PALM DESERT, CA — Under the setting of palm trees, bright sunshine, and high desert heat, contractors from all over the country converged on this resort community recently for the 1999 Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association’s (SMACNA’s) annual convention.

Dubbed “Network for Success,” members were encouraged from the outset to meet and greet other members and share ideas and visions. The event, held at the Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa, offered a blend of workshops, forums, and business and personal development sessions. With nearly 1,300 contractors in attendance, it was the largest contractor-attended SMACNA convention.

Kenneth Blanchard, Ph.D., a nationally renowned speaker and business consultant, kicked off the convention with a motivational speech. Blanchard listed five elements of his theory for success, simply titled SCORE.

Condensing the elements down, Blanchard listed them as: “The S is for shared power, C for compelling vision, O for ongoing education, R for relentless focus, and E for energizing structured systems.”

Design-build, deregulation, motivation

The theme of networking was addressed in sessions such as “New Age Design-Build and its Impact on Hvac Contractors,” hosted by Richard M. Kunnath, ceo of The Pankow Companies, San Francisco, CA.

The forum addressed the need for college departments to network with each other to initiate adequate design-build courses.

“Unless you sit next to someone at a basketball game, an electrical engineering student will never talk to an architectural student,” said Kunnath. “They never cross paths. Unfortunately, polarization between disciplines begins at the university level.”

Kunnath said that some of the bigger issues in 1999 include performance specifying (including developing a national standard derived from the Construction Specification Institute [CSI] and the Design Build Institute of America [DBIA]); and interdisciplinary education, where he said “good design-build is a team sport.”

Kunnath also said that new age design-build will involve new leadership as well.

“In the future, it cannot be assumed that contractors will not be the leader of a design-build team,” he said. “The project engineer is becoming more of a team leader now.”

Utility deregulation was also a “hot” subject. Jane Sidebottom, manager of the utility/ESCO Marketing Program for The Trane Company, told forum attendees that “Utilities are still trying to figure out what they want to be when they grow up.”

When they do, she added “They will have marketing teams in place to sell energy services in states where deregulation hasn’t been legislated yet.”

Sidebottom recommended that contractors keep abreast of the latest deregulation and energy news by logging onto two informative Web sites, and

Sidebottom added that there were lots of opportunities for building owners under a program called “asset modernization.” This involves an energy management group buying an asset such as an older chiller and leasing it back to the owner, thus giving the building owner extra capital to spend on building improvements.

SMACNA members were also given hints on attracting and keeping employees by Ruth King, president of Business Ventures Corp. and American Contractors Exchange. King held a roundtable discussion to learn what contractors are doing to staff their businesses.

King stressed setting goals with employees and offering incentives for doing good work. She had one recommendation for motivating workers: Offer “dirty money.” This would not be spending money per se, but money that could be used toward buying products for use on the job.

“Give employees money for something they did right,” she said. “Get your suppliers to donate products and have a company picnic or gathering where these items are auctioned off. Employees can use their dirty money to buy the products.”