Value Chain study aims to identify best suppliers; 'We were wrong,' UA's Hite says; former CIA director Tenet tops star-studded lineup of speakers, entertainers

The annual convention of the Mechanical Contractors Association of America always represents the epitome of industry education and entertainment, and this year's meeting in Phoenix Feb. 28-Mar. 3 may have been one of the best ever. About 1,700 people attended the star-studded event at the sparkling three-year-old Marriott Desert Ridge Resort.

Particularly well-attended was a humorous program introducing a study titled “The Value Chain: Adding Value to the Supply Chain,” published last year by the Mechanical Contracting Education & Research Foundation (MCREF). It can be obtained for $15 from the MCAA publications list at www.mcaa.org/store. The study offers guidance to contractors on how to evaluate suppliers in accordance with a concept of “Measured Cost by Activity,” defined as “unit price” + “true cost.”

“The true cost of dealing with a supplier is invoice cost plus the transactional costs of doing business,” the MCERF study explains. “Many of these costs are buried in overhead, and the activities associated with these costs affect your productivity and profitability.”

Dozens of factors are identified to measure supplier reliability and performance, spanning the ordering process, inventory management, logistics management and sales and marketing support. How many phone calls does it take to get product information? What's a supplier's on-time delivery record? What's the fill rate? How accurate are the orders? Slip-ups in any of these areas add hidden costs to material acquisition.

To get these points across, MCREF patrons hammed it up playing roles of contractor, suppliers and vendors in bid-day activities quoting to “Bi-Lo Mechanical,” later contrasted with “Best Value Contracting.” Despite the lighthearted approach, many attendees felt the skit drew attention to the shortcomings of real-world bid situations.

The Greening Of Construction

Another noteworthy program was a panel discussion sponsored by the MCAA-affiliated Plumbing Contractors of America and Mechanical Service Contractors of America detailing the particulars of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification and the growing trend toward “green” buildings.

Moderating the panel was David Gottfried, founder of the U.S. and World Green Building Councils that administer the LEED program. Participants included Jim Allen, water conservation manager of Sloan Valve Co.; Wade Snyder, project manager with Temp Control Mechanical Corp.; Carrier Corp.'s Tom Kelly; and Georgiana Kipp, executive director of the PMCA of Northern Illinois, all of whom addressed different facets of ecologically sound design and construction practices. Much of the discussion centered on code obstacles in implementing LEED.

LEED cropped up as part of several presentations at this year's Student Chapter Competition program. This increasingly well-attended event involves the finalists of MCAA student chapter proposals for a fictitious but realistic project, in this case a 35,000-sq.-ft. dramatic arts building on a college campus involving site preparation, utility services, plumbing, HVAC and sewer services. In addition to stated parameters, several student teams incorporated LEED components into their proposals.

Four new student chapters received their charters at the 2005 convention, bringing the total to 32.

Soothing Words From The UA

It is an MCAA convention tradition to hear an address from the general president of the United Association. This year featured perhaps the most conciliatory speech ever given to the group by the head of the plumbers and pipefitters union.

William Hite ascended to the leadership position a few months earlier following the resignation of Martin Maddaloni, who is being investigated by the U.S. Justice Dept. for improprieties concerning union pension funds. Hite, a former business manager of Chicago's UA 597 pipefitters union, addressed this issue head-on, noting that an investigation is underway, the chips will fall where they may, and “we will move forward and focus on the future.” He separated himself from the previous regime by stating the UA's role “is not about building hotels or buying golf courses. It's about jobs.”

Many in the audience were stunned to hear Hite say, “I know there's no conflict between being a good union man and a good employee, or even a contractor. Back when I first started, it was 'us against them.' We were wrong. I intend to treat contractors with the respect they deserve.”

Another stunner was Hite's revelation that the UA will take a nonpartisan approach to politics, supporting both Republicans and Democrats. He said he's “reached out” to certain Republicans regarding the energy bill and multiemployer pension relief, among other union political concerns.

Celebs Galore

It was hard to avoid bumping into a celebrity at some point during the four-day event. Keynote speakers included retired NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw and former CIA Director George Tenet, whose topical presentation brought the crowd to its feet. Amid a wide ranging review of the threats to U.S. security from terrorism and rogue regimes, he paid tribute to the thousands of CIA field agents acting on behalf of U.S. citizens in harsh outposts around the world, calling them “some of the best people you'll never know.”

Other celebrities booked for various programs at this year's MCAA convention included Lily Tomlin, Kenny Rogers, Marvin Hamlisch, tenor J. Mark McVey (Les Miserables' Jean Valjean), John Walsh of TV's “America's Most Wanted” fame, and trumpeter Jesse McGuire, formerly of the band Tower of Power.

Stanley Berger (Arista Air Conditioning Corp., Long Island City, N.Y.) assumed the presidency of MCAA. Michael Cullinane (Bert C. Young & Sons Corp., Bellwood, Ill.) was elevated to president-elect, and David Kruse (L.J. Kruse Co, Berkeley, Calif.) to senior vice president and treasurer. Newly elected to MCAA's executive ranks was Jack Wilhelmi (Waldinger Corp., Omaha, Neb.), who becomes vice president/assistant treasurer. Next year's MCAA convention will be held March 19-23 in Wailea, Maui.

2005 MCAA Award Winners

Distinguished Service Award - Thomas Mikulina, Trane Co.

Foster McCarl Jr. Philanthropy Award - Bill Bianco, Kenetic Systems Inc.

Educator of the Year - Tim Wentz, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Student Chapter of the Year - Purdue Univ.

Student Chapter Design Competition - Oregon State Univ.

First-Place Safety Award Winners -

  • Category 5 (more than 1 million work hours) - J.H. Kelly, LLC, Longview, Wash.

  • Category 4 (400,000 to 1 million hours) - RMF Nooter, Inc., Toledo, Ohio

  • Category 3 (250,000-400,000 hours) - Corrigan Co. Mechanical Contractors, St. Louis, Mo.

  • Category 2 (100,000-250,000 hours) - Midwest Mechanical Contractors of New Jersey, Parsippany, N.J.

  • Category 1 (less than 100,000 hours) - Coleman Spohn Corp., Cleveland, Ohio