CHANTILLY, Va. — Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA) members heard straight talk from legislators and policy-makers on the key issues that affect the specialty construction industry at the 2012 National Issues Conference, May 2-4 in Washington, D.C. More than 140 specialty contractors and association executives attended the three-day conference. SMACNA members also discussed the issues one-on-one in more than 180 appointments with their members of Congress and staff members on Capitol Hill.

SMACNA contractors gained an insider’s look at the Congressional budget, multiemployer pension plans, and opportunities in the energy-efficiency market. Wednesday’s opening program discussed the Congressional budget; Thursday’s agenda highlighted a political analyst’s look at the presidential campaign, labor, and pension topics; and Friday’s gathering featured a construction industry forecast.

Stan Collender, managing director, Quorvis Communications, predicted more gridlock for the coming year.

“Congress will be as dysfunctional this coming year as they were last year,” said Collender. “They will extend the continuing resolution through 2013, extend the tax cuts to the end of 2013 or 2014, and increase the debt ceiling. The government should be borrowing money to pay for construction, because interest rates are low.”

Bruce Perlin, manager of multiemployer programs with the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. (PBGC), said they anticipated the number of plans requiring financial assistance to increase over the next few years. “As the economy gets better, we hope these plans will continue to thrive and grow in the future.”

Jason Russell, consulting actuary with Horizon Actuarial, added “Investments have been volatile. We don’t see a situation that is dire; it is a situation that is fixable.” He said the question is, “How do we make multiemployer plans more attractive going forward?”

Solicitor of Labor, M. Patricia Smith, U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) shared how the department is aggressively going after cases of payroll fraud and misclassification. She said the DOL is working with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and state agencies. “We believe that improper classification of workers hurts both the employers who are trying to do the right thing and workers.”

Keynote speaker Howard Fineman, NBC political analyst and editorial director of the Huffington Post Media Group, said the presidential election will be a close one and will determine where the country goes. “Both parties are broken,” he said. “There is no brokered compromise, so nothing gets done. The question is, who can still inspire America’s future? We need people who are excited about America’s future, and I don’t see that happening right now. We need to instill a sense of curiosity and independent thinking.”

Dr. Sarah Slaughter, president and executive director of the Built Environment Coalition, discussed strategies to achieve federal high-performance facilities using systems-based thinking and life-cycle assessment along with community and regional-based approaches. “Why do high-performance facilities matter?” she asked. “Our built environment is critical in many ways.”

Slaughter referenced Greensburg, Kan., which was destroyed by a tornado. The community rebuilt with high-performance goals in mind along with specific objectives related to community, family, prosperity, the environment, affordability, growth, energy, and the built environment.

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., advocated for infrastructure investment. “We can’t afford to retreat from strategic investments,” he said. Legislation to reinstate the expired Build America bonds bill would “help revive the industry and put people to work,” he said.

Joshua Gotbaum, director, Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., discussed helping companies succeed regarding multiemployer plans. “Congress knows they have to deal with multiemployer plans in 2013 and 2014,” he said. “The challenge is that one size doesn’t fit all. There are plans that will be OK and others that will fail. The challenge is for the PBGC to figure out a set of tools so everyone can fix their plans. The challenge is to figure out a new plan so everyone can succeed.”

David Allen, executive vice president, McKinstry Co., and Ray Yeager, CEO, Ductmate Industries, participated in a Capitol Hill forum and Congressional briefing, making the case for building and industrial energy efficiency.

“Energy efficiency is the most promising sector,” said Allen. “Energy efficiency is about taking the waste out of everything. Our people are the only group that can execute the plan. For every $1 million of energy efficiency, it represents 20 direct and indirect jobs. We have the data, the engineers, the unions — we have it all figured out. We just need to get it done.”

Publication date: 7/9/2012