Contractormag 1151 Coleman 1

Contractors face a complex market in 2009

Jan. 29, 2009
Lonnie Coleman, who takes over as president of MCAA during the association’s Scottsdale, Ariz., convention in early March talks about the market challenges contractors will be facing in 2009
Lonnie Coleman

CLEVELAND, OHIO -- Mechanical contractors will survive and prosper by embracing complexity.

Contractors face complexity in managing their own businesses.

“I think it is more complicated to run a business today than when I started, which I attribute to the new technologies that have been introduced into the mechanical contracting industry” said Lonnie Coleman, president of Coleman Spohn Corp. here. “When I started 30 years ago we did not have cell phones, computers, fax machines, or the virtual office. In the past a company could survive without some of this technology. Today a business that does not embrace new technologies will be hard pressed to keep up in this industry.

“That is why what is taking place at MCAA is so important,” continued Coleman, who’s taking over as president of the Mechanical Contractors Association of America. “Long known as the ‘education association,’ MCAA is serving its membership well by staying abreast of new technologies being introduced into our industry and making sure our membership has the training and expertise to integrate these technologies into their companies.”

Coleman takes over as president of MCAA during the association’s Scottsdale, Ariz., convention in early March.

Management of projects is more complex.

Coleman noted that an aspect of the industry’s evolution is “fast tracking,” which has resulted in increased opportunities for leadership and expansion by MCAA’s membership into the design-build/design-assist arena. The challenge for mechanical contractors, if they are to stay ahead of the curve, is to be prepared.

The latest challenge is the implementation of Building Information Modeling. Coleman cited Steve Jones of McGraw Hill, who stated that, “BIM is quickly becoming the gold standard by which firms do work.” There is great power in BIM, said Coleman, especially for mechanical and plumbing contractors. To stay abreast of this technology, MCAA has created a BIM Committee that is carefully examining the opportunities and the challenges so its members can continue to play a leadership role in its implementation.

The customers of mechanical contractors have more complex needs and make complex demands.

“I’ve always considered our location as one of the positives that helped Coleman Spohn become a successful company,” said Coleman. “We have a number of major colleges and universities located within the city, a world-renowned health care system led by The Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals, and a growing biosciences sector creating stability and growth for our city. These facilities are a significant source of business for the city’s mechanical contracting industry.

“Once considered a dead or dying city because of the loss of its steel and auto industry, Cleveland has found a way to re-invent itself through its health care delivery systems and biotechnology sectors,” he said. “Today these industries have replaced the auto and steel industries as Cleveland’s largest employers.”

Finally, one of the greatest areas of complexity and which presents the greatest opportunity for contractors is green and sustainable construction and service.

“[MCAA past president] Dave [Kruse] was right on in his assessment of green and sustainable construction and I will continue to promote it, as did President Jack Wilhelmi before me,” Coleman said. “I also think 2009 will provide a host of opportunities for those companies embracing green technologies and sustainable construction. President Obama has made energy efficiency a focal point of his campaign and, at one of his campaign stops, visited MCAA’s McKinstry Co. in Seattle. While there he spoke favorably of green and sustainable building initiatives and the need for domestic energy production to reduce our reliance on foreign oil.

“Also, if we take a look at President Obama’s Stimulus Plan we find a large portion of what is being proposed under the infrastructure package involves improving the efficiencies of HVAC and plumbing systems in buildings as a means of energy savings,” Coleman continued. “The movement to green and sustainable building initiatives in the mechanical contracting industry will, as Dave Kruse emphasized, add a third dimension to MCAA member companies, creating the triple bottom line of ‘people, profits…and the planet’.”

It is Coleman’s opinion that the economic stimulus plan being promoted to jumpstart the economy by the Obama Administration will create an improvement in the construction market within the next two years. From a mechanical contracting standpoint, a large amount of the work under the plan has to do with green and sustainable construction initiatives as well as energy savings in mechanical systems. A savvy contractor would use these tough times to re-invent his company and take on green and the sustainable construction marketplace. Coleman cited Van Jones in his book, “The Green Collar Economy,” who wrote that in 2006, renewable energy and energy-efficiency technologies generated 8.5 million new jobs, nearly $970 billion in revenue and more than $100 billion in industry profits.

“This will continue in a big, big way,” Coleman said.

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