Plumbing & Mechanical Chief Editor Nicole Krawcke recently chatted with PHCC—National Association’s newly elected President Hunter Botto regarding his goals for the coming year as well as the organization’s legislative agenda and areas of focus for its members. 

PM: Where’d you get your start in the industry, and did you ever think you would be president of an organization like PHCC?

HB: I come from a long line of plumbers. My grandfather and great uncle started our company back in the mid-1930s and ran the business up into the 1950s before my dad and his cousin took over the business. In the early 1960s, the business morphed into two separate entities, a union and a nonunion entity. My cousins’ side of the business is a very successful union contractors and we pass business back and forth to each other. When I was around 11 years old, my dad insisted I come into the office and start sweeping driveways — and every once in a while, they’d allow me to dig trenches. I came out of the U.S. Navy in the early 1980s, and moved into the family business after four years of floating around the world. I went to the Mechanics Institute in New York City to get my Master Plumber’s license. My dad retired in the late 1980s, and I took over for him. A few years later, my younger brother joined the business. Thirty-eight years later, here I am. We’re still working together today. 

PM: What are the top three items on PHCC’s national legislative/regulatory agenda?

HB: Infrastructure, workforce training and protecting professional licensure. 

Now that Congress has passed four major COVID-19 relief packages, it is time for the business of recovery. When Congress reconvenes in the new year, regardless of who is president, the top priority should be a comprehensive overhaul of our nation's infrastructure: Energy grids, highways, bridges, broadband and (most importantly for PHCC) buildings and water infrastructure. A major overhaul on a nationwide scale will generate work for PHCC members either directly or indirectly because construction projects tend to spur peripheral projects which can create work for our members, such as utility work, new buildings, building improvements, etc. The broader economic benefit to the country through increased employment and improved efficiency in the movement of commerce will be good for the American people.

Additionally, there are millions of Americans that have lost work since the pandemic and their jobs are not waiting for them. This is an opportunity to encourage Congress to increase funding for workforce training and remove obstacles to obtaining it. Programs such as the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education (CTE) Act drive jobseekers to the skilled trades, where jobs are in demand and provide economic security.  WIOA grants can be leveraged by jobseekers to fund or offset costs of a PHCC apprenticeship; Perkins CTE grants have great potential to feed high school graduates into our apprentice programs by preparing students for careers in the skilled trades during their secondary education. These programs, for which PHCC lobbies vigorously to ensure robust federal funding, play a critical role in addressing the worker shortage in our industry. 

Lastly, we are seeing trends around the country where proposals in state legislatures seek to water down or "revise" professional licensing laws.

Proponents of these policies believe that it gets in the way of job creation, as if anyone can learn this trade overnight. Watered-down licensing laws will create a generation of workers with an incomplete skillset and introduce increased risks in the distribution of potable water and function of the sanitary drainage systems. Our professional standards, our trade and our infrastructure will suffer as a result.

PM: Where do the greatest business opportunities lie for PHCC members over the next three to five years, and how is PHCC going to help them take advantage?

HB: PHCC regularly assesses our members’ opinions about current business challenges and opportunities. We also conduct an annual environmental scan of trends and developments affecting our association and industry. Based on this information, we see opportunities in offering smart technology and products, energy-efficient and environmentally safe products and pre-fabrication, to name a few.  PHCC offers articles, webinars and other remote learning opportunities on these topics — as well as any new opportunities that arise—to make sure our members are aware and informed.  

PM: What other areas of growth do you see for PHCC member companies?

HB: Based on the most recent COVID-19-related member surveys we conducted, we see potential in touchless plumbing products, as well as services that help ensure the highest level of indoor air quality. This could include the use of filtration upgrades to higher MERV ratings, increased fresh air ventilation, bipolar ionization units, and HVAC UV light systems. There also could be some opportunities related to infrastructure improvements if a major national funding bill is passed. Part of the conversation over infrastructure is improvement to schools and preparing them to reopen post-COVID-19. Part of that preparation includes improvements to HVAC systems.

We also encourage our members to remind customers of the steps they are taking to protect public health and safety, a huge priority for everyone these days. This can go a long way toward retaining clients and attracting new ones.

PM: What are the biggest challenges PHCC members will face over the next year?

HB: Right now, I think there are several challenges related to the pandemic that will continue over the next year. Business owners will have to make sure they have the correct safety protocols established for their employees and customers, will have to keep up with any new guidelines that are in place and will need to really embrace technology, especially any solutions that can help them provide contactless services and products. In addition, they must be prepared to address any HR challenges that arose as a result of COVID-19.

PM: What is the No. 1 thing you hope to accomplish in your time as PHCC president?

HB: There are a couple of things. I have a big shopping list, because I've been involved for 22 years, moving through the ranks of the local, state and national association. I’m focused on communicating across the different levels because I believe the local chapters are our strength and foundation. We always talk about the upside down pyramid where it's the membership that's at the top and we, the leaders, are at the bottom. We want to support them, get information out to them and get younger members involved in leadership roles. I also want to increase our membership.

PM: What is one piece of advice you would like to pass along to the younger members of this industry?

HB: I would have to say get involved. This industry has been a blessing to me and my family. We've worked hard and continue to work hard, and we've done very well for ourselves. I would tell the younger guys to get involved in an association. That’s where you learn. I remember back when I first joined PHCC, one of my buddies invited me to a meeting — I wasn’t overly excited about it, but my competitors were there. These were the guys who would beat me on jobs and bids. After a couple of years of those meetings, we would sit and grab a beer afterwards and just talk about “How do you price these jobs,” or “How do you do that,” or even “How do you guys operate?” We became a tight-knit group where we could talk about things outside of our comfort zones. I spent 10 years without any business training just working my tail off day and night and on weekends, trying to keep the boat afloat, so to speak. When I started going to PHCC meetings, it was like the big light bulb went off — the aha moment. I’ve seen so many other people do the same. Get involved because you get so much out of it. And you’ll also give back to the industry that’s given to you.

PM: What would you say to students who are on the fence about college or entering a trade?

HB: I would have to say that college is a great thing, but technical school is, I think, a better path because our industry will never be taken over by computers or other machines. There is longevity in that type of job, look at how many people start off young and go through their entire careers and retire. And there are a lot of opportunities. 

PM: What are some of your hobbies outside of PHCC and work?

HB: Well, I'm a big sailor. I've sailed ever since I was in the Navy, so I've spent a lot of time cruising on sailboats, and I also teach sailing to students. It's a limited time, but I do enough of it. I’m a big outdoorsman — I play golf with all my PHCC buddies. As long as I’m outside, I’m a happy guy.

PM: If you could go back in time and give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?

HB: I would probably have to say work smarter not harder. And that's something PHCC taught me. I’ve always worked hard, but I didn’t learn to work smarter until years down the road. It would have saved a lot of heartache and struggle. So if I had to do it all over again, I would’ve joined PHCC earlier in my career. It would have saved 10 years of working just to get ahead.