With politics becoming an increasingly important part of life for HVAC contractors, many are left wondering what they can do to have their voices heard.

Many contractors may not have to look too far for an answer.

The 43 local and state chapters of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) are becoming increasingly important as cities and states try to pass legislation impacting contractors.

“People think joining an association of any type is about going to the monthly meetings, and you can get knowledge from the monthly meetings, but it’s a means to an end for gaining influence and power for our industry and making sure the HVAC contractors have a voice,” said Brian Bovio, vice president, Bovio Heating & Air Conditioning, Sicklerville, N.J.

Bovio, also the first vice president of the New Jersey ACCA chapter, said it was an HVAC contractor licensing law passed in New Jersey in 2007 that really opened his eyes to the need for representation. The change has been significant since, as he noted the state chapter now has a full-time lobbying executive firm.

When Michael Schumacher began attending meetings for the St. Louis ACCA chapter as an employee at Reliable Heating & Cooling Inc., St. Louis, he didn’t grasp the chapter’s importance immediately. But, as certain entities attempted to legislate the company out of business, he began to recognize the influence a local chapter can possess.

He’s since gone all-in, serving in numerous administrative roles, including past president. He currently operates as the group’s treasurer.

“Back in the early 2000s, ACCA in St. Louis went from being a group of like-minded contractors into a group that started to get very heavily involved politically,” Schumacher said. “At that point, we started to raise money and the chapter grew immensely. We started to realize the importance of independent contractors banding together to have a voice, to be an advocate for the industry, and really that’s where we are now.”

Much like it was in New Jersey, the St. Louis chapter is now heard by local decision makers.

“We have a voice at the table,” Schumacher said. “Before they do anything anymore, we’re consulted. We have a voice now when they want to change something, and we make sure it’s fair across all playing fields. We don’t always get our way, but we’re all operating on a level playing field now.”

ACCA president and CEO Paul Stalknecht said the importance of the local and state chapters can’t be understated. “We’re a grassroots society,” Stalknecht said. “Things happen at the local level and percolate up to the state level. All politics are local, so if you don’t have that local base working on issues that are right in your local neighborhood, you really can’t get the job done. Having grassroots organizations throughout the country really solidifies having contractors around the country come together in a united force, speaking with one voice.”

But having a voice in local and state politics isn’t the only benefit of joining a local chapter. They also offer a variety of different training and educational opportunities that are geared toward helping HVAC contractors succeed in their local markets.

Rich Morgan, president, Magic Touch Mechanical, Mesa, Ariz., and president of ACCA-Arizona, said, while his chapter is very involved in local legislation and has a strong public policy committee, he wants to make sure the chapter is strong in all areas.

“My focus, for the last couple of years, has been to make ACCA-Arizona kind of a focal point for training,” Morgan said. “We’ve been most recently working with OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Association] on a fall protection plan to bring to our members.”

Similarly in New Jersey, Bovio said training is a big part of what they do. He said they try to stay away from getting mired in technical issues because it gets stale so quickly.

“We try to have our monthly events focused around the business owners and managers rather than tech training or vendor-based events,” Bovio said. “We have things on liability, consumer fraud, vulnerabilities, and things that when we get busy every day we don’t have time to think of the million threats that are out there. Oftentimes we don’t even realize they are there. We try to come up with compelling topics to educate our members about — things they should be aware of.”

Meanwhile, Schumacher said the St. Louis chapter is in the midst of strategic planning and focus groups to see how the chapter can provide more value for its contractors.

One of those ways is through networking. He said the chapter’s golf tournaments have been fun, educational experiences for contractors, as well.

“A lot of times you learn more just playing a round of golf,” Schumacher said. “We have two golf tournaments a year. You go out there with three other contractors having a couple of beers, talking business. You learn more in that session than you would in any training session, so the networking is important.”

Although the contractors in the chapters are often in direct competition with each other for jobs, it doesn’t change how they view being a part of the local chapter.

“We’ve always been of the belief, going back to when I first joined ACCA, that no one minds competing on a level playing field with other contractors who are doing things the right way,” Schumacher said. “Sometimes we feel like we’re preaching to the choir at ACCA meetings because those in attendance are generally the cream of the crop. You don’t mind competing with them because there’s plenty of work to go around for us to compete on a level playing field, so it’s amazing what contractors will share with each other, especially those involved with ACCA.”

Stalknecht echoed that sentiment. “Contractors don’t mind competing against other good contractors. They hate competing against inferior contractors — the lower-standard contractors,” he said.

As time rolls on, though, the importance of belonging to a local or state chapter of any organization is going to become increasingly important. As many contractors have realized, there’s no doubt there’s power in numbers.

“I think state organizations are going to become much more relevant, much more popular because they’re going to need to have influence in states to counteract some of the nonsensical regulations that come about,” Bovio said.

Publication date: 6/24/2013 

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