This year’s trip celebrates the third anniversary of my first out-of-state work conference. It has been a great three years — I’ve learned so much and met so many great people. It was great to see some old friends and meet new faces.

Nearly 130 PHCC members took their message about the industry’s “workforce time bomb” to Capitol Hill during the May 18-19 PHCC Legislative Conference. This year I shadowed North Carolina.

Education and networking

Business owners and chapter executives spent two days educating Congress on ways to address the industry’s skilled worker shortage, the importance of the Carl D. Perkins Act and the onslaught of regulations created by federal agencies such as the DOE, EPA, DOL and OSHA.

The event occurred three weeks after the PHCC Workforce Development Roundtable on Capitol Hill, where a panel of PHCC members shared proactive recruiting and hiring solutions they have implemented to create awareness of career opportunities and fill the many jobs available in the industry.

During the conference’s opening session, PHCC President Charles “Chip” E. Greene stated the importance of staying active and “working those friendships on Capitol Hill.” 

Mark Riso, PHCC director of government relations, also expressed the importance of this and went into detail about what members should cover when speaking with their representatives. In addition to asking for increased funding for the Perkins Act, members should express the importance of contractor involvement during the regulatory process and the growing need for workforce development. 

Keynote speaker Reid Wilson, national political correspondent for Morning Consult, shared political insights about this presidential election year — what he called “The Disruption Election.” Wilson said several shifting trends are influencing how voters will choose their preferred candidates. For instance, as Americans continue to be nervous about their future and their children’s future, many are relying more on their personal views on issues rather than the traditional party positions. There also is an increasing “politics of homogeny,” or only talking with others who feel the same way on key issues. 

As for actual predictions of election year winners, Reid provided statistics showing how the Democrats have advantages both geographically and demographically. “The Republicans need to run the table in all swing states to reach the number of delegates needed to win the presidential election,” he predicted. Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania — upset about losing jobs overseas — could be swing states. 

Later that night, members headed to Capitol Hill for the Congressional Reception. Several legislators stopped by to address PHCC members and talk about key issues, like the rising number of federal regulations, the growing need to address the workforce/skills gap crisis and the frustrations of continued political gridlock in Washington, D.C. Among the legislators attending were: Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio; Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo.; Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C.; Rep. Joe Kennedy, D-Mass.; Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga.; Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass.; Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla.; and Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.

Some memorable comments were:

• “Thank you for what you represent,” said Foxx. “It is folks like you who make this country great.”

• “We’ve got engage people,” said Mullin, who is also a PHCC member. “This new DOL overtime pay regulation isn’t helping employees; it is hurting them. We have guys up here [on the regulation committee] that are making decisions for us [contractors], but they have never been us. We are the backbone of this economy — over fifty percent of our economy is on the backs of small businesses. So thank you for taking the time to walk these halls. No one can tell your story better than you can.”

• “I grew up in a construction family,” said Loudermilk. “But my dad left the industry, because he got tired of ‘fighting the man.’ But we can fix this; we can turn it around. You being here, as the voice of reason in this nation, is going to help make it happen. Thank you for what you are doing.”

• “When I think about education and opportunity, I think about skills-based education and how our young people can benefit from it today,” said Coffman. “I want to everything I can to promote skills-based education to help our young people out and help our country out.”

• “Thank you for what you guys do day in and day out,” said Kennedy. “Your presence here will help to make sure your government is moving in the right direction.”
The reception also allowed time for members to network and talk with one another. 

“I appreciated the opportunities we had to converse with so many contractors from other states,” said Rick Charriere, president, Oregon PHCC. “It gave me an opportunity to see how our state compares to others. I thought all states had the same amount of government interference that we do, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. I wish we were able to get the message across to our legislators that this over-regulation not only drives business away, but also makes it impossible to develop the trained workforce we so desperately need.”

Workforce and globalization

During the Legislative Breakfast on Capitol Hill, PHCC members heard from a member of the U.S. Senate and a member of the House of Representatives who focused on trending issues like the presidential election, workforce development and globalization.

Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., a former HVAC builder and realtor, said he knows firsthand the important role p-h-c contractors have in this country. “The economy and strength of our country lies with small business,” he added. “Plumbers provide value-added services. They add to the quality of buildings constructed in communities and the country.” 

Isakson also addressed the workforce shortage in the p-h-c industry. Calling the situation a “terrible crisis,” he gave an example of how difficult it is to find workers for a new multi-million dollar stadium that is being built in the Atlanta area. “You can’t find welders in the Southeast today,” he said. 

Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, stressed the importance of training workers to keep America competitive. “The competition today is across the world,” he said. “Globalization affects everyone. Get a well-trained workforce to do the best job in the world. We need to know how to compete, and a lot of it starts with small businesses here today.”

After breakfast, members split up to see their respective representatives. I shadowed the PHCC group from North Carolina, whose members included: John Hicks, Diana Hicks, Joel Long, Brian McDonald, Jim Pendergrass, Wesley Styers, Grant Styers, Hunter Styers, Jeffrey Voss, Janice Voss and Jennifer Warren. We went to see Senator Thom Tillis, R-N.C.; Senator Richard Burr, R-N.C.; Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C.; Rep. George Holding, R-N.C; Rep. David Price, D-N.C.; Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C.; Rep. Virginia Foxx, , R-N.C.; and Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C.

“I am always impressed by the dedication our legislators’ young staff members seem to have,” Hicks, President, Griffin Heating and Air Conditioning, said. “They genuinely want to make things better and know the issues that are at hand for the most part.”

Pendergrass, executive director, PHCC of North Carolina, added: “It was encouraging and informative to hear, numerous times, representatives or their aides say, ‘Too often we make poor decisions based on ignorance, not intent. We simply do not have the input and insights needed to make good, effective decisions. As such, your presence here is vitally important to us, and we thank you for making time to attend and meet with us.’”

Then at the closing reception, PHCC members heard from Darryl DePriest, chief counsel for the Office of Advocacy, U.S. Small Business Administration. DePriest said the Office of the Advocacy, which serves as a watchdog in Washington, exists to help small businesses. He encouraged PHCC to continue working with his office so that it can better understand how regulations affect contractors. 

The Office of Advocacy has had many victories protecting small business and often goes to battle with federal agencies to highlight the negative impact of overly burdensome rules. PHCC has a strong relationship with the Office of Advocacy, and DePriest’s participation is key to fighting rules that negatively affect contractors. 

I enjoyed this visit as much as I did in previous years — if not more so. This year, I recognized many of the people I met at past events and had much of the industry jargon down pat. 

I say this each year, but because it still rings true: It shocks and awes me every time I hear about the different regulations being made without the consultation of professionals. The foundation of any good society is built upon teamwork and knowledge. No one person or organization has all the answers and no one stops learning. 

PHCC’s next Legislative Conference will be spring 2017.