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 >>

  • The "Super Committee”

    Posted on Oct 04, 2011 by Lake Coulson

    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 Lake Coulson.

    Just before you were leaving town on your August vacation and much-needed family quality time, Congress passed legislation that would prevent the United States from defaulting on its credit obligations and created a 12-person House-Senate Super Committee (“Committee”) to consider additional deficit reductions.  The Committee has to submit a report of its recommendations by November 23 and Congress will be limited to vote up-or-down on the plan by December 23.  If Congress fails to act on the Committee’s recommendations, automatic spending cuts of $1.2 trillion will occur in domestic spending and defense.

    Many believe the odds are stacked against the Super Committee agreeing on a package of spending cuts, let alone Congress concurring, without amending, the Super Committee’s recommendations.

    However, if the naysayers are incorrect, and the Super Committee is effective at producing deficit reductions, it could very well change the way Washington does business and the way legislation is enacted.  By design, the Super Committee possesses enormous power as it supersedes the process by which legislation normally becomes law.  Legislation receives a hearing and markup in the committee of jurisdiction; however, a decent argument offers that tax and revenue legislation that has long fallen under the scope of the Ways and Means Committee now falls under the jurisdiction of the Super Committee.

    While the relevant committees cannot be ignored, and thankfully, there are several tax-writers on the Super Committee, NECA, for the immediate future, must focus its advocacy on the Super Committee’s members.  Legislation to repeal the 3% withholding tax, incentives for electric vehicles and associated infrastructure and energy efficient investments for building owners could all be in play before the Super Committee.  NECA will need to respond with strategies to be fast, focused, and flexible, as it is now forced to advocate for beneficial provisions before a Committee with some of whom have, little, if any direct tax-writing experience or direct knowledge of the benefits created by those tax incentives.

    Those arguing for greater transparency in the political process will undoubtedly lose out in this closed environment as the details of the reduction package will be restricted to the Committee’s members and House/Senate leadership.  However, those seeking action in Washington may benefit from potential streamlined decision-making as the Committee’s recommendations cannot be amended or modified; members will be limited to an up-or-down vote on the recommendations.

    In conclusion, one can argue that drastic times call for drastic measures.  It is conceivable that if this process is successful in producing a bipartisan solution at reducing the deficit, it may well serve as a model for future budget deliberations.  If this sounds like a cop out, and it probably is, it’s too soon tell whether this political model will work, but keep your calendar clear on November 23, the date when the Super Committee’s recommendations are due to Congress.

  • An Open Letter to Our New Leaders

    Posted on Nov 07, 2008 by John M Grau

    Congratulations President-elect Barack Obama and Members of the Newly Elected 111th Congress.

    ECPAC didn’t support all of you in your election races.  Regardless, we do celebrate our democracy, and the fact that we freely and openly choose our leaders.

    Whether we supported you or not, you can expect to hear from us. We are the voice of the nation's electrical contracting industry. We are a significant segment of the construction industry, which is one of the largest employers of American citizens and represents a major portion of our nation's gross domestic product.

    We will offer you our thoughts, ideas, support when we can - and criticism when necessary. We look forward to a productive working relationship.

    We know you will have your hands full with a number of important issues. Here are a few things we would like Congress and the new Administration to place on your agenda.

    We need some help with our pension plans. It won't cost you anything, unlike the Wall Street bailout. Just give us some extra time to fund our obligations. We suspect that, in contrast to the last Administration, you won't have a bias against union multi-employer plans.

    We also suspect that we won't have to fight very hard to keep Davis-Bacon provisions intact. You're with us on that one. But please don't go so far with your promotion of union issues that you trample on the rights of small employers. We'll be watching you closely on that.

    We're encouraged that you will promote investment in infrastructure, energy conservation measures, and alternative sources of energy. That's right up our alley, and our members can help you rebuild, renew, and re-energize America.

    We most likely will part ways with you on some tax issues. Remember that, by and large, we are small, family-owned businesses. You claim that we are the engine for job growth in our country. Please don't stifle our ability to grow our businesses.

    Estate taxes, corporate tax rates, and marginal income tax rates do matter. As a matter of good faith, why not repeal the 3% withholding tax that Congress sneaked into some legislation a couple years ago? We all know it was a bad idea, so let's get rid of it.

    There's also the matter of regulation. We see the fallout from lax regulation in the financial markets. Don't use that as an excuse to swing the pendulum too far the other way. We see the need for regulations, and we will work with you to make any new regulations sensible and workable. We have a very productive coalition with OSHA that is advancing safety efforts in the line construction industry. Please don't destroy that.

    We know you will be busy setting up your offices, hiring your staff, and preparing to govern our country. So we won't bother you any more right now. We just wanted to introduce ourselves and let you know that you'll be seeing us down the road.

    Once again, congratulations, and good luck!

  • 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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