There is a changing of the guard (so to speak) every fall during PHCC’s annual conference and trade show. This month, PHCC — National Association President Hunter Botto, president of Botto Brothers Plumbing & Heating in St. Petersburg, Florida, will hand the title off to Joel Long, owner of Gastonia, North Carolina-based GSM Services. Plumbing & Mechanical Chief Editor Nicole Krawcke had a chance to chat with Long about what he hopes to accomplish during his term and the many opportunities for PHCC members over the next year.
PM: Where’d you get your start in the industry, and did you ever think you would be president of an organization like PHCC?
JL: I grew up in our family HVAC business. I started working in the field when I was 16 on some of our commercial projects, installing ductwork systems and gas piping systems. I knew early in those days that I really liked the industry. For me, it was seeing the progress at the end of each day and the knowledge that we were improving a customer’s building. I fell in love early on. I also loved the people. Our teams are made up of the true American worker. Focused on performing at a high-quality level so they can make sure their kids have it better than they do. Love them!
On the PHCC leadership front, I am not sure I saw that coming when I joined PHCC. On the flip side, I have been fortunate throughout my life to be mentored by extremely generous people, who have pushed me to do more by their examples. In PHCC, several past presidents gave me encouragement and direction on how I could grow and maybe help PHCC at the same time. They really have inspired me to do this, and hopefully I can continue their success.
PM: What are the top three items on PHCC’s national legislative/regulatory agenda?
JL: I would say we are really focused on a variety of issues affecting our businesses and industries, and three of our main agenda items are infrastructure, decarbonization and better government support for our small businesses.
We are hearing every day that we will be seeing a massive focus on infrastructure improvements, but unfortunately, most of these are focused on the infrastructure we see, like roads. We are pushing for the improvements of our drinking water, wastewater treatment and HVAC systems. The American Society of Civil Engineers grades our drinking water infrastructure a C- and estimates that we will need at least one- trillion dollars to address these shortcomings in the next 25 years. The ASCE gave our public-school systems a D+ rating and reports that more than half our schools need HVAC system replacements to improve air quality and indoor climate. At the same time as this report on our schools, we have decreased school capital investments by more than 30% in the last decade. We need to focus now on improving these important parts of our infrastructure to build a better future for the next generation.
We do not believe in the current decarbonization push we are seeing in different parts of the country. Natural gas, for instance, is a low-cost energy source for millions of American households that reduces stress on the electric grid, keeps electric bills low, and provides a reliable source of heat and hot water. Natural gas is a clean product we make here in the U.S., which helps us be more energy independent and helps our most vulnerable households efficiently heat their homes. We believe Americans should have more choices in the supply of their energy and that competition leads to better outcomes for our consumers. We are asking our representatives to provide legislation that helps expand these choices instead of reducing them.
All across the country, many of our members are facing the threat of extinction — in large part due to this pandemic. They are also facing the growing burden of our government’s tax policies. Our members are small business owners who are the backbone of our American job growth. At a time when we are fighting a pandemic, a worker shortage and material delivery delays, our state and federal governments should be making it easier for our businesses to thrive. We are advocating for reduced taxes which will help our companies provide products to our consumers at lower prices and boost the American economy. We are asking for more funding for registered apprenticeship programs to help us build a skilled workforce. We are asking our legislators to improve our tax policies to make producing in America more attractive for our manufacturing partners, so we reduce the supply chain and become a stronger self-reliant nation.
PM: Where do the greatest business opportunities lie for PHCC members over the next few years, and how is PHCC going to help them take advantage?
JL: I am extremely encouraged about the opportunities that lie ahead for our members, as many will diversify and grow their businesses coming out of this pandemic. We have a long history of working to improve the quality of water and air systems in homes and businesses, and our members stand ready to supply these services to consumers. Our members have always protected the health of the nation, and our current services will fit directly into our heritage of staying at the forefront of this important service.
I also believe we have been putting ourselves in the position to recruit young people coming out of high school directly into our industries better than most. I believe more and more young people and their parents are tired of the four-year college path that results in large debt and often supplies a questionable career path. Our PHCC members offer a clear alternative that supplies immediate wages, education and a path to earn six figures and/or own your own company. Sounds like the American dream to me.
PHCC offers tons of education and apprenticeship programs which prepare our owners, technicians and apprentices, and provides a clear path to improve their lives.
PM: What other areas of growth do you see for PHCC member companies?
JL: I have grown more over the years by getting involved in our Enhanced Service Groups at PHCC. For instance, our Construction Contractors Alliance (CCA) group is made up of contractors who specialize in residential and commercial new construction. These contractors are from all over the country and meet several times a year to share best practices, learn from each other and share knowledge. Being in these meetings has positively changed the direction of my company for the better. There are opportunities all throughout PHCC for our members to learn from each other and grow our businesses, but they must also get involved. I urge all our members to get beyond sending in that basic membership check and really dive deep into your connection to PHCC.
PM: What are the biggest challenges PHCC members will face over the next year?
JL: Unfortunately, I believe we will still be wading through this COVID-19 mess, material/labor shortages and how to deal with our customers and personnel in a positive way. At this point, I know I am sick of dealing with the masks, the vaccines and the heated variety of opinions we all have on how to move forward. Over the past year and a half, our essential companies got up each morning to face the world like we always have done. We should all be proud of that record of success. We must press forward with the old, brash American “can do” attitude and not let this disease and other issues sidetrack us.
PM: What is the No. 1 thing you hope to accomplish in your time as PHCC president?
JL: I want to continue and expand the successful work of our past presidents and boards. We are just finishing our latest five-year strategic plan and will be meeting early in 2022 to build the next five-year plan. I want to take a hard look at what we accomplished from our old plan, assess what we should continue and really take a deep dive into where we need to go for our members, partners and industry.
I already know I want to make sure we are extremely focused on building the federation at all levels. The national association is only as strong as our partnership with our state associations, and I believe we need to take the lead from our state leaders and help them win first. PHCC National wins when our state associations win.
PM: What is one piece of advice you would like to pass along to the younger members of this industry?
JL: I have received so much advice that has helped me over the years. I think some of the best is to live your best life every day and strive to listen more than talk. There is so much opportunity in our industry, but you must decide that no one can slow you down except yourself! I do truly believe that our only competition is with ourselves. Hustle more than anyone else, and you will be luckier than everyone else.
PM: What would you say to students who are on the fence about college or entering a trade?
JL: I would recommend students who are on the fence go talk to the most successful HVAC and plumbing contractor owners in the community, and ask them if they can start a career with their businesses. Most of our members are pillars of their communities, support their local charities and love to help students start their careers.
PM: What are some of your hobbies outside of PHCC and work?
JL: My kids are both in college now, and I have taken up trout fishing again. I grew up fishing with my father, and in North Carolina, we are blessed to be able to enjoy the mountains, lakes and ocean for fishing. I realized after my kids started college that I had really lost that time doing something I really enjoy. There is something therapeutic about a crisp, cool morning in the mountains chasing those elusive trout. If anyone has any advice on catching those elusive trout, I am taking advice from everyone!
PM: What is one thing about you that most people don’t know?
JL: I grew up very unsure of myself and was terrified to speak in public on any level. Just speaking in a classroom setting would scare me to death. My father entered me in an Optimist Essay contest when I was in the sixth grade that included a presentation in front of a panel of judges. I was terrified and so mad at him at the time! I think I finished last in the competition, but I had faced my fears and speaking got easier after that. Since then, I have often tried to face my fears directly, and that has served me well.