NECA TransmissionsNotes from the front lines of the electrical contracting industry
  • Family Business, Family Association

    Posted on Jul 08, 2008 by John M Grau

    On a recent NECA trip, I headed downstairs to the hotel bar at the end of the meeting to see who might be there. I ran into a NECA-member contractor and sat down to have a drink with him. 

    Our conversation drifted onto the subject of his business and some challenges he was facing. His workers’ comp modification rate had gone up, and he was having difficulty convincing his electricians of the need to control workers comp costs. He took over the business from his father about ten years ago and was now questioning that decision.  Was it worth the risk? His two sons (one just out of college and the other with two years to go) had decided they didn’t want to work in the business. They heard about all the problems over the kitchen table at night and decided there are better ways to make a living.

    With some variations, I’ve had this conversation before. It’s a pretty typical scenario for many NECA contractors. By and large, they are small, family-owned businesses with all the problems and opportunities inherit to that type of business.

    I realized in this conversation that disappointment with family loomed large. There is the sons’ lack of interest in the business, of course, but there’s also the lack of cooperation from the workforce. Small businesses consider their long-term employees like part of the family. It’s hard for them to understand why family members won’t pull together for the good of everyone in the business.

    During our conversation, another NECA contractor came by and joined in. He was nearing retirement from his family’s third-generation business. He had gone through a bunch of the same experiences and offered both sympathy and advice to my original bar mate. 

    I mentioned to them both that this was one of the real advantages of belonging to an association, like NECA. Where else can you find someone who truly understands the challenges you face on a daily basis? Where else will you find competitors willing to share their knowledge and experience with you?

    NECA members become part of an extended family. Sometimes there’s the weird cousin or the good-for-nothing son-in-law, but overall it’s a caring and supportive family.   Successful NECA members have learned how to use these relationships to their advantage. In fact, many have told me it is the secret to their success.

  • Hold Up a Mirror to See the Special Interests

    Posted on Apr 30, 2008 by John M Grau

    Right now I’m attending the NECA Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C. This is a busy week for me, with meetings of the Government Affairs Committee, the Workforce Development Committee and the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee. Just to round things out, the Marketing Committee gathered last week.

    In my opening remarks at the conference this morning, I warned the NECA members and staff present to be on the look out for special interest groups. All the presidential candidates and many legislators say that special interests are taking over our government and unduly influencing our elected officials. These special interests are like a 17-year-old boy with only one thing on his mind – in this case, it’s to convince legislators to support their issue or cause.

    Then I asked the conference participants to look around at the other people in the room. They now had come face-to-face with the dreaded special interests. We are one of those special interest groups.

    Anyone who gets together with a group to petition their government leaders is a special interest. But it seems that depending on your political bias, groups like the trial lawyers, unions, and the Sierra Club are not special interest groups. Apparently. it’s okay for them to invite legislators to their meetings and help finance political campaigns. If you listen to the mainstream media, the real special interests are business groups. They have unflattering labels like “Big Oil” or “Big Pharma.” 

    In truth, it’s a patriotic act for a special interest of any kind to legitimately try to convince their legislators of the merit of their point of view. Like voting, it’s our duty.

    Our political leaders should not work in isolation. They need to be confronted with issues and understand the problems facing their constituents. But it is difficult for any one voice to be heard. For one thing, it’s not feasible for every citizen of this country to have a personal meeting with every legislator voting on a matter of interest to that citizen. It’s also not very efficient.

    That’s where trade associations, professional societies and other groups come into play. It makes perfect sense for people or companies with common interests to band together to jointly present their point of view to our political leaders. And the bigger, the more organized and well-financed the group, the better. Such things clearly demonstrate the importance that the group places on their issues.

    So we shouldn’t be knocking special interest groups. We should be lauding them. Totalitarian governments control their populations by suppressing organized groups. In contrast, democracies promote a free society by guaranteeing the right of people to organize into groups and to openly petition their government.

    So this week, the patriots of our industry are in Washington, D.C., working to influence the federal government. Watch out Congress – Big Electrical is in town. We are a special interest group, and we’re proud to be here!

  • Crystal Ball or Construction Forecast?

    Posted on Apr 15, 2008 by John M Grau

    In the last six weeks, I’ve attended meetings in Chicago, Hawaii, New Orleans and Florida (twice).  I’ve participated in 10 conference calls with local NECA chapter boards of directors. I mingled with industry leaders from across the country at former IBEW International Secretary-Treasurer Jon Walters’ retirement dinner, and I talked with local business agents at the annual IBEW Construction Conference in Washington, D.C.

    So I feel pretty much in touch with what’s going on around the country, industry-wise. But the one thing I still can’t get a handle on is where the construction economy is headed. 

    If I read the papers and listen to economists from McGraw-Hill and other industry reporting services, I heard that we’re in a slump. Construction employment is down. That’s to be expected with the contraction in the residential sector.  But these reports say it’s impacted the non-residential sector as well.

    When I talk to NECA members directly, they seem very positive about the near-term (next year or so) work picture. Hardly anyone talks about an imminent slowdown. 

    I was at a reception with some executives of national trade associations a couple weeks ago, and I ran into my counterpart with the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC). He confirmed the same outlook from his members. We both wondered when the other shoe will drop.

    At first I thought this sub-prime mess might only impact financial markets. The newspapers often equate what happens on Wall Street with what’s happening on Main Street. A credit crunch eventually works its way throughout the economy.

    I am interested in hearing from readers of NECA Transmissions. What’s the electrical construction work picture in your area? Do you expect to be busy for the next couple years? Are there any rumblings of delayed or cancelled projects?

    If I get a sufficient response, I’ll report back with the state of the electrical construction industry economy in a future posting.

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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