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Oct 14

NECA Transmissions Blog Features 2008 Chicago

What I Brought Back From Chicago
by John Grau

The just-completed NECA Convention in Chicago was my 31st. That doesn’t even come close to the record set by former NECA President Bob Colgan of Toledo, Ohio. This was his 57th!

Bob was recognized at both the Convention Opening General Session and at a special Academy of Electrical Contracting Reception marking its 40th anniversary. Bob Colgan and Bob Higgins, my predecessor as NECA’s Executive Vice President, are the only founding members of…

To Read more of John’s recent post featuring the NECA 2008 Chicago Convention, visit or Click here.

Oct 08

That’s a wrap!

NECA 2008 Chicago closed out last night with an awesome performance by Bruce Hornsby, Ricky Skaggs, and Kentucky Thunder at the Arie Crown theater. “Best event so far!” one audience member was heard exclaiming during the multiple standing ovations that the group received.

Thanks so much for joining us in Chicago and on the NECA Convention blog this year. But don’t take us off your RSS or web bookmark just yet! We’ll have more video and photos from Chicago, along with copies of presentations for downloading. Don’t forget to retrieve your CEU certificate either!

If you have any questions about anything we covered in the NECA 2008 Chicago blog, you can always reach me by email.

PS: To answer the question, “what is that tag thing over there in the right column?” That’s called a “tag cloud” and it’s generated by the “tags” or keywords we assign to each post. As more posts with certain tags are written, that tag shows up as bigger within the cloud, so you can tell at a glance what we’ve written about the most. Right now, it looks like “green,” “General Session,” and “Share your thoughts” have the most posts. Clicking on a tag displays all the posts with that tag.

So click on “Share your thoughts” and tell us what you’re thinking right now!

Oct 07

NECA NewsCast “Live from Chicago” – Day 4

Jennifer Brice, NECA NewsCast host, brings us an exclusive peak into the Labor Relations focused general session. On stage were IBEW International President, Ed Hill and NECA’s VP of Labor Relations, Geary Higgins – together they highlighted the future of the NECA/IBEW working relationship. Also in the spotlight of this broadcast were NECA’s general sessions, green alley and the International Lunch hosted by ELECTRI International.

Oct 07

Tributes for Milner Irvin at Closing General Session

The 2008 NECA national award winners were recognized at this morning’s closing general session. (There’s a list of winners below this post.) We also heard from NECA CEO John Grau, ELECTRI Council Chairman Bob Bruce, and President Elect Rex Ferry.

But the most touching part of the morning was the video and personal tribute to outgoing NECA President Milner Irvin. Here are just a few of the things that his friends and colleagues said:

“Milner’s most important contributions have been in the area of labor relations. He’s led the association through a period of increasing and improving our communication with the IBEW.” – Bob Bruce

“He’s one of the most important presidents we’ve ever had. I’ve never had a thought that Milner hasn’t already had.” – Jerry Nixon

“He makes you feel important and valued in a room full of people.” – Brad Giles

Incoming President Rex Ferry presented Irvin with a plaque commemorating his service and announced that Irvin had been awarded an Honorary Membership in NECA, one of the highest tributes the association gives its leaders.

Sportscaster Bob Costas wrapped up the session with anecdotes and insights from his 30 years in sports journalism. He had a few thoughts on the Cubs quest for the playoffs: “Waiting for the Cubs to win is like leaving a porch light on for Jimmy Hoffa. It’s a nice gesture, but you feel like it’s probably futile.”

2008 NECA National Award Winners

Larry Cogburn — James H. McGraw Award
Greg Stewart — Coggeshall Award
Jerrold H. Nixon — Comstock Award
Glenn W. Kingsbury — Association Executive Distinguished Service Award
Robert J. Bruce — Wendt Award

Oct 07

Anti-Counterfeiting Panel Convened

ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR and The Electrical Distributor (TED) Magazine jointly sponsored an Electrical Products Anti-Counterfeiting Panel yesterday to discuss the widespread impact counterfeit electrical products are having throughout the industry.

