National Electrical Contractors Association members and staff from around the country came together for hundreds of meetings with their leaders in Congress during the second day of the 2017 National Legislative Conference and Political Leadership Council Summit.
During the morning portion of Thursday’s session, NECA CEO John M. Grau and four members of Congress – two Democrats and two Republicans – spoke to contractors who convened at the Dirksen Senate Office Building.
Grau praised contractors who showed up in Washington to exercise their right to petition the government and making their voices heard. Echoing what was discusses during Wednesday’s sessions, the economy and infrastructure investment was the focus of many of the speeches of members of Congress.
Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA) said he supported a “real infrastructure bill to rebuild America.” That would include implementing a high-speed rail system, modernizing the nation’s airports and upgrading the electrical grid.
“There is a loss of confidence in this country, not externally but internally,” he said. “But I reject the view that the American dream is out of reach.”
Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL) presented an upbeat outlook for electrical contractors advocated for major infrastructure investment.
“You are at the heart of this,” he said.
Mast disputed the notion that the GOP conference is falling apart and this could be looked back at as the moment that pulled everyone together.
“I hope you are excited about the future because your industry is at the heart of what is going to be happening,” he said.
Added Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL): “If we abdicate our responsibility to address these issues, then shame on us. … If we’re going to do (infrastructure), we have to do it right.”
Davis said Congress needs to find a way to fund and investment and diversify that funding portfolio.
“You have to help us send a message,” he said. “We have got to hear from NECA as we move our priorities forward.”
Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) stressed that members of his party want to talk about economics and growth and they are not anti-business. Globalization and automation are among the challenges facing Americans, but he said there are solutions to pursue.
Ryan said those solutions include widening access to broadband, upgrading to a smart energy grid, investing in technology in distressed communities and moving 10 percent of the federal workforce to other parts of the country.
Throughout the day, NECA members made Capitol Hill visits to Representatives and Senators on both sides of the aisle with positive results.
Steve Diamond, Owner of Malko Communication Services in Skokie, IL, was among a group of contractors from Illinois who met with the state’s Senate offices and 11 House members. That included a bipartisan roundtable discussion with Reps. Dan Lapinski, Darin LaHood and Randy Hultgren, who all showed up to see the contractors at the same time.
“It’s fun when you have lot of activity,” he said. “It’s a reflection of the effort you put into it.”
David Haynes, President of London Road Electric and Governor of NECA’s Greater Cleveland Chapter, said he has made several trips to Washington over the past eight years and feels like progress is being made at the event.
He and Bud Ferdinando, Secretary-Treasurer with EC&M Contractors in Painesville, OH, met with the offices of Rep. David Joyce and Sen. Rob Portman. They were able to speak about the issues important to the industry and foster deeper relationships with national decision-makers.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz tweeted about a visit from NECA’s South Texas Chapter, which he said featured discussions on health care, taxes and regulatory reform.
Gene Heady, an Atlanta attorney with Smith Currie, and Jerry Hayes, President and CEO of United Electric Company, Inc., in Marietta, GA, joined in the meeting with Cruz during a break from talking with representatives for the Senate and House offices in Georgia and came away impressed.
Hayes, who has attended NECA’s legislative conference multiple times, said he appreciates the “long game” that is required to educate and persuade Congress.
Haynes, the contractor from Ohio, said not every meeting meets expectations, but spending the time at the conference is key.
“Everything NECA is doing is great,” he added. “The conference gets better and better.”