EDITOR’S NOTE: The ‘Last Word’ is an occasional column featuring comments from various industry personnel.
Even as our nation continues to struggle with a stagnant economy, our industry and our association is strong and getting stronger. The members I have talked to say they have more work than they can handle as utilities contract to rehab and replace miles of aging infrastructure. The abundant and newly discovered natural gas resources are also providing our members with great opportunities for long term contracts, new equipment purchases and leases, and job creation. This is evident in our annual equipment survey which shows our contractors buying or leasing over $720 million in equipment in 2012, an increase of $150 million over 2011. Reported man hours are up 15 percent over last year.
This makes membership in the Distribution Contractors Association (DCA) all the more valuable. Many associations suffer membership declines in times of economic stress. Membership dues tend to be early casualties in the move to contain costs. Since 2009, DCA membership has grown by 35 percent. We’ve added a net 16 contractors and 36 associates, with over two-thirds of that growth in the past 15 months. Additionally, nearly one-quarter of the people who attended our annual convention in Miami this March had never been to a DCA convention before.
The DCA has made significant strides in benefiting its members and the industry in the past three years. Dramatic changes have occurred in many areas of the association, especially in the areas of membership, government relations, education, safety, outreach and marketing itself within the gas distribution and horizontal directional drilling (HDD) industries.
Membership – Currently, the association has 68 regular member contractors and 127 associate members. The growth is largely due to reinvigorating the committee structure and activities. Three years ago DCA developed charters, objectives and goals for each committee and members of the committees became more actively involved to reach those goals. These committees include HDD, Safety and Risk Management, Membership, Education, Government Relations and Outreach. This renewed spirit has translated into a 20 percent rise in attendance at DCA events.
Government Relations/Advocacy – After being dormant for a number of years, the Government Relations Committee became an active working committee in 2009. A section of the monthly DCA eNews is dedicated to keeping the members informed of the latest legislative activities in the pipeline industry. In the past year, DCA has become an active advocate in Washington, DC, with the assistance of Eben Wyman of Wyman Associates. DCA has joined several coalitions in Washington such as the Common Ground Alliance (CGA) and is working with government entities such as PHMSA and other agencies to better understand, modify and promote regulations that help its members and the industry. The association now produces a monthly government relations newsletter, DCA INSIGHTS, highlighting governmental issues affecting DCA members.
Education – DCA has increased its focus on providing cutting edge education to the members, both at DCA and industry events. The focus of the DCA Education Committee is to help identify topics and speakers of interest to the members of DCA. The committee also helps coordinate DCA sessions for conferences such as UCT (Underground Construction Technology) and ICUEE. In 2011, DCA created and implemented the first annual Professional Development Conference (PDC). The PDC is aimed at middle management within DCA member companies, with a focus on best practices, business finance and operations, management and leadership. The program’s objective is to enhance the business skills and acumen of attendees and help them see the bigger picture of the business.
Safety – Now in its 18th year, DCA’s Annual Safety Congress is becoming a “must-attend” event for safety professionals each year. The two-day event attracts safety professionals from across the country and industry to discuss different challenges and problems utility contractors face with projects, from creative training ideas to managing a safety culture within their company. The congress culminates with the presentation of the Safety Director of the Year award. Since 2009, attendance at the event has grown by 70 percent. Recognizing that the only statistical information currently available for the pipeline construction industry is the data provided annually by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the DCA Safety and Risk Management committee and member safety directors developed the “Safety Benchmarking Survey.” The survey helps member contractors measure their safety program with other members. The first benchmarking survey began in 2010 and has seen increased level of participation since. Additionally, DCA annually presents the Arthur T. Everham Safety Award for exemplary safety records and practices.
Outreach – Last year DCA created the Outreach Committee with the specific charter of improving and expanding DCA’s efforts to give back to individuals and the industry through educational scholarships, humanitarian grants and industry trusts and funds. Three years ago DCA added a new scholarship program in honor of long time member Curtis Allen aimed at students entering trade and vocational schools with a focus on the underground pipeline industry. This new scholarship was in addition to the Dale R. Michels Scholarship which has always focused on students entering colleges and universities, and the James R. Upton Scholarship. With the need for more qualified and talented employees in the industry, in 2014 DCA will be dramatically increasing the amount of scholarships awarded. It is also renewing the focus on grants for those experiencing hardships and difficult financial times. The Lyons Grant was developed several years ago in the spirit of community and volunteerism. Bob Lyon’s life’s work was in promoting “giving back”. He wanted to provide support to those involved in truly giving back, by providing seed money to help something small grow and prosper in conjunction with the volunteer efforts.
Marketing – After DCA celebrated its 50th Anniversary in January 2011, DCA embarked on a new branding campaign for the next 50 years. A new logo was adopted honoring the legacy of the original logo with the green triangle representing strength, stability and sustainability, but it also brings a sharper and more modern focus of the identity of DCA. The three segments of the triangle represent the membership of contractors, associates and other partners such as labor, education and the trade media. It also represents the values of the association – quality, safety and integrity. DCA has redesigned all of its publications from DCA News and eNews to the directory and Benchmarks, the association’s annual report. A new web site www.dcaweb.org was launched last year with a robust database and online event registration.
DCA maintains the reputation of a tight-knit family. DCA is a network of the best in the business, union and non-union contractors, suppliers and providers, gas distribution and other utilities. It is a gathering of quality contractors and associates working together to deliver superior value to the natural gas and underground utility industry. As such, DCA is helping its members to efficiently transform their business, educate their employees on business and safety, and leave a lasting and memorable impact on the industry.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Rob Darden serves as executive vice president of the Distribution Contractors Association. He joined the staff in July 2009, bringing to the DCA over 25 years of international meeting management and association executive experience, most recently as executive director of QuEST Forum, an international telecom quality association. Previously he held executive positions with the Young Presidents’ Organization and Spear One Productions.