“Call it counterfeiting, call it mislabeling, call it gray-market – but it’s all a crime,” said ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR publisher John Maisel. “It affects every part of the electrical products channel, from manufacturers to distributors to contractors, and especially, end-users.”

Panelists included Kevin Yates, VP Siemens Energy and automation, and Steve Litchfield, asst consul Schneider Electric-Square D, Bob Crane of Underwriters Laboratory, and Bill Feyman, VP Leed consul, Babcork Electric. They focused primarily on the liabilities presented by counterfeit products.

“The closer you are to the end of the supply chain, the more liability you have,” Yates said. “So the most liability potentially rests with the electrical contractors.”

Crane pointed out some warning signs to help contractors avoid fakes. “The terms ‘overstock’ or ‘only 50 left’ are often used to promote the sale of counterfeit products,” he said.

“In 1981, the counterfeit products were laughable,” Litchfield said. “You could tell right away that they were fakes and inferior products. But in 2004, the first products I saw from an unauthorized distributor – another tip-off that products may be counterfeit – you couldn’t tell the difference from the packaging. It was a circuit breaker, and the flaws were really frightening when we tested it.”

Panelists echoed the concern that counterfeit products are a concern for the entire electrical industry. Manufacturers have taken initiative in pursuing and suing counterfeiters, enlisting help from U.S. Customs. They’ve had to spearhead raids on plants in China. But with less than one percent of all imports coming the U.S. screened and the fact that counterfeiting is roughly a $250 billion annual business, “counterfeiting is a value proposition,” Yates said. “Bottom line, they stand to make a lot of money, and the chances of getting caught are slim.

“We have to take the initiative to protect our customers, our workers, and our brands,” he continued. “It’s going to take education to recognized counterfeits and government assistance to prosecute the criminals behind counterfeiting.”

ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR will release a special supplement to its December issue on the risks posed by counterfeit electrical products and what electrical contractors, site managers and other electrical industry professionals can do to protect themselves, their workers, and their customers.

What are your concerns about counterfeit electrical products? How much of an impact do you think it will have on the industry?

Oct 07




Busy on the show floor? Had the chance to check out the 2008 Convention Blog while you’ve been in Chicago?

How about an easy way to keep track of updates and current events strait from the source. Help is here — we’ve added an RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed to the new blog. With the 2008 Chicago Convention RSS subscription, you can check the latest posts from NECA PR Director, Beth Margulies, and read up on her insights and experiences throughout the week.

To subscribe to the 2008 Chicago Convention blog simply click the RSS logo in the URL bar of the blog.

Oct 06

Guest Post: Producing Positive Local Relations

by Ellie Collinson, The Raben Group

The audience at today's general session on labor relations

The audience at today's general session on labor relations

While some attendees were enjoying Art Smith’s cooking presentation, today’s General Session focused on labor relations and highlighted the need for local control and local opportunities for partnership.

Ed Hill, IBEW International President, spoke about the importance of 8-hour days and responsible use of CW/CE classifications. Both Hilland NECA Vice President for Labor Relations (and newly inducted Academy Fellow) Geary Higgins underscored the value of communication and action at the local level to the future of building market share.

Eric Nixon of Maron Electric Company, Chicago, raises a question from the floor.

Eric Nixon of Maron Electric Company, Chicago, raises a question from the floor.

Higgins stated that it is critical to the future of the NECA/IBEW working relationship that as NECA leadership pushes for changes and cooperation at the national level, they are able to demonstrate the value of these initiatives at the local level. To the extent that local chapters and members have success stories and data to share, I hope you will keep in touch with Geary and his team. NECA members can also read and subscribe to Geary’s labor relations column Between the Lines here. Feel free to leave a comment (anonymous if you prefer) to this blog post as well.

NJATC Executive Director Mike Callanan also highlighted some of the changes at NJATC to increase local market specialization and to provide responsive flexible skill training programs in addition to increased use of technology for national curricula.

And lastly, the Ps seem to have it: members of the NECA Task Force on Labor Relations, along with Geary and Mike, all spoke on a panel and fielded questions from the audience about what issues are primarily percolating across the country. Two problems (or perhaps opportunities for change) seemed to affect members across the country: portability and pensions. Political Leadership Council leaders pushed for increased participation in future pension planning and policies at the federal level.

