The Chicagoland Plumbing Council, PlumbingOnline and HVAC-TV are all pointing the way.

Recently I saw a TV show with film clips of old football plays that included one of the most vicious tackles ever by legendary Chicago Bears linebacker Dick Butkus. He was going full speed when he blindsided a running back, who hit the ground with the force of a punch press.

We Chicago football fans revere Dick Butkus. On rare occasions a paramount finesse player such as Gale Sayers makes our A-list, but for the most part our supreme football heroes are the likes of Butkus, Mike Singletary, Mike Ditka, Walter Payton and Dan Hampton, i.e., the kind of guys you'd like to be hanging with if you ever stumbled into a biker bar.

Gritty as they were, though, they weren't masochists. They liked to inflict bruises a lot more than they enjoyed accumulating them. Butkus had his career shortened by a series of devastating knee injuries, which he didn't appreciate one bit. But I'm sure he was grinning ear to ear after the hit that made the NFL film archives.

Watching that film clip inspired a train of thought that led to a program I'll be participating in a few days after this magazine appears in print. The Plumbing Industry Working Conference 2000 is slated for Oct. 19-21 at the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC). It's sponsored by the Plumbing Council of Chicagoland, an industry fund supported by UA Plumbers Local 130 and the Plumbing Contractors Association of Chicago and Cook County, in conjunction with UIC's Chicago Labor Education Program.


Reason for the conference is to avoid being on the receiving end of a blindside hit like that delivered by Dick Butkus. Plumbing Council participants have been there before, and they didn't like it. It caught them by surprise, for instance, when nonunion firms started biting chunks out of their markets, when plastic pipe got so popular and Chicago's plumbing code stood alone in banning it, when public sympathies turned from pro-organized labor to a thumbs-down posture, and so on. So they are looking to address the most important issues on their radar screen, and come up with coherent strategies for confronting them.

The Plumbing Industry Working Conference 2000 will include programs on the following topics:

    1. Labor-management relations in the past, and how they will be influenced in the future.
    2. Changes in building codes, past and future.
    3. The threat to labor of temporary employment agencies.
    4. Training and recruiting.
    5. The workforce of the future.
    6. Information technology.
    7. Legislation and lobbying.
    8. Current and future economic trends.
    9. The past and future role of unions in the plumbing industry.
    10. Industry consolidation.

Planning Ahead

This conference is not about just listening to a bunch of speakers. Afterward the organizers will form working committees to devise a strategic plan to cope with the major changes occurring within the plumbing industry.

It's an intelligent approach, and one that plumbing organizations in other parts of the country would do well to emulate. The Chicagoland Plumbing Council is looking at things from the perspective of how they will impact the union sector, of course, but many of the issues they address are important to everyone who makes his living in this great industry. I'm looking forward to attending this conference and reporting on it - and especially excited about being invited to be one of the presenters (on Industry Consolidation) and a panelist for the Information Technology session.

More than 300 contractors and other industry citizens are expected to attend the conference, which will be held on the campus of the University of Illinois-Chicago near downtown Chicago. Registration costs $250 per person and covers all three days of the conference, including meals. By this time the conference may be filled to capacity, but you can check by contacting Cathy Kwiatkowski at the University of Illinois-Chicago, 312/996-2623, or, or UA Local 130 at 312/421-1010.

If you haven't checked it out yet, take a look at It's one of the industry's most intriguing Web sites, featuring e-commerce procurement networks, technical tips, business advice, training and education, a jobs and careers network and more. Launched in full at the beginning of September, seems to me a perfect example of an industry-specific Internet Web site likely to pay dividends to frequent visitors.

Also, it's chock full of industry news, provided by the PM staff and updated weekly. This partnership has been a bit of a culture shock for us. PM has been a monthly magazine since its inception in 1984. Suddenly we've found ourselves having to break away from that leisurely production schedule and generate stories on a weekly basis, per our agreement with PlumbingOnline.

Know what? It isn't that hard, and serves as a serendipitous example of how the Internet is improving our lives.

Providing PlumbingOnline with weekly news content has forced us at PM to be more attuned to industry events. We've found a lot more going on than we had considered when we were focused only on filling a news section once a month. We had limited space to fill, and as a result were forced to ignore or discard quite a bit of information of widespread interest to industry citizens.

We still have limited space to accommodate news in our print edition. Many of the articles reported on PlumbingOnline will never appear in print, although they will on the PM Web site ( as well as that of PlumbingOnline. In this manner, our affiliation with PlumbingOnline is forcing us at PM to better serve the industry, and all of you become better informed. PlumbingOnline also wins, by giving users another compelling reason to pay them a visit.

This arrangement further serves notice that readers who want to stay fully informed will have to check us out electronically as well as read the ink on paper. Like it or not, this is the future, and there's no way around it.


PM also is partnering with the innovative Internet "TV station," I was among several industry citizens appearing in the premiere Webcast on Aug. 29, discussing an industry topic of concern and participating in a live Internet chat. (Our production deadline required me to write this prior to the Webcast, and its freewheeling format left me unsure which of numerous topics I was prepared to discuss would end up on the live feed that evening. So I can't tell you what I talked about or how the program played out.) PM's hydronic heating guru Dan Holohan also was scheduled to participate, along with Taco's Dave Kunz and Dave Sweet, giving presentations on vertical pumps and zone valve controls, respectively.

HVACtv is a venture of Ed Nowak, Jr. and Dan Sheppard of the Providence, R.I.-based advertising agency Sheppard Legar Nowak Inc., which represents Taco and other PHC industry accounts. Nowak described it as "a place for industry professionals to talk to one another and to provide information they can use on a daily basis."

Webcasts will take place on the last Tuesday every month, starting at 7 p.m. EST, and I will be a part of many of them, as will Dan Holohan. You can view the Webcasts by registering at, and downloading the appropriate media player from the site.