SAN DIEGO — The Mechanical Contractors Association of America’s (MCAA’s) 2017 Annual Convention opened in style with several high-profile personalities, including former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives John Boehner and actress Goldie Hawn, addressing the packed house. In fact, this year’s convention, titled “Reflecting On Success,” drew a record number of attendees, said Tom Stone, MCAA president, who noted that those attending the convention are successful, because they never stop learning.
A perfect example of this is Mark Rogers, past president of MCAA and owner of West Chester Mechanical in Aston, Pennsylvania. Rogers was honored with MCAA’s highest honor, the Distinguished Service Award (DSA), which recognizes the member who best exemplifies learning, succeeding, and giving back to others.
Boehner, yet another individual known for his success, discussed his tenure on the Hill with the audience. He noted that while Donald Trump’s presidency will be noisy, chaotic, and divisive, it will sometimes work.
“We have never had a president like this before, and, at times, it will cause problems,” he said. “But, sometimes, it will be effective, as well. He is unconventional, and he’s doing what he feels is best for the country. President Trump can bring both sides together to get things done.”
While many would like to see things get done faster in Washington, such as a tax code overhaul, immigration reform, and the revamping of the country’s health care system, Boehner said these issues may take significant time to resolve.
“Tax reform is going to take a lot longer than people think,” he said. “Maybe by December something will happen.”
As for repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, Boehner said that in his 25 years in the House, “Not one time did Republicans ever agree on what a Republican health plan looks like.” Still, he believes progress will be made on this issue.
On immigration reform, Boehner stated that the system needs to be fixed, because it is totally out of control.
“I think Trump will be able to come up with a great immigration bill,” he said. “Believe it or not, he may end up being immigrants’ best friend.”
Boehner does have lingering concerns about the U.S. that he would like to see addressed. First, he noted that the economy is not producing enough growth.
“Middle-class incomes are shrinking, and we need more job mobility.”
Second is the growing threat from radicals overseas.
“Terrorism is real,” he said. “We need a strategy to fight radical Islam, and America must lead that charge.”
Third, he noted the country needs to do a better job of educating its youth.
“We need to educate more American kids,” Boehner said. “They need a chance at a decent education.”
And, fourth, the government needs to stop spending so much money.
“We’ve spent more money than we’ve brought in for the last 60 out of 65 years,” he said. “We can’t keep spending money we don’t have.”
Even with these concerns, Boehner is optimistic about the future.
“There is no country like the U.S.,” he said. “There are no caps on what you can achieve. Where else can you grow up as the son of a bartender and become Speaker of the House? Our best days are ahead of us.”
Another speaker at the conference who is optimistic about the future is Brian Beaulieu, CEO, ITR Economics.
“We are calling for an acceleration in the growth of GDP for 2017,” he said. “Leading indicators are telling us that it is going to happen. Our forecast is that this rise is going to continue in 2018 but at a decelerated pace. We think in late 2018, early 2019, GDP will slip 1-2 points, but we think it will be a very mild downturn. After 2019, we don’t see anything that will cause us to stumble, so we are forecasting 2020 and 2021 to be up years. So, four of the next five years look to be positive years.”
There are roadblocks that could hinder this growth, including higher taxes, higher interest rates, and/or spiking oil prices, but Beaulieu said the biggest concern for contractors is the labor shortage.
“You [the trades] don’t have enough people to make this growth happen,” he said. “You don’t have enough working capital lined up to successfully manage rising costs. My concern is that you’ll face the next five years with the bottom line not growing as fast as the top line. We are facing a labor shortage in the U.S., and it’s not going to go away for the next 10 years or more. People don’t exist with the skills that we need.”
To counter that trend, Beaulieu said contractors need to start thinking outside the box in order to recruit people.
“Reach out to high schools and middle schools to start developing the talent you need,” he said. “Start importing people from other parts of the country, such as Pennsylvania and Ohio that don’t have much economic growth. You have to do more than just place a want ad in the newspaper.”