Maybe I’m getting punchy from trying to see everything going on here at NECA 2008 Chicago!

Members of the Labor Relations Task Force and NECA officers field questions from members.

Members of the Labor Relations Task Force and guest panelists field questions from members.

Oct 06

Cooking with Chef Art Smith

Chef Art Smith cooks for NECA

Chef Art Smith cooks for NECA

Art Smith, renowned personal chef for Oprah Winfrey, “2007 Humanitarian of the Year” for the prestigious James Beard Foundation and 2007 Chicagoan of the Year, led a packed group of enthusiastic foodies and wannabe gourmet chefs through a wonderful cooking program this morning. Even if you missed this morning’s program, Chef Art generously provided the recipes he prepared, which we’ve posted on the 2008 NECA Convention blog. See more photos from Cooking with Chef Art Smith too.

Chef Art will be cooking with Rachel Ray on her show Oct. 8 and competing on Iron Chef along with his sous chef Sara Lee on Oct. 19. Convention-goers received a copy of Chef Art’s cookbook”Back to the Table” with their spouse registration, you can see more of Chef Art’s books at

Recipes from Chef Art Smith’s program at NECA 2008 Chicago

  • Pistachio-Crusted Chicken with Coconut-Chili-Ginger Sauce
  • Chocolate Pecan Pie
  • Grilled Shrimp on Arugula with Lemon Vinaigrette

Oct 06

NECA NewsCast “Live from Chicago” – Day 3

Jennifer Brice, NECA NewsCast host, reports on Day 3 at NECA 2008 Chicago with opening day festivities. Beth Ellis, NECA executive director, meetings/expositions, opened the 53rd NECA Show with the traditional ribbon cutting. This segment also includes interviews with members and exhibitors on the show floor and NECA CEO John Grau talking about his excitement over what’s to come.

Oct 06

Guest Post: Opening General Session Recap

by Ellie Collinson, The Raben Group, and Jennifer Neuhaus, NECA staff associate, Midwest Region

While I wasn’t sure how many people would make it dutifully to this morning’s General Session after last night’s spectacular opening party on the Navy Pier—complete with fireworks! I was impressed by the energy and enthusiasm of the full house at Arie Crown Theatre this morning.

NECA President Milner Irvin addresses the opening general session.

NECA President Milner Irvin addresses the opening general session.

NECA President Milner Irvin spoke about the many initiatives he and NECA’s staff have taken on to improve the NECA member experience during his tenure as president, most notably the leadership conference call series and advances in labor relations. Many NECA members will also miss Milner’s “From The President’s Desk” column published monthly in ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. As he so aptly put it, progress has been made and progress will continue to be made under incoming president Rex Ferry’s leadership.

Speaking of progress, the rest of the program included presentations by Jerry Nixon, NECA’s Political Leadership Council Chairman, about the impressive growth of NECA’s political action committee, ECPAC, to nearly $2 million, making ECPAC one of the Top 50 Federal PACs and amplifying the voice of NECA’s Government Affairs program. Jerry, the ever consummate fundraiser, invited interested NECA members to visit with Lake Coulson and the Government Affairs Team at the NECA booth throughout the convention and to consider a gift to ECPAC as an investment in their business’ operations.

And the highlight of today’s general session was of course the truly titillating performance by The Second City, complete with NECA-inspired sketches about competing bids and apprentices.

Second City players share the stage with willing(?) NECA volunteers

Second City players share the stage with willing(?) NECA volunteers

They had contractors laughing hysterically with their skit about the project manager dealing with his delinquent boss, who was willing to do anything to win the job, even if it meant dropping three zeros from the overall cost. Second City even offered crowd participation as part of their performance, in which audience participants Chris and Jean added a little bit of their own improv to the show.

The Second City group was established in Chicago in 1959. It was the starting point for some of the most famous comics of our time, including John Belushi, Mike Myers, Bill Murray, and Gilda Radner. The next time I get roped into playing charades, I hope I get a member of Second City on my team!

Second City players make convincing electrical contractors.

Second City players make convincing electrical contractors.