Reflecting on changes already made to America and preparing for more to come was a common thread that ran through many of keynote speeches and breakout sessions heard by the 1,600 attendees of the MCAA's 114th Convention, March 2-6, Palm Springs, Calif.

"It's like someone hit the pause button on the economy," said Chip Andrews, chairman of FMI Corp., during his analysis of construction trends. "Many businesses that would have a positive effect on the economy have delayed their decisions. The idea is not so much that decision-makers are not going to build as much, as they are not going to do it right now."

Considering the tumultuous decline of many construction sectors, it's easy to see why many wish to ride out the need to make changes and simply wait for better times. According to the figures Andrews presented, new industrial construction declined by 30 percent in 2002 and is expected to be flat for this year. He estimated vacancy rates in office buildings could be as high as 25 percent by factoring in the sublease market. As a result, Andrews doesn't believe there will not be a major upturn in office construction until 2010.

Dealing with these types of changes in construction, not to mention changes made by customers, suppliers and even the workforce was clearly the focus of a discussion by John Koontz on "Implementing Change in Your Organization."

"Change is a tough word for all of us because it means we're heading into unknown territory," said Koontz, MCCA's national director of project management and advanced education, as well as a former professor at Purdue University's construction management program. "We're in an industry that's hard to be profitable and hard to be productive. Maybe we get lucky once and awhile, but if you don't want to leave anything to chance, it's the methods you put into place that will produce winning results."

However, Koontz pointed out that many of the "tricks of the trade" he's seen implemented by successful contractors aren't so much unknown as much as undone. "Some of these of practices are so simple," Koontz added, "most contractors can't believe more don't do these sorts of things. Well, guess what? Contractors don't do these sorts of things."

Turnover meetings and pre-construction planning were just two of the not-so-out-of-the-ordinary actions Koontz recommended. "I first heard about these 20 years ago," he added. "I don't think any of us have the time not to do either. I guarantee you will find something that will pay for the costs of these meetings."

Koontz also said that, at least in the case of preconstruction planning, some contractors may be making the mistake of not including their foremen in the process. "You can't just go through the motions on this," he explained. "You've got to do it and do it well. I am surprised to find that many don't include their foremen and yet, when you get right down to it, the foremen are the guys with your wallets."

In fact many of Koontz's other suggestions, such as developing labor-loaded schedules, tracking and forecasting labor, and sharing information, involved office and field operations working in conjunction with each other.

For his last suggestion, Koontz recommended negotiating training, primarily because general contractors have long since formalized this learned skill for their workforce, whereas mechanical contractors may take it for granted. "Every nickel that goes to your bottom line has to be negotiated," Koontz said. "Just because you're 25, doesn't mean you're too young; just because you're 50, doesn't mean you're too old to learn negotiation."

Changes for the better or the worst weren't the only impressions of this year's convention. The number of student chapters has continued to grow, with students from all over the country having the chance to attend the proceedings.

Since the program began in 1998, student chapters have grown to include 24 colleges and universities. This year the association also recognized eight new student chapters:

    the MCA Student Chapter at Fairleigh Dickinson University;
    the Eastern Constructors Student Chapter of Eastern Michigan University;
    the MCAA Student Chapter at the Milwaukee School of Engineering;
    the Washington State University MCA Student Chapter;
    the MCAA Student Chapter at the California State Polytechnic University at Pomona;
    the University of Wisconsin - Stout Student Construction Association;
    the MCAA Student Chapter at Boise State University;
    and the Illinois State University Mechanical and Electrical Contractors Association.

Newcomer California State Polytechnic State University at Pomona won the student chapter competition, in which students conducted a design/build for a commercial project. The University of Nebraska - Lincoln took second place.

In other student news, Ferris State University won the Student Chapter of the Year Award, and Tim Wentz, assistant professor at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln won the Educator of the Year Award.

In other convention news, Bob Waddy received the association's Distinguished Service award. John Martin of Anvil International received the Foster McCarl Jr. Philanthropy Award. Nooter Construction won the E. Robert Kent Award for its P.A.C.T. Safety Program.

Best Practices Awards went to 16 MCAA affiliates. resulted from the collaborative efforts of nine affiliates:

    the ARCA/MCA of Southern California;
    the Greater Michigan PMCA;
    the MCA of Chicago;
    the MCA of Connecticut;
    the MCA of Eastern Pennsylvania;
    the MCA of Maryland;
    the MCA of Metropolitan Washington;
    the MCA of New Jersey; and
    the Metropolitan Detroit MSCA.

Other Best Practices Awards were presented to the Rock River MCA for its Building for Kids program; the MCA of New Jersey for its Mentoring program; and the MCA of South Florida for its Continuing Education Collaborative Program.

Thomas L. Williams of McKenney's Inc., Atlanta, Ga., became MCAA's new president at the closing session. President Williams also welcomed the newest member of the Executive Committee, senior vice president Stanley Berger and seven new board members: Bob Armistead, Tim Brink, Mike Buday, Hanford Gross, Mac Lynch, Mark Rogers and Bob Turner.

Next year's MCAA Convention will be Feb. 29-March 4, in Orlando, Fla.