Still, Beaulieu believes the U.S. is going to be the world’s No. 1 economy for at least the next 100 years.
“I know that because of three factors,” he said. “First, you have to have a growing population if you’re going to have an organically growing economy. Here in the U.S., we’re going to grow by about 100 million people between now and 2050. All other major economies have declining populations, except India. Second, the U.S. has an abundance of natural resources, which most other countries don’t have. And, third, our rule of law is strong, which includes private and intellectual property rights.”
No other country in the world comes close to the U.S. in terms of those three factors, said Beaulieu, which is why the U.S. will remain the No. 1 economy for the foreseeable future.
“Stop reading those silly articles that equate us to the Roman Empire and predict imminent demise,” he said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. The next Great Recession won’t occur until around 2030, so stop looking over your shoulder for something like that. We’re getting stronger, and the world is getting stronger.”
Not only is our economy getting stronger, but we are heading
into a time of extraordinary abundance, said Dr. Peter Diamandis, cofounder and executive chairman of Singularity University in Silicon Valley, during a keynote speech.
“We are bombarded with negative news all the time,” he said. “No wonder we are scared out of our freaking minds. But, we are actually living during the most peaceful time ever in human history.”
As evidence, Diamandis points to the plummeting number of people living in extreme poverty around the world and how, over the next 10-20 years, extreme poverty could disappear altogether. In addition, global literacy is growing, child mortality is falling, maternal mortality is falling, and life expectancy is growing.
Why is this happening now? Diamandis says it is due to the exponential growth of technology.
“Consider the cost of bandwidth,” he said. “Back in 1999, a gigabyte-per-second data rate would cost $1,200. Today it’s effectively free. The cost of storing information on the cloud has gone from hundreds of dollars to effectively zero today. As the quality has skyrocketed, the price has gone to near zero. Technology is growing exponentially. It’s doubling in power every 12-24 months and is getting cheaper, better, and smaller.”
Consider the incredible growth of sensors, which are part of most phones, TVs, and cars. In 2015, there were 15 billion connected devices. By 2020, there will be more than 50 billion connected devices, and by 2030, there will be half a trillion connected devices with 100 trillion sensors, said Diamandis.
“Every building you build is going to have embedded sensors, measuring everything all the time – air pressure, vibration, occupancy – everything is going to be smart,” he said.
Exponential technologies are being driven by faster, cheaper computers, which will lead to innovations in networks, sensors, robotics, 3-D printing, virtual and augmented reality, and artificial intelligence (AI).
“While any one of these technologies is amazing, it’s the combination of these technologies, the coming together of new business models that never existed before, that make it interesting,” said Diamandis.
Artificial intelligence and robotics will likely have the largest impacts on society, noted Diamandis, and both may eventually eliminate numerous jobs.
“AI is the ability of a computer to understand your questions, search its vast memory banks, and give you the most accurate answer. AI will help humanity fundamentally solve its grandest challenges.”
As for robotics, autonomous (self-driving) cars are just over the horizon, and Diamandis predicts that car ownership will be dead by 2025. “This will decimate the automotive industry, but an autonomous car will be 10 times cheaper than owning a car. We will go to the car-as-a-service model, and we will be able to eliminate driveways and parking lots. Cities will lose revenue because there will be no speeding or parking tickets.
On the heels of autonomous cars will come drones and flying cars.
“We are headed toward a world where autonomous drones will image the world at millimeter resolution, deliver products and packages, and transport humans to remote areas,” said Diamandis. “Uber recently announced its plans to enter the flying car service arena via an ‘on demand aviation’ service called Uber Elevate.”
“There is so much amazing stuff going on all the time around the world that we never hear about,” Diamandis noted. “It’s an amazing time to be alive.”
He would argue that it is time we started paying attention.
Publication date: 5/1/2017