The fifth annual MCAA Mid-Year Education Conference met in Boston, Mass., June 21-24 and featured 12 sessions designed to rejuvenate profits and productivity for attendees.

After opening remarks from MCAA President Ron Pearson, American astronaut Dr. Jerry Linenger captivated an early-morning crowd of more than 335 contractors and spouses with stories of his five-month space odyssey. He and fellow crew members successfully battled a spacecraft fire destined to prevent a happy and healthy return home to family and friends. His stories' emphasis on fear, isolation, humor and triumph outlined lessons about human nature that set an inspirational tone for subsequent sessions.

John Koontz's "Tools For Improving Productivity" focused on common productivity hindrances in the field. With plenty of golf analogies to explain his point, Koontz said many people want to improve their game (productivity), but few are willing to put in the extra practice (policy changes) necessary for such an adjustment. The antidote for poor productivity, according to Koontz, is solid planning, problem identification and feedback response.

Caryl Shuham taught an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure in "Killer Contract Clauses." Acting as a translator, she waded through typical and trickier examples of clauses that many attendees have encountered, outlining potential dangers in their initial wording and volunteering new language sure to satisfy a compromise. Members were responsive and quick to volunteer examples from their own experiences.

Shuham's best nugget of clause advice: Silence is golden. Unless specifications clearly are marked in the contract, the subcontractor's liability is undefined. Removing language that assigns risk to the subcontractor is the most crucial task. She acknowledged many GCs will reject proposed changes flat out. However, subcontractors must not acquiesce. Going a few (fair) rounds will produce a safe contract and successful project.

Steve Curro packed the room with "Instant Access To Critical Data Via The Internet," concentrating on the construction industry's position in the technology craze. He discussed two methods of information storage and distribution used by contractors today.

The "push" method is a more outdated way of printing manual reports and storing information in a database. The "pull" method thrives on Web reporting and real-time access to information anywhere, anytime. Although many contractors still operate using the "push" method, the "pull" method truly can put them in control, according to Curro.

"Wireless Technology For Project Management" was a late addition to the convention lineup but drew in members anyhow. Three speakers, Howard Lerner, Mike Kelleher and Tommy Thompson, led the audience through a maze of technological advances and explained how they could enable this technology at their companies.

Palm Pilots and cellular phones are surging investments, slated to exceed desktop computer sales in the near future, according to Lerner. Links to e-trade, e-mail and other transactions can be reached by hooking up a laptop to a cellular connection, which allows remote access with great ease. These features especially are handy to the construction industry, allowing tools and supplies to be ordered and shipped immediately and letting plans and bids be exchanged instantly.

The MCAA's upcoming newsletter will feature excerpts from the convention's "Best Practices" breakfast, where members shared their company's best business tactics and each table submitted the top suggestion.

The next MCAA convention will meet in Maui, Hawaii, Feb. 10-15. For more information, contact the MCAA at 301/869-5800.