COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The Mechanical Service Contractors of America (MSCA) held its 26th annual educational conference on Oct. 9-12, and reported its largest attendance ever with more than 600 registrants. More than 90 of the registrants were first-time attendees. The theme of this year’s conference was “24-Carrot Service: Putting People First.” The conference featured presentations by notable business speakers, as well as industry updates from manufacturers, and roundtable discussions hosted by MSCA board members.

At the opening session, outgoing MSCA chairman Thom Brazel introduced the conference theme, saying, “I’m looking forward to a week of learning, inspiration, and fun.” He also encouraged repeat attendees to welcome the first-timers “to our MSCA family.”

First-time attendees were given special badges to wear so they could be easily recognized. It was another example of MSCA’s intent to put the focus on people first. Brazel also noted that the conference provided an increased focus on sales training this year “because, as you’re all aware, it’s all about the people.” And throughout the conference seminars and events, speakers were quick to point out that paying attention to people makes good business sense.

MSCA Accomplishments + Awards

“Despite the recent challenges we’re facing in our industry, MSCA continues to be a vibrant organization,” Brazel said. One accomplishment that MSCA emphasized was its involvement with Convoy of Hope, a charitable organization dedicated to children’s feeding initiatives and disaster response. The week before the conference, MSCA board members and members of the UA Local 58 in Colorado Springs volunteered to aid Convoy of Hope in delivering 36,000 pounds of food and supplies that had been donated and raised by MSCA members. The volunteers were able to deliver the supplies, which were in excess of $50,000 in goods, to the local Springs Rescue Mission. Brazel struggled to keep his emotions in check as he talked about this experience and expressed gratitude to the MSCA members for their generous donations.

MSCA also announced it has upgraded its GreenSTAR program, which will designate qualifying contractors as an Energy Solutions Provider, powered by MSCA GreenSTAR. Brazel said, “This is pretty exciting stuff. This is exactly what we as contractors need to take our business to the next level.” MSCA will begin a national advertising campaign next year to better explain the significance of this GreenSTAR certification to potential customers.

After noting that less than 1 percent of HVAC contractors are qualified as GreenSTAR contractors, Brazel presented awards to the seven companies that attained this designation in 2011. The new GreenSTARs included the following: Jackson and Blanc (San Diego, Calif.), J.C. Cannistraro LLC (Watertown, Mass.), Goyette Mechanical (Flint, Mich.), Mechanical Inc. (Freeport, Ill.), ATI Group Inc. (Flushing, Mich.), Refrigeration Engineering & Contracting Co. (Woburn, Mass.), and Tweet/Garot Mechanical Inc. (Green Bay, Wis.)

“This is the beginning of a new era. Times have changed, and there’s no way we can go back to the old way of doing business,” Brazel said. “I’m confident that through our MSCA programs, you can become a viable and strong company.”

Brazel also awarded the D.S. O’Brien Award of Excellence to Russ Borst, vice president of service for Hurst Industries (Belmont, Mich.). The award recognizes individuals who have exhibited extraordinary dedication and commitment to the mechanical service contracting industry. As he accepted the award, Borst said that he was honored to be part of such as elite group and told the crowd to become more involved in MSCA. “Be involved. Get involved. You can watch yourself and your company grow,” he said.

During the opening session, attendees also heard from Mark Rogers, president of the Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA) and William Hite, general president of the United Association (UA). Both emphasized that the UA is MSCA’s labor partner.

“It’s a partnership — it truly is,” Hite said. “We have to work together. … Whoever’s going to be successful is the union who works with contractors and develops the best work attitudes and training, and I’m determined it’s going to be the UA.” More than 60 UA business managers and leaders were among the event’s attendees. Hite, who was reelected for a second five-year term as president this past August, said that the UA views HVAC as a growth area.

The Carrot Keynote

The keynote speaker for the opening session was Chester Elton, a recognition consultant and author of five New York Times bestseller books. Elton, who has been called the “apostle of appreciation,” played music clips and got the audience involved in his presentation. His presentation was titled “The Carrot Principle,” and he explained that business leaders must learn to recognize and reward their employees. He even practiced what he preached by recognizing audience members who participated and rewarding them with plush carrots and copies of his newest book.

According to Elton, having engaged employees not only makes a manager’s job easier, but studies have also shown that organizations with engaged employees achieve greater growth. He said that the main drivers of engagement are appreciation, trust, opportunity, and pride in the company symbol. He continued, “The No. 1 driver of the No. 1 driver is appreciation.” He cited a study by CNN Money that showed 65 percent of workers are looking for other jobs. “How engaged are your employees if is their homepage?” Elton asked.

To counteract this, Elton advised the MSCA crowd to personally recognize when their employees do a good job. “Great recognition is frequent, specific, and timely,” he said.

Exhibits, Seminars, + Roundtables

On the second day of the conference, an early breakfast provided attendees with the opportunity to visit the exhibitors’ displays. Attendees ate, mingled, and visited the booths of conference sponsors and exhibitors. During the afternoon, many of the exhibitors hosted sessions to explain their latest offerings to contractors. This was part of the MSCA’s new Technology Information Forum, which included presentations by COINS USA, DuPont, S2000 Field Service Solutions, Appion, Penta Technologies, AirAdvice, Jonas Software, WennSoft, FieldConnect, Emerson Power Transmission Solutions, and Milwaukee Electric Tool. Presentations that focused on how to roll out mobile technology for field service technicians were especially popular.

In addition to the technology-focused presentations, attendees were treated to a range of presentations that again centered around the conference theme of putting people first. Many of the seminars were standing-room-only, and the engaged audience members were taking notes.

Among the many excellent speakers, particularly notable were Tim Sanders, Peter Sheahan, Dr. Lowell Catlett, and Mark Jeffries. Speaker and author Sanders discussed how employers can brand their companies as a great place to work, which he said will be necessary for employers to win the coming war for talent. Business consultant and author Sheahan encouraged attendees to innovate new strategies for selling that can convert potential customers into buyers. Economist and futurist Dr. Catlett provided a historical perspective on the current state of the U.S. economy. Business coach Jeffries provided attendees with strategies for improving their soft skills in communication to enable networking and sales.

The roundtable discussions moderated by MSCA members were held on the final morning of the conference. Topics ranged from energy services to social media. And the closing session featured TV producer Ross Shafer, who described how companies can thrive in the post-recession recovery.

Conference Wrap-Up

Because the event was held at the Broadmoor Hotel, a beautiful resort which recently hosted the 2011 U.S. Women’s Open, it provided an excellent venue for the annual golf tournament. In addition, attendees participated in other activities that took advantage of the beautiful Colorado location, including fly-fishing, hiking, and biking.

At the closing session of the conference, Thom Brazel’s term as chairman ended and he passed the torch to Arnold “Woody” Woodall. Woodall is the director of business development at W.L. Gary Co. Inc. (Washington, D.C.) and a longtime UA and MSCA member.

In addition, Robert Lake was inducted as vice chairman, and Richard A. “Dick” Starr, LEED AP, as treasurer. Lake is president and chief operating officer of EMCOR Service/Mesa Energy Systems Inc. (Irvine, Calif.). Starr is president and owner of Enterprise HVAC Service and Control (Twinsburg, Ohio).

Woodall will serve a one-year term as chairman, and he said that chief among his priorities are promoting the GreenSTAR program and enabling contractors to receive the education they need to make their businesses more successful. He also noted that the networking and interaction among MSCA members and even competitors is one of the greatest advantages of attending the annual educational conference.

The next MSCA educational conference is scheduled for Oct. 14-17, 2012, in Carlsbad, Calif.

Publication date: 11/07/2011