The apprentice contest at PHCC CONNECT 2011 in Minneapolis. (Photo credits: Mike Miazga/Plumbing & Mechanical.)

Not too often do you attend a trade convention and leave with the topics of dinosaur excrement and vomiting at the forefront of your thoughts.

Yet those were two of the many positive and lasting impressions running through my mind after attending Plumbing Heating Cooling Contractors - National Association’s Connect 2011 conference at the Minneapolis Hilton recently.

Connect 2011 brought together plumbing, heating and cooling contractors from around North America for a multiday program filled with educational and networking opportunities. The conference was loaded with educational sessions, a top-flight roster of guest speakers and a beneficial product tabletop show, which included industry legendFrank Blau Jr.holding court at Nexstar’s booth.

I found the four guest-speaker sessions I attended to be of great benefit, and I am guessing contractors in attendance felt the same way. These speakers all provided information aimed to help contractors run their businesses and manage their employees to their greatest potentials.

On the educational side, I was impressed withKirk Alter’s “Next Generation: Policies and Possibilities in a World of Cleaner Energy and Water” seminar, which generated beneficial talk regarding the future of this country’s fuel and energy sources.

“We [the U.S.] claim to have an advanced industrial economy and yet it is run on primeval swamp goo and dinosaur poop,” Rocky Mountain Institute’sAmory Lovinssaid in a video shown during Alter’s program.

While rather strong wording, it provided a perfect transition into the meat of the discussion of where the country is currently and where it could be headed in terms of fuel and energy production.

Alter showed a slide from RMI ( that predicts by 2050 43 percent of the country’s energy could come from wind, solar and other renewables, 23 percent from noncropped biofuels and 26 percent from natural gas. Those numbers, though, came with the caveat the country not go about business as usual or “business not as usual,” as Alter noted.

“This country’s will has been there in the past with the race to the moon, Pearl Harbor and 9-11,” Alter stated. “I’m an optimist. I think we can, but I’m worried sick. We are so polarized as a country and our government has been so dysfunctional. Do we have the will to do this? Yes. Can we do it? I don’t know.”

This seminar branched out beyond solely talk about future energy sources. Alter asked audience members what types of regulations and policies are affecting them on the frontlines. Answers included the proposed new federal health care program, codes not being properly followed, lead abatement, lead-free fixtures, local zoning issues and minimum efficiencies on products such as furnaces. He also revealed to the many contractors in attendance a shocking amount of government projects have but one bidder on them - a great nugget of information for contractors looking for new work.

Veteran corporate speaker Doug Trenary led off the Quality Service Contractors' portion of the event with a talk loaded with motivational tidbits

Earlier, I sat in on the speechJon Gordon, author of the book “The Energy Bus,” gave to the Construction Contractors Alliance gathering. Nearly two-and-a-half hours later, I left with an overflow of usable information. A sampling of some of Gordon’s gems:

  • Walt Disney was once fired for having a lack of ideas.

  • Optimism is a competitive business advantage.

  • Optimism today determines success tomorrow.

  • Faith turns dead ends into detours.

  • And this dandy - Complaining is like vomiting. Afterward, you feel better, but everyone else around you feels sick. Think about that one for a minute.

Gordon’s point about the difference between a baseball player hitting .250 and .350 figuring out to around only 1.7 hits per week certainly translates into business parlance and life in general.

“That’s the difference between average and greatness,” Gordon told the audience.

Former NFL quarterback Tom Flick kicked off the festivities by speaking at the Viega-sponsored opening keynote presentation, mixing humor with some serious self-help advice.

Former NFL quarterbackTom Flick, who enjoyed a four-year career as mainly a backup with Washington, New England, Cleveland and San Diego and is now a motivational speaker, kicked off the festivities by speaking at the Viega-sponsored opening keynote presentation.

The 53-year-old Flick mixed humor with some serious self-help advice. His story about the basketball player who answered the question “Is it ignorance or apathy?” from his coach by stating, “I don’t know and I don’t care,” elicited plenty of laughter. However, his “Great companies avoid big hazards and seek out big opportunities,” “Helping other people to win,” and “Go first and lead the way” messages are ones contractors can take to heart.

His story about a Special Olympics event near his home where a runner fell down during a race and the entire race field stopped, went back to the runner to lend help and then all finished the race arm-in-arm, had powerful meaning behind it.

Veteran corporate speakerDoug Trenaryled off the Quality Service Contractors’ portion of the event with a talk loaded with motivational tidbits I’m sure are already being used by contractors in attendance.

These types of seminars embody what PHCC Connect has to offer. If I, a noncontractor, left with scores of information I can use in my everyday life, imagine how beneficial the conference is for the contractors in attendance.