The American labor pool is shrinking, thanks to a booming economy. This is also fueling increased construction and renovation work. Economists have warned that if workers are not found, it could put the brakes on this boom.

The hvacr contractors who entered The News’ first-ever “Best Contractor to Work For” contest have shown themselves to be rising to the task, and in very creative ways.

So far, so good

Whenever you do something like hold a contest, there’s a little voice in your head that squeaks out, “What if nobody enters?”

It’s like sending out party invitations, getting everything ready, and holding your breath, waiting for the first car to pull up.

The first entry came in two days after the first ad ran about the contest. From then on the entries came in a steady stream — until the last week, when there was a final rush. Among the 60-plus entries, all sizes of contractors, all types of markets were represented.

This was what we wanted. It wasn’t necessarily the size of the company that counted (although keeping employees working year round was key); it was the compensation, benefits, training, and respect they offered employees, which should be reflected in a comfortable bottom line.

Now, how to choose?

Deep thoughts

We must confess, when we started this contest, we weren’t sure how many “winners” there would be. We weren’t even sure how many entries there would be. The number of entries we received gave us a decided luxury of choice.

Over the holidays, News editors each took home copies of all the entries and ranked their favorites. We came back to the conference room and compared our results.

The contractors with duplicate votes among the editors were named the winners. The two remaining with single votes were named runners-up.

But the truly wonderful thing is that almost all of the entries showed a pride in their company, had such a strong sense of what they are doing right for their technicians, it warms the heart.

In a contest like this (and please turn away if this is too corny), there are no losers. There is no other way to say it. Everyone who entered shared wonderful ideas. The News will be profiling many of these contractors in the weeks and months to come.

One thing is crystal clear from all the entries: The amount of time, energy, and money that has been put into developing a customer base, is being rechanneled into developing the workforce.

Among the winners are contractors who budget marketing dollars inward, so the companies are marketing themselves to their employees.

We’ve seen contractors who offer benefits that anyone sitting behind a desk all day would drool for.

And that’s not to mention the parties and entertainment so many contractors provide, to keep the workplace fun. That’s all on top of regular training, certification, and decent pay, year round. There were no losers.