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

  • Time to do what we're not doing

    Posted on May 19, 2009 by John M Grau

    The annual IBEW Construction Conference was in town last week. I dropped by to hear IBEW President Ed Hill address the business managers from IBEW local unions across the country.

    Ed threw some slides up on the screen showing the number of IBEW-signatory electrical contractors versus the total number of electrical contractors. He broke the numbers down by district and also showed how they looked for some typical local unions. In most cases, the number of non-union contractors exceeded the number of union contractors by six or seven times or more.

    No surprise there. Ed then asked the group what they were going to do about it.

    He also showed slides depicting various types of work, much of which has been abandoned by the union side of the industry - stuff like residential, small commercial, strip malls, churches, and fast food restaurants.

    Ed challenged the audience to go after this work. He told them that the IBEW Constitution does not allow them to decide that this is no longer union work. He suggested that every local union consider developing a small works labor agreement and to use all the tools available to capture this work — such as the CW/CE classification.

    Of course, capturing or recapturing work isn't the sole responsibility of the IBEW. In fact, they can't do it alone. For many reasons, both good and bad, we collectively have decided to walk away from huge segments of electrical construction work.

    We need to sit down in each local area, assess the work that we're not doing, and come up with a plan to do it. It's as simple, and as hard, as that.

    Based on Ed Hill's challenge to his local union leaders, I think NECA chapters may find a more sympathetic partner in attempting to seriously address these issues with their IBEW counterparts. And they will expect our contractors to be ready to accept the challenge as well.

    This isn't the time to score political gains. It’s the time to do what we're not doing.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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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