The National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) represents the $160 billion electrical construction industry including those responsible for installation, repair, service and maintenance of electric systems and equipment. Its members embody the who’s who of the electrical industry.
NECA offers support to 4,000 members spread out across 119 chapters in the United States, in addition to 13 international chapters. The association works to advance its member’s interests and the industry through advocacy, labor relations, training, safety and business development, as well as research and publications.
“Members join because they want to ensure they have a voice in the issues that are going on. They join to learn. They benefit from meeting with other contractors, from products and services the association can give. But the real underlying reason they join is they want to have a voice in how our organization and the industry are being run,” explained Chief Executive Officer John Grau.
The first electrical contracting firm was founded in 1882, just after Thomas Edison’s creation of a long-lasting incandescent carbon-filament lamp in 1879, and from there, the industry grew rapidly. NECA’s history dates back to the early-1900s.
Contractors and industry stakeholders joined forces at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York in 1901 to discuss trade and reform issues relevant to the electrical industry, in the hope of protecting their interests as the industry grew.
“With the electrical industry, it’s interesting because electricity – the practical use of electricity for lighting and other things – was in its infancy. So while there were organizations in the different cities that brought contractors together to advance the industry, they decided they needed a national presence,” said Grau.
“There isn’t anything that we do that doesn’t touch the average person’s life,” noted Marco Giamberardino, NECA’s executive director of government affairs. He drew attention to how electricity powers many aspects of our daily lives, making it an important industry and an exciting association to join.
NECA has remained true to its original mission, serving its members with resources to improve safety, quality and innovation. Electricity has been around for some time, but as technology has rapidly advanced, the work of the association is more relevant than ever before.
“When you talk about robotics and everything else that is electronically driven, such as data centers, electrical contractors are very much involved in installing that,” Grau explained. “And in terms of opportunity, the next decade may be better than ever before for the services of electrical contractors if they are nimble and can adapt to changes.”
NECA supports members and helps them to adapt to the progress in technology that drives the industry. Of course, technological disruption impacts members differently based on the size of their operations and the information and services available to them.
“The larger contractors struggle with it, but they have more resources to devote to it in terms of time, money and people, where the smaller contractors have a bigger challenge trying to decide what kind of technology to employ, not just the technology in the installation, but the technology of managing the business or operation,” explained Grau.
“We do research and look ahead and make our members aware of it, because we do have innovative members who will take advantage of it,” added Grau. He cited building information modeling (BIM) as an example.
Grau went on to explain that most of its member companies are family-owned-and-operated small businesses. NECA helps them navigate the complex and ever-changing regulatory environment to which they are subject and works with the federal government on codes, regulations, pensions and even tax issues.
“We go out and promote and advance the trade in this country, so it’s exciting to do because you have influence on policies and programs across the nation that really can improve the industry,” noted Grau. “In a sense, you are promoting the overall industry of electrical construction and its quality and safety issues.”
“On the safety side, there are national codes that electrical contractors want to be involved in because they install these products. They want to be involved in the creation of those codes. We also bring people into the industry to train them to be electrical installers. We train managers on how to run businesses and it helps to advance overall quality and professionalism in the industry,” Grau explained.
A foremost issue being faced by NECA members, as well as other industries in North America, is a shortage of skilled labor, including project managers and estimators. NECA is doing everything in its power to address that challenge for its members and the industry.
NECA offers training and apprenticeship programs and takes immediate action when necessary. “The system takes several years to produce a fully-trained and qualified worker. It’s ongoing, but when you want to ramp up quickly, it’s not always designed for that, so we have to go out and find people from other industries that have qualifications and train them,” said Grau.
In addition to labor recruitment, NECA performs formal business development to market the services of its members to large construction users, which has an impact on job creation and economic growth nationwide.
NECA also provides opportunities for its members and the industry to come together at over 300 networking events annually, the largest of which is the annual NECA Convention and Trade Show which is attended by upwards of six thousand people. The exposition provides manufacturers an opportunity to showcase their products, while members can exchange ideas, discuss issues of governance and learn about the latest trends, changes and innovations in the industry.
“We also hold many other types of events. Sometimes they will be specialty things like a legislative conference where members will come to Washington, D.C. and learn about legislative issues and meet with their congressmen and senators,” said Grau. Other specialized events include a safety conference, regional meetings, and events designed for women in NECA and future industry leaders.
With the changing political landscape in the United States, the work of NECA’s Washington, D.C. office has become even more important. As often happens, a change in the White House results in regulatory and legislative changes which its members must quickly navigate and adapt to.
“Small business has felt almost overwhelmed with the amount of regulation coming down from government, and while it comes from all levels, the national office is dealing mainly with the federal legislation. Our chapters deal with state and local regulations,” Grau explained. “A lot of the regulation that was being issued was really burdensome to business and hampered their advanced planning.”
“Our philosophy is to make the legislative and regulatory landscape as easy as possible for our member to navigate so they have a lesser regulatory burden, lesser financial burden and can see the creation of policies that would benefit the industry and help it to move forward,” Giamberardino noted.
On the legislative side, NECA remains focused on the tax reform bill. This is the first time in many decades that significant tax reform is taking place, which brings several issues to the forefront such as the estate tax and the alternative minimum tax.
Giamberardino identified areas in which the tax reform bill fell short. “The way Congress focused on the rates and the structure of the tax code, certain things were not considered such as the health care tax, energy efficiency incentives and even infrastructure. These are things we would like to have seen, so these are things we are going to be working on going forward.”
As governments have both good and bad ideas, it is the job of NECA to encourage the good ideas while addressing the bad ones, such as the so-called ‘Cadillac Tax,’ a forty percent tax on some high-end employer-sponsored health plans, which was recently delayed until 2022. While a delay is welcome, Giamberardino would prefer to see a full repeal.
“What’s egregious to us about the way that this tax is structured is our contractors are doing the right thing by providing a high level of quality health care for their employees and their families, and to be taxed and penalized for doing so is just bad policy,” said Giamberardino.
In addition to the various tax issues NECA contends with, infrastructure is also a major focus for the future, as infrastructure spending has serious implications for the construction industry, including its various specialties such as electrical construction.
“We haven’t seen any kind of big infrastructure package come together, and I think that could be very detrimental for the industry. At the end of the day, infrastructure means work, and that means jobs that our contractors can bid on. That means work for their employees, and that has a huge multiplier effect not just for electrical construction, but the overall construction industry and economy,” Giamberardino explained.
While there is an understanding that many of these issues are related to funding, Giamberardino believes that it is time to “restructure to find new ways to address how we fund infrastructure going forward.” Funding is also a matter of consideration related to the Cadillac Tax, which would eliminate nearly $100 billion in revenue if repealed.
Through advocacy and representation, NECA represents its members and helps the government be more effective. “Our job is to help educate them and let them know what’s happening in the industry, have them learn about it, have them understand the concerns for industry because those are their constituents,” Giamberardino explained.
Just has it has done for over a century, NECA continues to represent its members on many fronts as it demonstrates the power of advocacy and the strength of unity.
“We are a great organization with a strong membership base and a strong advocacy interest. Our chapters are very engaged across the country and are willing to step up to be a voice and be a part of the process no matter what the issue is.”