NECA TransmissionsNotes from the front lines of the electrical contracting industry
  • 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.

  • 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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