Cowboy hats were as plentiful as the “y’alls” down in San Antonio for CONNECT 2016, the October get-together thrown by the Plumbing Heating Cooling Contractors — National Association. The San Antonio Marriott Rivercenter played host to the Oct. 19-21 PHCC event, which set new attendance records.

During the opening reception sponsored by Bradford White Water Heaters and InSinkErator, guests were greeted by the blaring trumpets and festive hoots of a 12-piece mariachi band. Outside in the foyer, PHCC Vice President of Communications and Marketing Charlotte Perham was taking what passed for a short break from organizing the event by talking to the press. She said registration for this, the 134th annual event, was up some 25 percent.

“We’ve got [Quality Service Contractors] here, and the Texas PHCC really turned out,” Perham said, noting there was also a large contingent of high-profile representatives from PHCC chapters across California, too.  

“The [PHCC of Texas] has 100 people here — that’s one-eighth of the crowd,” said outgoing PHCC-NA president Charles “Chip” Greene, who also served as host for the event’s opening breakfast sponsored by Bradford White and the keynote session presented by Viega. “There was a contest among regional directors, and Texas won.”

On tap for the event were a host of educational seminars and chances for attendees to mingle, along with a mini trade show with all the pomp and circumstance thereunto pertaining. In addition, Quality Service Contractors hosted its own Business Excellence Day, a day-long series of seminars with a focus on leadership and coaching.

Meanwhile, as attendees mingled and attended programs and the expo, the HVAC and plumbing apprentice contests carried on alongside the event, literally occupying part of the expo show floor as young apprentices from across the country went head-to-head demonstrating their skills.

Merry Beth Hall, PHCC’s assistant vice president of workforce development, said the event is an excellent opportunity to bring together industry partners to attract and cultivate new talent.

“It’s really nice to get to work with the young folks who are newer to the industry,” she said. “It’s also nice to get these industry partners out here. It’s great to see what’s coming in this industry, and it’s a neat way to get everybody in this industry to work together toward a common goal.”

“I love showing my skill set, and I like seeing basically how you measure up against the best of the best,” Cory Harper, an HVAC apprentice contestant from UA Local 142 in San Antonio, said. “I love working with my hands, and I love doing diagnostics. If I can’t figure it out, it will frustrate me. This is fun. I just want to be the best I can be.”

Breaking the mold for this edition of PHCC CONNECT were several HVAC-specific educational events, including the HVAC apprentice contest that accompanied the traditional PHCC plumbing apprenticeship contest. Incoming PHCC-National Association president Patrick Wallner, president of Wallner Plumbing, Heating & Air in Redding, California, earlier stressed the association’s efforts would continue to focus on the HVAC trades as a part of his “Collaborating for Success” theme for the coming year he’ll spend at the PHCC helm after being sworn in during the event’s Oct. 21 closing session.

“Membership, public awareness, and workforce development are also a part of our strategic plan,” Wallner said. “Our biggest goal is increasing our membership. We have set the bar pretty high, which is to double our membership by 2020.”

During the opening session, Bradford White President and CEO Nick Giuffre noted he had observed a slowdown in water heater sales with 8.8 million units moving industrywide in 2015, compared with the 8.95 million pieces sold a year earlier. “The consumer cannot be smarter than your employees,” he said, encouraging contractors to become as educated as possible. Also during the opening session, Bradford White marketing director Carl Pinto presented $15,000 in scholarship cash to the PHCC in the form of two $7,500 checks, one payable to the PHCC National Auxiliary Scholarship Program and one for the PHCC Educational Foundation Scholarship Program.

Plumbing & Mechanical Chief Editor Jen Anesi, who is the former legislation editor for PM’s sister publication, The NEWS, presented the publication’s Best Instructor award to Gary Ranallo of Remington College in Cleveland and its Best Trainer award to Jeff Adams of Logan AC & Heating Services in Dayton, Ohio.

The keynote address, “Your Future is Wide Open” from author and trainer John Spence, featured several innovative ways businesses can differentiate themselves from their competition, including his “Five Keys to Referability,” which include: show up, do what you said, finish what you start, and say “please” and “thank you.”

CONNECT 2017 will be held Oct. 4-6, 2017, at the Hilton Milwaukee City Center Hotel. Visit for more information.

CONNECT 2016 Apprentice Contest winners

The Plumbing Apprentice Contest winners are:

•1st Place — Daniel Huppert, Unlimited Plumbing & Piping, Sterling, Virginia

•2nd Place — Isaac Bliek, Midwestern Mechanical, Sioux Falls, South Dakota

•3rd Place — Jorge Martinez, Mauerhan Plumbing, Glendale, California

The HVAC Apprentice Contest winners are:

•1st Place — Jonathan Barrick, Shapiro & Duncan, Inc., Rockville, Maryland

•2nd Place — Jasen O’Brien, Kuenster Heating & Air, Kalona, Iowa

•3rd Place — Aaron Barcus, UA Local 597, Chicago

To view photos from the PHCC CONNECT 2016 Apprentice Contest, visit

CONNECT 2016 in pictures

Are you in any of our photos from CONNECT 2016? Check out the event photo gallery at