PHOENIX — The weather was perfect for the Mechanical Contractors Association of America’s (MCAA’s) 2019 annual convention, which not only offered numerous educational and networking opportunities, but plenty of time to socialize, golf, or just soak up the sun. The general opening session featured “the best president’s video ever” from current MCAA president Michael Brandt, as well as an uplifting presentation from NBA legend Magic Johnson.

Brandt captured the “Imagine” theme of the conference in his address.

“For 130 years, the members of this association have come together annually and imagined what it would take to make the mechanical industry better … we have imagined what we could do to make our corner of the world a better place,” he said. “Then we have turned around and worked to turn that vision into a reality.”

He added that the 2019 Phoenix gathering was the largest MCAA convention ever and provided a great opportunity to “celebrate our accomplishments this past year and to renew our commitment to each other and to our industry.”



During the convention, the MCAA’s Women in the Mechanical Industry (WiMI) sponsored guest speaker Katty Kay, anchor of BBC World News America and co-author of the books “The Confidence Code” and “The Confidence Code for Girls.” Kay told the packed room that a lack of confidence is holding women back in their careers.

“For years, we’ve been interviewing women in senior positions, and I’ve always asked these women how they got there,” said Kay. “And the answer is usually some form of, ‘I was lucky,’ or ‘I was at the right place at the right time.’ The idea that they’re talented or hard-working is preposterous. Women do this a lot. When something goes right, it’s because of something outside of ourselves, and when something goes wrong, it’s because of us.”

Kay cited research that showed that men typically overestimate their abilities in the workplace by about 30 percent, while women regularly underestimate their abilities. Routinely, women’s perceptions of their abilities are lower than they actually are, she said. And when it comes to success, confidence matters just as much as competence. Women are just as competent as men; however, many do not take risks because they fear failing.

“We want to be perfect,” said Kay. “Women are 25 percent more prone to perfectionism than men. We want to be perfect mothers, wives, employees, cooks, etc., but if you want to be perfect, you are setting yourself an impossible standard. You are never going to get there. The psychological damage you will do to yourself if you fail is that much greater, and that is what is going to stop you from going for that promotion or taking on that new business opportunity.”

That need for perfection starts at an early age. Kay noted that girls lose one-third of their confidence between the ages of 8 and 14, and they never get it back. That needs to change, she said, because if we’re going to have a generation of confident women, we need to raise a generation of confident girls who do not fear failure. How do we do this? Kay has three key suggestions.

“Women have a tendency to ruminate about things, so first, train your brain to think less about the negatives,” she said. “Think three positive thoughts for every negative thought. When that negative thought pops into your brain, replace it with three positive thoughts. Over time, this will allow you to think more confidently.”

Her second suggestion is to act more and think less. This usually involves taking more risks, which can help build confidence. Her third suggestion is to be authentic, because women often try to fit in by pretending to be “one of the guys.” Instead, they should focus on bringing their own special skills to the table and presenting the best version of themselves. Once women master these skills, they should pass it along to the next generation.

“We will only raise confident women if we start with our girls,” she said.



At another session at the convention, Brian Beaulieu, CEO of ITR Economics in Manchester, New Hampshire, offered his forecast for the U.S. economy.

“In 2019, the economy will slow down significantly,” he said. “Residential construction will go down, because it’s a leading economic indicator. Nonresidential construction will do well in 2019, because it’s a lagging economic indicator. While there is probably a lot of backlog and work ahead in nonresidential construction in 2019, contractors should be working diligently to fill in 2020 before that slowdown hits.”

Beaulieu added that by 2021, the residential construction market will perk up, but nonresidential construction will feel a painful decline until 2023. Once that soft spot passes, contractors will have their hands full for the rest of the ’20s, although he predicts that inflation will become a bigger issue over the next 10 years.

As far as the labor market is concerned, there are 6.6 million job openings in the U.S., which means workers have their choice of jobs, so contractors need to become better at not only recruiting but retaining their people.

“This labor shortage is not going away,” said Beaulieu. “It’s going to be with us for the next 10 years. This will be the bane of your existence and the weak link in your profitability. If you’re in the residential construction market, in particular, find a way to hold onto your people, even if it means finding cost savings elsewhere.”

Looking at the long term, Beaulieu predicts that a great depression will occur between 2030 and 2040, due to these five issues:

  1. Demographics (population is getting old).
  2. Health care costs (U.S. spends 80 percent of health care dollars during the last two years of life, so costs increase with older population).
  3. Entitlements (Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid will become unsustainable).
  4. Inflation (will continue to rise).
  5. National debt (continues to increase).

He predicts that the recession will end around 2035 or 2036 and that the economy should then start to recover.

While a decline of this magnitude is worrying, it is important to remember that the U.S. has been the single largest economy in the world for the last 85 years and will remain in that position for at least another 100 years, he said.

“No one is going to take that from us because they don’t have the three things you need to really grow and stay on top,” said Beaulieu. “Those three things are demographics (population is growing), natural resources (natural gas, coal, etc.), and rule of law (personal property rights, intellectual property rights, and bankruptcy laws). The U.S. alone has all three of these things, so stop reading the articles that equate the U.S. to the fall of the Roman Empire. That’s not us.”



At the end of the convention, Brandt passed the gavel to Brian Helm, president of Mechanical Inc., Freeport, Illinois, who became the new president of MCAA.

The convention then came to a close with a rousing concert from the appropriately named rock band, Imagine Dragons.

MCAA’s next annual convention will take place March 15-20, 2020, in Wailea, Hawaii, located on the island of Maui.


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Publication date: 4/29/2019

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