NECA TransmissionsNotes from the front lines of the electrical contracting industry
  • The Sound of a Stagnant Economy

    Posted on Jun 13, 2013 by John M Grau

    Thud! The national jobs report has landed and it’s not an encouraging sound. Instead of gaining ground on job growth and lowering the unemployment rate, we’re moving backwards. The rounds of self-analysis and blame have begun.

    The timing was good for the Jobs for America Summit which I attended earlier this week. It made national news because Jeff Immelt, General Electric CEO and chairman of the Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, addressed the group. The highlight for me, however, was the release of a new small business outlook survey conducted by Harris Interactive.

    The survey of small business owners (annual company income of $25 million or less) tracks their attitudes about the impact of the political environment on the business environment and also includes their forecasts for upcoming business and hiring. Most NECA members fit this profile, so I assume it is at least partially reflective of their thoughts and forecasts.

    Economists claim that small businesses are the engine for job creation and growth. So what are the hiring forecasts? Nearly 65% said they have no plans to add employees this year and about 15% are reducing their workforce. That means 80% are not hiring and only 20% are creating new jobs.

    Why aren’t they hiring? Well, lack of work/orders/sales is the primary reason, but what’s behind the stagnation? The number one reason cited by small business owners is economic uncertainty. And the causes of economic uncertainty are the federal debt and deficit, regulations coming out of Washington, tax rates and tax code changes, and the requirements of the healthcare bill.

    While small business owners are by nature an optimistic group, only 39% said that their own business’s best days are ahead of them. And an even more sobering number is that only 20% believe that the country’s best days are ahead.

    While the debt and deficit are now the top agenda items for Congress and the White House, it doesn’t seem that our government leaders are doing much to confront the other causes of economic uncertainty. And until the uncertainty is resolved, it doesn’t look like small businesses will grow and create new jobs. Expect another thud next month.

  • Celebrating the New American Heroes

    Posted on Apr 15, 2009 by John M Grau

    It’s Tax Day 2009. Today as individuals all across our country rush to file their taxes, it’s time to publicly identify and honor the new American Hero.

    Our country is in financial trouble. All the proposals I’ve seen for correcting this mess focus on raising taxes, specifically on those individuals earning over $250,000 a year. On the other hand, these proposals also call for reducing taxes on other income groups. The net result is that over fifty percent of Americans won’t pay any federal income taxes at all. That leaves it up to the $250,000+ earners to bail us out.

    Some analysts claim that we would have to tax 100% of the income of these high-wage earners to pay for everything that’s being proposed. In my mind, that misses the point. Why aren’t monuments being planned for the National Mall (shovel-ready, job stimulating projects, mind you) and parades organized to honor our new American heroes – the remaining taxpayers? Shouldn’t we create a national day off from work to recognize them? Instead of holding tea parties in protest, we should all sit down and write thank-you notes to these people.

    Note to officials at the Department of Homeland Security: I’m being facetious.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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. 

  • 21st Century Demands

    Posted on Apr 02, 2008 by John M Grau

    Today, we find that the need for field staff services is exponentially greater than ever before. It can be a challenge for our four regional executive directors and 16 field representatives to juggle all the demands and meet all the needs around the country. So where do we go from here? Let’s start by looking at the facts:

    1. Chapters and local members are continually asking for more field staff expertise and engagement. Chapter staffs are comparably smaller today than they were 20 years ago. Many chapters that used to have assistant managers don’t today. Without this training ground for future manager positions, local chapters have difficulty finding experienced managers with a background in trade association management, labor relations and NECA practices. 

    Also, new chapter managers are less likely to have any labor relations experience since it is so difficult to obtain. Because of this, they will rely heavily on the NECA field staff for assistance in the day-to-day challenges of labor relations and working with local IBEW representatives

    Field representatives are also leading the new labor relations training programs and providing other collective bargaining education. This training aspect of their job is an important support feature for the local chapter.

    2. There is a greater need for field staff interaction with their IBEW counterparts.   The growth of special market recovery initiatives like the Florida Initiative throughout the country requires intensive work by IBEW International representatives and NECA field representatives. Without their constant oversight and guidance, these programs will fail. Meetings to establish an area-wide initiative, to develop market recovery tools, to set up manpower recruiting blitzes, and to guide contractors in the use of the new CW/CE categories require an enormous amount of field representative time. 

    Add to this support for the Code of Excellence and Industry Awareness programs, joint market recovery meetings and efforts toward multi-chapter portability. 

    Each NECA field representative must work with anywhere from three to eight IBEW International representatives. The IBEW has five times the number of field staff (not counting organizers) available to work on these issues compared to NECA. 

    3. Field Representatives are responding to more national directives. The field staffers have always been instrumental in collecting information and data that serve the broader membership. As industry information needs increase, the field representatives are being called on more often to assist in these efforts. They organize chapter board conference calls, prepare workforce development reports, gather labor agreement and labor data information for the members’ on-line database. 

    The field representatives are the face of the national organization at the local level. They are called on to meet frequently with local chapter staff and members to present and explain national programs and initiatives. 

    As NECA looks to the future and seeks the means to grow the value of the association for its members’ benefit, the role of the field staff must also be evaluated. More on what I hope will be the future of the field staff in an upcoming post.


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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