Every year, stakeholders in the electrical industry, from large manufacturers to individual contractors and their skilled workforce, to suppliers, designers and engineers all gather under the same tent at the NECA Convention and Show.
John Grau is the Chief Executive Officer of NECA, and as the holder of that title since 1986, he’s seen about everything there is to see in the 100 billion dollar industry.
These are challenging times in the life of an electrical contractor, and he took a few minutes to sit down with ETV’s Bob Mizke to discuss how NECA members are working harder than ever to provide solutions for their customers.
Bob Mizke, Electric TV: John, another NECA show is getting put in the books. How do you feel overall about this year’s show?
John Grau, CEO, National Electrical Contractors Association: This has been a successful show. We really had a good turnout. The exhibitors came out in force. This is now the largest electrical show in the nation right now for electrical contractors. They’re supporting us, but in turn our contractors are coming out, working the show floor and finding out what’s going on in the industry. We also had many workshops at this convention – the latest management techniques, the latest technology to improve their businesses.
BM: And honestly, the attendance here this year surprised you a little bit, didn’t it?
JG: Yeah. Originally we looked at this several months out and we were thinking that if the economy’s bad, then maybe they won’t show up like they have in the past. But they have. These are the optimistic contractors. These are the ones who are looking toward the future. They know their business is going to grow one of these days, and they want to be prepared for it. When the economy does take off again, they’re going to be the ones on the forefront, getting the business.
BM: Let’s talk about the changing business model for the NECA contractor. In what overall, general ways re you seeing them starting to diversify?
JG: Well, they’re diversifying into different markets. Things like solar and wind, which is new, and energy controls and things. But a lot of it is traditional work that is applied toward things like energy conservation.
BM: Grau says our nation’s 4 million commercial buildings use more than 70 percent of the nation’s electricity. And the vast majority is equipped with outdated mechanical system technology that is inefficient, inconvenient and costly. Today’s best systems are essentially wired to communicate with each other. HVAC systems and energy efficient lighting and building controls all can run off a single computerized system. There are even systems with automated window shades that operate according to how much daylight is coming into a room. Grau says NECA contractors are installing this technology every day, and when the work is done, all that’s needed is a laptop and an internet connection o control the building’s systems from virtually anywhere.
JG: Why is that important? The building owners want to make sure they’re saving money. So they’re looking to our contractors as the source of information as to how to make their buildings more energy efficient and less costly.
BM: Are you seeing people who are starting to come around now, building owners who are saying that they’d rather pay a little more on the front end to get their buildings up to shape for the long term energy saving picture?
JG: Yes. Definitely, that’s true. At first it was all driven by payback. How long will it take me to recoup the money that I’ve invested in this? And that’s still a big factor. But it’s interesting; I think that a lot of owners and businesses want to show their customers that they are energy conscious. He can market his building better if he can say it meets certain energy efficiency standards, it’s a modern building. People who work there feel better about working in a building that’s energy efficient, and they’re doing their part for the environment. So that whole dynamic has been involved in that as well.
BM: Well it sounds like an evolution of one of those things that you and your NECA president Rex Ferry have talked about. Energy managers, that’s a term you’re starting to work into the industry.
JG: Yeah, you had coal and nuclear and those kinds of things, but now you have the wind and solar. So whatever it is, it may be generated in a different way, basically you still have to convert those all into a form we can use, and that’s electricity. And our guys are the ones who bring that energy into the building, the home, whatever it is, and make it work for the customer.
BM: So John, when it comes to cutting-edge, technical electrical work and installations and things like that, the NECA contractor, of course, is one part of the team. Talk a little bit about the IBEW’s role.
JG: Sure. So the contractor, he has to know how to go out and figure the energy savings and do this, but he needs somebody who can implement that plan, whatever it is. And that’s where we work with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the IBEW to have and develop that workforce. We have a training arm, the National Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee, and that group is our training source for our industry. We’re constantly changing, constantly looking at the cutting-edge types of training we need to do to capture these kinds of markets.
BM: Whether it involves building automation or alternative energy, Grau went on to say that virtually any new technological advancement at some point has electricity involved. And NECA and the IBEW’s jointly funded training program spends more than 125 million dollars annually from coast to coast. In fact, he points to this formal training as the customer’s guarantee of quality. So is it really all about staying ahead of the curve for when things start to really turn around?
JG: Exactly. We’re not sitting back. At times like these you can’t go crawl under the desk and hide. You have to be out there in the front saying, ok, what are we going to do, and we’re ready.
BM: Thanks for your time, John. Always good to visit with you and learn more.
Plans are already underway for next year’s NECA Convention and how, which will be in San Diego on October 23 to the 25. As Mr. Grau said, it’s the biggest gathering of movers and shakers in the electrical industry. For more information on that, check out NECAConvention.org.