I recently had the privilege to be invited to the inaugural meeting of the Plumbing Industry Leadership Coalition in Washington. As the name suggests, PILC is comprised of all the leaders in the plumbing industry — contractors, engineers, manufacturers, code bodies, labor, materials advocates and niche market stakeholders. The project was the brainchild of Russ Chaney, CEO of the International Association of Plumbing & Mechanical Officials, Barb Higgens, executive director of Plumbing Manufacturers International, and Jim Kendzel, executive director/CEO of the American Society of Plumbing Engineers.
Why? Kendzel said that after taking over at ASPE a year and a half ago, he perceived that the plumbing industry was not united at the highest levels. Every group was doing its own thing when it came to topics such as codes and standards, and many of the associations were lobbying in Washington separately.
“The real purpose and value of our coming together is that I don’t want anyone else creating our industry’s future for us,” Chaney said. “It’s got to be us.”
On topics on which consensus can be reached, the entire plumbing industry speaking with a united voice will have more impact on regulators and Congress. What could kill this? If the CEOs hand it off to lower level staffers who come together to kibitz.
“I think you’re spot on,” said Gerry Kennedy, executive vice president of Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors – National Association. “Lots of us sitting in the room have had the same basic thought that this is very worthwhile, but it’s going to take the leaders to do it. We’ll have to keep it strategic and at a high level.”
The mission of the new group will be to provide a forum for an exchange of information through the leadership of U.S.-based plumbing industry associations, to seek common ground on industry issues and to address and promote those issues as a unified coalition.
The focus initially will be on legislative/regulatory issues; public awareness; public health, and water efficiency.
In a pre-meeting survey of attendees, new or increasing regulation and legislation garnered the top number of hits, including inconsistency in interpretation, duplication, conflict between regulations, and lack of or too much enforcement. Mary Ann Dickinson, president and CEO of the Alliance for Water Efficiency, said apathy about water issues by elected officials is a significant problem.
Another topic will be public awareness and respect for the industry of plumbing. Dan Daniels, IAPMO president and a plumber who’s the chief plumbing inspector for the City of Pueblo, Colo., pointed out that the first thing the public thinks about plumbers is derogatory and they don’t know about the thousands of hours of training it takes to become a journeyman.
Other concerns brought out by the pre-meeting survey are the economy and unemployment, increasing costs for insurance and licensing, and the lack of residential construction. As soon as the economy picks up, however, workforce development will become a problem. Kennedy said there will be a shortage of 100,000 workers in the industry, plus a shortage of foremen and superintendents.
And, finally, another issue Kendzel identified is the lack of funding for research and education, such as the Plumbing Efficiency Research Coalition that’s currently studying drainline carry.
We’re hoping here that PILC can become a vital and involved organization that multiplies the power of the plumbing industry before local, state and federal lawmakers and regulators. It will, however, be challenged by a scarcity of resources. It will need to set up some kind of structure for follow-up and to keep the venture going.
“The last thing any of us need is another meeting to go,” Chaney noted.
“We’re not forming an association where we all put up money, but there are some issues on which we can speak as an industry with power,” Kendzel said.
PILC will meet annually for now, with Kendzel, Higgens and Chaney acting as the executive committee for the first year until the group holds elections. There’s a danger that all of these good intentions are for naught because the leaders of the industry will be out of time and resources. Kendzel, Higgens and Chaney, however, are a trio who can keep PILC on track.