By Ike Casey
Special to CONTRACTOR
TRADE ASSOCIATIONS are not well understood in our industry. As with almost everything else in today’s busy world, the majority of potential members seem to ask of trade associations, “What can you do for me?” That is all fine and good, but I would prefer that this question also be asked: “What can you do for us?”
As I read CONTRACTOR Publisher Bob Miodonski’s February editorial (“Keeping current with contractors’ needs,”) and the accompanying article about the late Jeff Forker of Penton Media (pg. 5), I was encouraged about the comments made about the value of trade associations. The comments were right on target with my belief that there is more to a trade association than finding a way to make yourself more successful. That certainly is one important ingredient, but it is not the overriding reason.
I contend that contractors should support their industry association. Not only does the contractor benefit, but the industry does as well. That support is not occurring now. I assume if you added the membership of all the related trade associations — Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors - National Association, Mechanical Contractors Association of America, Air Conditioning Contractors of America, Radiant Panel Association, etc. — we would not have but about 20% of the total readership of this magazine. Why is that?
PHCC and similar trade associations are different from Nexstar, Success Group International and other contractor organizations. These newer groups are primarily designed to help your business achieve success. Although PHCC fills that role too, PHCC also makes sure your industry is strong. A trade association is interested in the overall health of the industry, as well as its individual members.
Sometimes we hear from a member or former member that “they receive more from ‘X’ for their business than they did from PHCC.” This might be true. That is why PHCC has developed enhanced service groups such as Quality Service Contractors, Construction Contractors’ Alliance and Union-Affiliated Contractors to provide specialized services to members who want more. These groups are doing a wonderful job of meeting the needs of their members, but these same members would readily admit that they still need PHCC to be an overall representative of the industry.
Who is looking out for the industry? That is where a comprehensive trade association comes in. It provides advocacy on all levels of government; it is the industry spokesperson on codes and standards; and it provides the conscience for the industry.
There has to be an organization that is the watchdog for the industry on the local, state and national level. True, some groups represent all businesses, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, or represent small businesses, such as the National Federation of Independent Businesses. Only a few, however, target the business you are in if you are a plumbing, heating, cooling or refrigeration contractor.
It is unfortunate that the word politics has such a bad connotation these days, because it is a fact that our industry will be in sad shape if we fail to protect it from intrusive legislation and fail to promote laws that will ensure the industry’s continued success. PHCC does this through its veteran lobbyist who has day-to-day contact on Capitol Hill and with federal regulatory agencies on industry-specific issues.
Voice on codes and standards
Codes, standards, licensing and proper inspection are the purview of trade associations. Without them there would be chaos in our industry. It takes a group of contractors and other like-minded individuals to ensure that codes and standards stay strong enough to protect the health and safety of the general public.
Trade associations also provide a conscience for the industry. Just attend a PHCC convention awards banquet and you will see what I mean. We do not give awards to the most profitable contractor. Instead, the winners include those who support education and training for all — the apprentice and the business owner; those who give back to their industry and their community; and those who work tirelessly for their association.
Contractor groups provide a valuable service to our industry, but let’s not lose sight of the special services that trade associations provide. If we fail to support them as they should be supported, we still might make money in the short term, but we will be making it in a deteriorating industry.
Ike Casey is executive vice president Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors - National Association.