Knowledge gained today helps increase future business growth.

Robert T. Armistead, 2010 MCAA president.


Last month, Plumbing & Mechanical interviewed Robert T. Armistead, P.E., who will be installed as president of the Mechanical Contractors Association of America during its convention, March 28-April 1 in San Francisco.

He is president of Armistead Mechanical Inc., a fourth-generation, family-owned company based in Waldwick, N.J. Its expertise lies in industrial/process piping, fabrication and installation, plumbing, HVAC design/installation, temperature controls and preventive maintenance services.



PM: When speaking with young people, how do you describe the benefits of being a member of MCAA?


RA: For anyone new to the industry, MCAA can be an invaluable resource. You can either learn the hard way or the MCAA way - through education. At MCAA you will find successful industry leaders devoting their time, giving back to the next generation and sharing their expertise as they mentor those coming along. Most of my colleagues will tell you about someone they met at one of their first MCAA conventions who turned into a mentor or offered a bit of advice, and that one meeting changed the course of their careers.



PM: Where do you see the greatest areas of business growth for MCAA members in 2010?

RA: Green and sustainable construction - especially in the government, education and health-care areas - as well as infrastructure projects in the wastewater and water-treatment sectors will continue to be a stronger segment of the industry this year, fueled in many cases by the federal stimulus package.

We are hopeful that any new jobs bill will likewise contain funding for energy-efficiency work in commercial and multiresidential buildings, as in the Building STAR proposal put forward by MCAA and our partners in the Rebuilding America Coalition.

I also expect that pockets of industrial work like data centers will continue strongly in order to handle our increasingly information-oriented economy.



PM: How can MCAA help them take advantage of these opportunities?

RA: MCAA’s educational programs help our members look forward, not back. We can’t waste time thinking about how our industry used to be. We are invested in education that looks forward and helps us adapt to the world of 2010.

Toward that end, we have expanded our series of Webinars this year to encompass a wide range of our programs and services for our members, including green and high-performance construction, management methods and safety. This is in addition to workshops on prefabrication, BIM and other industry-related topics. Our members have the tools available to them to learn what they need to take advantage of the opportunities that exist in the marketplace.



PM What can MCAA members do to educate their customers about the performance of water- and energy-efficient products?

RA: The ability to educate our customers about the opportunities for water and energy efficiency is definitely a competitive advantage for MCAA contractors. Our manufacturer and supplier members are active, full members of our association. As a result, we believe we are well-educated about their product lines and new developments. This is knowledge we can pass along to owners, general contractors and other members of the integrated project team.



PM: What do you see as the greatest challenges facing MCAA members?

RA: Managing in a downturn involves tough choices. Having the courage to make the right decisions for your company and its future is a huge challenge. I think MCAA gives us the information we need to make the right decisions at the right time.



PM: How does MCAA help them address these challenges?

RA: Every one of the educational opportunities we had this past year was a sellout. If you invest in your people and education, you’ll still do well.  Our prefab conference later this spring is already sold out, our Institute of Project Management continues to run with a multiyear waiting list, and we had attendees registering 10 months early for the fall senior-level Advanced Leadership Institute.



PM: If you had only one message to give to your fellow contractors, what would it be?

RA: I would encourage our contractors to not lose heart but to use this time to regroup and rethink their company’s growth strategy. There are opportunities now and there will be more opportunities to come. If you take advantage of the educational programs offered by your association, work smart and take care of your people, you can come out of this difficult period even stronger.



PM: What do you hope to accomplish as MCAA president?

RA: During the next year, I want to build on the work of my predecessors as we continue to develop and provide world-class educational opportunities to our members. The educational opportunities available through MCAA can help anyone in the mechanical contracting industry develop the managerial skills needed to stay ahead of the curve as our industry changes.

It is not surprising to me that every one of our programs has continued to sell out even in this difficult business climate. Education is the way to prepare our members for the uptick that will eventually come.

Throughout my MCAA career I have been active in helping shape our career development program. Our industry needs to continue educating young people about the opportunities and attracting the best talent to our firms. I will continue to support the growth of our highly successful student chapter program and, through my position on the national board of the ACE Mentoring program, continue extending that reach into the high schools.

We will continue to work with our labor partners at the United Association on our advocacy efforts to grow our markets and our legislative initiatives to ensure a fair and level playing field vs. the open shop.



PM: Discuss the importance of BIM to MCAA members.

RA: I heard an expression recently that sums up why BIM is so important to our industry: “I have seen the future of the construction industry and it’s integrated!” What that means to me is this: As mechanical contractors and service professionals, we will be assuming a larger and more pivotal role in the construction process as partners in the design, delivery and ongoing operations of built structures.

Why? We are best positioned to design and construct highly sustainable and green structures because we have the knowledge and skills to manage energy and control human comfort in built structures. We have active education programs and resources to ensure our members are continuously and professionally educated in BIM and in all things green and sustainable. And it’s the ability to use building information modeling technologies to design and ensure long-term sustainability that will make MCAA members the contractors of choice.



PM: What’s the current status of the “Value Chain” study that addresses contractors’ relationships with distributors?

RA: MCAA’s foundation (the Mechanical Contracting Education & Research Foundation) completed the study a couple years ago, and our contractor and manufacturer/supplier members have been off and running, improving their supply chains and the relationships that make them work, ever since.

In particular, Measured Cost by Activity, which the study focuses on, provides a relatively simple tool to determine specific activities involved in our business transactions and what they actually cost. This gives managers a measure of the costs associated with overhead activities. That’s a revelation to a lot of people and, oddly enough, it’s one of the areas that they alone can control! You can download a free copy of the Value Chain study from the MCERF Web site at www.mcerf.org/Research_Projects.aspx.



PM: As an engineer yourself, how do you assess the relationship between specifying engineers and mechanical contractors? Can it be improved?

RA: I feel the relationship between specifying engineers and mechanical contractors is key to the success of any project. As experienced mechanical contractors, we need to be more involved on the front end of a project, especially in the early design phase to give valued input on equipment and system selections.

 Today, mechanical contractors are asked for value engineering after the initial bidding phase. This usually results in a pricing war and doesn’t deliver true “value engineering.” The mechanical contractor can bring quality value engineering to the table in the early design stages where the various options can truly be evaluated and decided on in the best interests of the owner. In addition to the quality engineering benefit, it will most likely save the owner time in project delivery and overall costs.



PM: How can MCAA help them take advantage of these opportunities?

RA: MCAA’s educational programs help our members look forward, not back. We can’t waste time thinking about how our industry used to be. We are invested in education that looks forward and helps us adapt to the world of 2010.

Toward that end, we have expanded our series of Webinars this year to encompass a wide range of our programs and services for our members, including green and high-performance construction, management methods and safety. This is in addition to workshops on prefabrication, BIM and other industry-related topics. Our members have the tools available to them to learn what they need to take advantage of the opportunities that exist in the marketplace.

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