In early March, the Power & Communications Contractors Association held its 76th Annual Convention at the Naples Grande Beach Resort in Naples, Florida.
Some 340 association members, family, and friends attended the convention, including 42 first-time attendees and 42 sponsoring companies, which shows how pivotal this time is for the industry, the importance of the work PCCA is doing, and, of course, that folks really want to get out of the house.
The convention featured the first-ever PCCA/CGA Excavation Safety Summit, the always-informative PCCA Industry Roundtable, fascinating speakers, the Annual Associates Exhibit, the PCCA Prayer Breakfast, and an array of tours, parties, golf, and other networking events. During the convention, PCCA announced its 2021-22 scholarship recipients, honored outgoing chairman, John Fluharty of Mears Group, and welcomed its new chairman, Bob Breeden of ElectriCom.
The PCCA/CGA Excavation Safety Summit, which was conceived and moderated by John Fluharty, put a contractor (Jerrod Henschel, Equix), a locator (Josh Hinrichs, ELM Companies), an association executive (Sarah Magruder Lyle, Common Ground Alliance), and a researcher (Mark Bridgers, Continuum Capital) on stage and elicited a frank discussion on damage prevention problems and how they are being addressed. Magruder Lyle encouraged the audience to participate in CGA’s DIRT (Damage Information Reporting Tool) Report and explained the group’s Next Practices effort, which aims to drive innovative solutions to solve the most critical damage prevention challenges.
Bridgers updated PCCA members on the What Gets Measured Gets Done study, which is examining utility locating processes and performance in all of the 48 lower U.S. states to see what is working and what is not. The study will yield recommendations for structural improvements that could drive out inefficiencies from the locating process. Currently supporting the study, along with PCCA, are APCA, DCA, NUCA and NULCA.
As always, the PCCA Industry Roundtable consisted of three sections: education issues, government affairs, and economic issues. During the education session, attendees were updated on schools that have been working with PCCA to develop utility construction programs. State Technical College of Missouri started their Utility Systems Technician program in Fall 2018, graduated their first 25 students last spring, and saw a 50 percent increase in enrollment this year. Two schools–Terra State Community College (Ohio) and Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College–have started holding classes and are working hard at recruiting new students. And two other schools–Monroe County Community College (Michigan) and Somerset Community College (Kentucky)–are at work forming advisory boards and developing curriculums. Brent Weil of the Wireless Infrastructure Association discussed the PCCA/WIA partnership on registered apprenticeships. Several PCCA-members contractors are already on board, he said, and Continuum Capital will be contacting all of the remaining contractor members to explain the program and sign them up.
“No other group is doing what PCCA is toward workforce development, and nobody is making the impact in our industry like PCCA is,” PCCA Education & Research Foundation President Steve Sellenriek, Sellenriek Construction, said. “PCCA members should be proud of what has been accomplished.”
During the government affairs portion of the roundtable, participants discussed this pivotal time for power and broadband construction. The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the pressing need to build broadband networks to all corners of the nation, and events like the February freeze and grid failure in Texas have accelerated electric undergrounding and hardening efforts. At the same time, we are dealing with Democratic control of the White House and the U.S. Congress, and we cannot afford to lose focus on the flood of union issues, potential Department of Labor and OSHA problems, and regulatory growth that the Democrats create. These policies are bad for business, and PCCA must maintain its vigilance in fighting them.
The PCCA government affairs team outlined its strategy for not only supporting federal funding for broadband construction and grid hardening, but also ensuring that the funds are properly spent. They also discussed some of the onerous labor provisions in infrastructure bills, like mandated project labor agreements, and how PCCA will work against them.
“I believe that that the next 10 years of our industry will be largely shaped in the next 18 months and that we must act now to secure our future, without dropping the ball on all of our other objectives as an association,” new PCCA Chairman Bob Breeden said.
PCCA members get regular updates on the performance and outlook for the markets in which they work, both in the PCCA Journal and at PCCA meetings. During the economic issues portion of the roundtable, they heard from Mark Bridgers, Continuum Capital, and Chris Daum, FMI, who also delivered his annual Utility Construction Industry Overview during the convention. Both Bridgers and Daum were largely optimistic about the near-term future of the industry, but both also see many challenges and obstacles on the horizon.
The convention’s keynote speaker Kevin Brown delighted the PCCA audience with self-deprecating tales of a hardscrabble upbringing and endearing stories of raising an autistic son. He spoke about heroes, who he said help people with no strings attached, create an exceptional experience for everyone in their lives, take 100 percent responsibility for their life and everyone in it, and see life through a lens of optimism. And he said, “If there’s ever a time that we need heroes, it’s now.”
At another general session, Pablos Holman, an ex-hacker turned inventor and futurist, delighted the PCCA audience with a fascinating talk on innovation and next-generation technology. He was singing from the PCCA hymnal when he said that he’s a big fan of fiber because “you’re going to get high speed with low latency.”
Holman said that he’s incredibly impressed with PCCA’s commitment to delivering fiber everywhere in the U.S. — “You should be celebrated.”
PCCA’s next meeting is the 2021 Mid-Year Meeting, July 7-10, at the Samoset Resort in Rockport, Maine. To learn more about the association, go to pcccaweb.org.