For those attending the International Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigerating Exposition (AHR Expo) in Anaheim next week, set aside 9:30-10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 27. Instead of roaming the aisles during this time slot to learn more about the latest and greatest equipment in the world of HVACR, come to room 207B at the Anaheim Convention Center to learn about ways to find and retain qualified technicians and employees.

The News, in cooperation with the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), is bringing in the seven winners of The News' 2003 "Best Contractor To Work For" contest to inform attendees what it is they do to find and retain a qualified, happy workforce. Interested contractors will have the opportunity to learn about successful business plans and unique approaches, plus - time permitting - they will be able to question the panel regarding what works, and what does not work, for them.

I am not going to spill the beans here. The News will announce the winners in next week's issue. Of course, copies of the January 26 issue of The News will be available at our booth, No. 5318, so please come by and pick one up.

Better yet, be in room 207B at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 27. You will be able to get good advice and key suggestions in person.

Key Word: Care

I know this may sound like a cliche, but the seven winners really do care about their employees. That is the overall theme among the group. That is so easy to say, but much harder to do.

For instance, the South Mid-Atlantic/Southeast Region winner pays his service technicians 10 to 15 percent more than the competition, provides daily training on the latest products and techniques, sends his force to regional or national training a couple of times a year (and foots the bill for that), and assures techs that they will not have to handle more than four calls a day.

The West-Pacific Region winner supplies ample rewards for jobs well done. Daily, weekly, and monthly employee goals are posted everywhere in the company's lunchroom. Empowering the employees has also had a positive effect on the business.

Keeping 150-plus employees happy and motivated is not necessarily an easy chore, but the "Best Contractor to Work For" from the Midwest/Great Lakes Region certainly does its best. The company identifies the basic needs of its technicians and employees, breaking them out in four major groups: fair wages, recognition, opportunities for growth, and human resources (benefits). Total participation by all parties is emphasized, and the results show that the approach is working.

Meanwhile, the South/Southwest Region winner not only cares about its employees, but the community as well. It sponsors local sports teams, school drama departments, and national charities. Last year it donated $100 of every installation to a local school to help offset the decrease in educational funding from the state.

See You There

After the one-hour educational session on Jan. 27, the "Chosen Seven" will be shuffled over toThe News'booth on the expo floor, where we will present the winners their much-deserved "Best Contractor to Work For" plaque. Again, attendees are invited to shake hands and helpThe Newscongratulate these thoughtful and caring contractors.

The News editorial staff must confess here it was not necessarily easy selecting the "best of the best" from the number of excellent entries. Therefore, if you were not selected a 2003 winner, don't give up. Entry forms for 2004 will be made available in The News in the fall for next year's awards.

In the meantime, if you need help in finding and retaining qualified help, remember to keep 9:30-10:30 a.m. open on Jan. 27. Come to room 207B inside the Anaheim Convention Center and get some great pointers and guidance.

Mark Skaer is editor-in-chief. He can be reached at 248-244-6446, 248-362-0317 (fax), or

Publication date: 01/19/2004