

    As you know, I'm from Oregon, which is a license state and we're struggling with our IBEW partners to clarify the scope of PV installation work that requires an electrical license. As you point out, we don't want to let this industry get away from us, so NECA has been advocating for rules that allow unlicensed workers to assemble racks intended for PV collectors, which is the standard in the non-union sector. Our approach is that once the licensing requirements are clarified, we can get the bargaining agreements to mirror them.

    Austin, Texas, member Mike Kanetzky is concerned that we don’t over-train our apprentices by adding a solar component.

    John, I agree there are many opportunities for the electrical contracting industry. However I see Red Flags all over your article fearing that there will be a push to add a Wind/Photovoltaic class to our apprenticeship program which has already gone astray.

    The biggest opportunity for NECA-IBEW contractors would be to remove all classification ratios across the country. Have a 12-month plan to overhaul the NJATC creating curriculum that will provide immediate Production/Quality/Safety results in the field for electric contractors. There is a core skill set that every electrician needs and we are missing the boat with our current training.

    (The NJATC is embarked on a core curriculum project which will address some of Mike’s concerns).

    My favorite response is from my pessimistic friend that I mentioned at the beginning of the last post. He sent me the following comment:

    I do lament the passing of the old days. In my opinion, you'd have to be an idiot NOT to.

    I can read a financial statement. So can you.

    The U.S. is bankrupt. People who even call this into question are loony (at a minimum). Those who aren't loony are self-deceivers. Those who are not loony or self-deceiving are … totally dishonest.

    Fact is, we didn't used to be. One of the reasons the 1970s and early 1980s were not worse was our economic strength. If Paul Volcker came in again and administered the same high-interest-rate shock "to the system" that he did in 1979-87 … our economy would COLLAPSE.

    There's no disputing that. We've allowed our economy to become fragile — by being, in part, self-indulgent spoiled idiots.

    I’ll let that be the last word.

  • Where The Glass Is Greener — And More Than Half Full

    Posted on Aug 04, 2008 by John M Grau

    A friend of mine writes regular commentary on our industry through his own blog and in the freelance work he does for industry-related groups. He’s a doom and gloom kind of guy. For him, the world has always been on the verge of the Apocalypse, and I know he is reveling in all the bad news he can garner from our current economic and political situation. He’s featured a lot in National Association of Electrical Distributor publications. So if your local distributor is especially depressed, it’s probably because he has been reading my friend’s stuff.

    A variation on this theme is another friend of mine who views the peak of his career as the day he went to work in the industry. In his mind, everything has been downhill ever since. He longs for the good old days of thirty years ago and can’t adjust to the changing realities of today’s world. For him, the only solution is to get everything back to the way it was. No wonder he’s always disappointed.

    I just came back from a meeting in Los Angeles that paints a stark contrast to these two views of our industry. NECA, in conjunction with our Los Angeles County Chapter, hosted an Energy Solutions Summit. The thirty-plus participants at this meeting are all involved in some way in the alternative energy (e.g., wind, solar, etc.), green building and energy efficiency markets. We brought them together to pick their brains on what NECA and our members should do to capitalize on the opportunities presented by these markets.

    To say that we all came away from this meeting with renewed energy is more than just a pun. The growth of these markets and the work opportunities they present for electrical contractors is virtually unlimited. We are also convinced that the opportunities are available to all-size contractors in all parts of the country; This isn’t just a big-contractor-in-the-Sunbelt phenomena. The only downside is that if we don’t take positive steps to grab this work, it may slip through our fingers like some other opportunities have in the past.

    The good news is that we’re still in the early part of the game. To that end, NECA is taking all the good ideas from this summit and developing a master plan for capturing the energy efficiency market. To accomplish this plan, we’ll need to draw on our resources in education, training, research, government affairs, codes and standards, marketing and labor relations.

    We don’t need to start from scratch. We have some good models in programs already operating in places like Los Angeles. The important thing is that we don’t just sit back and do nothing at all.

    So for those who want to lament the passing of the old days, they’re welcome to it. The rest of us will be working on creating the industry of the future.

  • Summertime and the Livin' is .... Hectic

    Posted on Jul 22, 2008 by John M Grau

    Last week, the ELECTRI Council of NECA’s Foundation met in Chicago to fund a new round of research projects. The Council members selected six projects from some new, young university professors on subjects such as Building Information Modeling (BIM) in the electrical industry. The Council also approved a new multi-year project involving solar marketing and training led by veteran researcher David Riley of Penn State.

    Next week, Midwest Chapter Execs gather in Chicago to share experiences and learn better ways to manage their respective chapters. Later in the week, NECA is hosting an energy-efficiency summit in Los Angeles. An invited group of 30 member contractors and chapter executives will discuss solar/wind/green construction and provide guidance and ideas on how NECA members can best capitalize on work in these markets.

    During the first week of August, the National Training Institute (NTI) will convene in Knoxville, Tennessee. Nearly two thousand local training directors and those associated with NECA-IBEW training attend this week-long program. In conjunction with that event, NECA and the IBEW leadership will meet as the National Labor-Management Cooperation Committee (NLMCC). We will talk about how to most effectively move our industry forward through joint cooperative efforts.

    Of course, there are many more meetings taking place, and these are all events that I am directly involved in over the next couple weeks. This means I’ll be shuttling around on airplanes, as usual.

    Anyone traveling by air this summer knows that it hasn’t been fun. So far, I have avoided paying for checking my bag — I prefer carry-on. I haven’t avoided delayed flights and poor service. I can forgo the meals and peanuts, but I would like to get from point A to point B somewhat close to schedule — like the same day.

    On the plus side, I'm rewarded with lots of frequent flyer miles which I can then use to take more flights.

    Wait a minute. Something's wrong here.

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.

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