A trade association is an organization of people who share a common purpose and which has a formal structure. Many associations use multiple methods to support their members, including education, training and public relations programs to create a favorable image of the trade or profession.
Many trade associations are household names that wield great power and attempt to influence legislation through well financed lobbies – think National Rifle Association (NRA) and AARP, an acronym so well known the organization’s full name – American Association of Retired Persons – seldom is used.
The Encyclopedia of Associations identifies more than 135,000 nonprofit membership organizations worldwide, over 22,000 of them national organizations in the United States. In addition, there are another 115,000 local, state, interstate and regional organizations.
When it comes to associations, bigger isn’t necessarily better – small local and regional organizations can be very effective in serving their members, especially for those serving specialized, niche markets.
A good example is the Northeast Trenchless Association (NTA). Formed in 2004 by a small group of New England horizontal directional drilling contractors, membership has grown with the support of a diverse group of associate member suppliers and service providers.
The organization’s goals at the time was to advance the professionalism of its members and to increase awareness of the benefits of trenchless construction among owners and operators of utilities, general contractors and the public.
Those basic goals haven’t changed, but the ways to implement them have become more effective, believes current president Ralph Edwards, underground sales specialist, Vermeer Northeast. Membership and focus have expanded from HDD to include other trenchless technologies.
One of the keys to the organization’s success, Edwards says, has been the ability of members – both contractors and suppliers – to not allow competitive issues to intrude in association business.
“We just put them aside for the good of the industry,” he says. “And we believe communication among members keeps us active in the association and allows members to have an integral part in its success.”
A major achievement is beginning an active effort to educate consulting engineers about the benefits of trenchless construction, particularly directional drilling, an area that has been given little attention by the industry. Membership now includes two engineers: Brian Dorwart, PE, PG, vice president, Haley & Aldrich, and Stephen Broadbent, Wright Pierce. Dorwart serves this year as association secretary.
Meetings are held six times a year. For the convenience of members, they are scheduled at various locations in the region. An annual meeting is held each January,
Continuing education is an important part of each meeting with representatives of industry suppliers, and industry experts and associations conducting training seminars.
Topics covered include HDD Good Practices, trenchless water and sewer construction, safety roundtable discussions, and consideration of problems encountered on projects and how members have addressed them.
“We will continue to offer programs involving safety, new technologies and good business practices,” says Edwards. “Contracts and human relations also are timely topics.”
Soon after the association was established, it developed a log and established a web site: www.northeasttrenchless.com. The site was reorganized and improved in 2008 and includes information about association events and schedules; a directory of members and basic information about directional drilling, sliplining, auger boring, pipe jacking, locating buried utilities, vacuum excavation and other technologies; news about member products or comments of members about industry issues; and links to other industry web sites.
NTA maintains its visibility using public relations, advertising and a public relations program to keep regional and national trade publications informed of association programs and activities.
An annual summer outing combines business with pleasure and has become an anticipated event for association members. Indeed, one of the most frequent comments from visiting speakers and event guests is how close members are with one another.
“Many new, close friendships have developed through participation in the NTA,” agrees Edwards. “Professional common interests have extended to the personal level.”
One benefit of a regional association is members understand common issues.
“In most associations we are active if our company performs services that no one else provides or understands,” says Matt Timberlake, vice president of Ted Berry Co., Livermore, ME, provider of a variety of trenchless construction, rehabilitation and maintenance services. “Services of NTA members are similar enough that as we discuss situations we have dealt with, others are engaged in the discussion because they have probably been in similar situations.” Timberlake is the current association vice president.
Contacts also can lead to new business, says Timberlake.
“We have met great contacts and have teamed up on a number of projects that have in the end provided a better finished project for our customers than any one of us could have offered alone,” he explains. “I spoke yesterday to another member who is looking at a project and is interested in subcontracting my company to perform part of the work that they do not have the equipment to complete. Without being active in the NTA, I am certain I would not have been asked to help with their project.”
Another important benefit is that a small organization can quickly address new challenges and changing situations.
“The NTA has really been an asset to our company and other members in dealing with the present economic recession,” says Danielle Martin, general manager, Henniker Directional Drilling, Henniker, NH, and 2007 NTA president. “I can say our company has gained knowledge that helps us determine costs, address safety concerns, improve crews morale and communication, set a higher standard of business for ourselves, and deliver a better level of service by having access to new product information and developing a relationship with the associate members.”
Evolving from what was primarily a HDD association to a trenchless association has broadened NTA’s scope and base of membership.
Timberlake believes it likely that the association will continue to add members of other trenchless technologies to association membership, including CIPP installers, microtunneling, rehabilitation specialists, hydro excavation, utility locating industries and more engineers and consultants.
“Basically anyone who has an active role in underground construction using advancing trenchless technologies can benefit from NTA membership,” he says.
How to Get Started
The NTA is one of only two independent local associations in the trenchless utility construction industry – the other is the Ohio HDD Association. Plans have been discussed and efforts made to start organizations in other areas, but without success. What does it take to start a successful state or regional trenchless association.
“First, assemble a core group of people willing to establish a good foundation for the organization,” advises Ralph Edwards, current NTA president. “Approve a mission statement and develop a plan to follow to success. Early challenges may be where to hold regular meetings and topics for each meeting. We found that once people realize that the association is about education and promoting the trenchless industry, they became very positive. Member dues pay costs of operating the association. Suppliers also may contribute many items needed for meetings.”
Seek guidance early in the planning stage, suggests Danielle Martin, Henniker Directional Drilling.
“Do not reinvent the wheel,” she says. “There are those of us who have done it before. Learn from our success and mistakes and reach out to the others in your area. You will be surprised at what you are missing if you do not collectively put your efforts together – not to mention the friendships that develop. If you are unclear how to share effectively without giving away your competitive edge we can tell you it is a fear not worth having. Be open and have boundaries for yourself. Everyone has the same issues and concerns. The collective think tank is very powerful and beneficial to the group as a whole. Different styles, personalities and experiences have contributed greatly to the benefit of our members.”
Those considering establishing a local association must begin with a group of dedicated individuals with support from their companies and those who own them, advises Matt Timberlake, Ted Berry Co.
And be prepared to balance your “day” job with association duties, he adds.
“While we are all trying to run businesses and crews,” says Timberlake, “it is often hard to allocate time between your company and the association. You will need not only the support of the company you work for, but equally as important, that of your family.”
Once an association is established and operating, the work really begins. Says Martin: “It’s necessary to know expectations of members in terms of meeting venues, speakers, marketing and a web site and develop a realistic budget to accommodate those needs. Association board members and leaders must always be aware that the association is delivering a product to its members, and that it takes constant attention to bring the best possible product for value invested in the organization.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Northeast Trenchless Association, www.northeasttrenchless.comte