AWCI's Centennial: The 1980s
“We stand today at the threshold of expansions.”
The 1980s brought economic growth, innovation and glasnost. Reaganomics provided tax cuts, budget cuts and the unrestricted, free-market economy. IBM introduced the PC; Apple Computer launched Macintosh. The Digital Age was at its dawn. The Cold War was ending.
AWCI’s 1981 needs assessment survey found that its contractor members had experienced a 46 percent increase in revenues over the prior two years. How? The energy crisis of the 1970s had driven Americans to seek energy efficiency for their homes and commercial buildings. Homeowners started remodeling projects. Warehouse home centers like Home Depot and Lowe’s appeared on the scene catering to the new do-it-yourselfer. Building owners sought large-scale retrofits.
In January 1980, then, wall and ceiling construction was a bright spot. And a surge in construction innovation would make its mark on the new decade. Examples include panelization and new sectors such as sound control. Also, the exterior insulation and finish systems market became huge in the 1980s. Construction Dimensions estimated it in excess of $1 billion at the end of the decade and growing.
AWCI’s 1985 needs assessment survey showed the average AWCI member company had 32 employees, generated $3.28 million in annual revenue and had been in business for 27 years. Together, AWCI members produced $1.68 billion in annual employment, had business receipts of $3.45 billion and purchased $1.2 billion worth of building materials and supplies a year.
New products, new systems and new market niches helped many AWCI contractors to grow in the 1980s. But AWCI had a lot of work to do to provide continuing education, beneficial political action and craft training.
Asbestos abatement. In the 1980s, asbestos abatement was a rapidly growing segment. To help its members, AWCI formed the Asbestos Abatement Council of AWCI in 1985. AWCI Executive Vice President Joe M. Baker Jr. said the council would be a semi-autonomous organization. The Asbestos Abatement Council of AWCI would provide technical and legal direction to serve the segment, he said.
The Asbestos Abatement Council of AWCI produced training programs and published a bimonthly magazine and monthly newsletter. The council’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Asbestos Abatement issued technical guidelines.
In 1985, the AAC held a unique convention. It was a convention within a convention, associated with the AWCI Annual Convention in Kansas City, Mo. More than 160 manufacturers and distributors exhibited products related to asbestos abatement. Seminars covered asbestos abatement regulation, insurance, estimating and legal problems.
Coalition for the New Beginning. In 1981, AWCI helped form the Construction Industry Coalition for the New Beginning. The alliance of about 50 construction associations supported President Reagan’s economic program. The coalition was the brainchild of 1980–1981 AWCI President Ray Boyd of Texas.
Boyd chaired the coalition’s organizational meeting on April 22, 1981, at the Capitol Hilton in Washington, D.C. Secretary of the Treasury Donald Regan spoke at the kickoff meeting. He noted that President Reagan was proposing the largest budget cuts and tax cuts in U.S. history. Regan also said that government over-regulation had long impeded the construction industry; deregulation was a priority.
Helping the White House. AWCI supported President Reagan’s economic program of reform and worked hard to help the administration pass its tax and budget packages. After President Reagan met with AWCI representatives and other groups—only 24 individuals were present, Reagan appointed Vice President George H.W. Bush to head a task force to reduce regulatory burdens. In time, Bush’s task force changed or eliminated more than 104 rules and regulations. The construction industry was better for it.
Lifetime membership. In 1985, AWCI established a program enabling firms to no longer pay annual dues, but rather a single fee to become lifetime members. A product of the Continuing Study Committee’s brain trust, this new membership category was intended to help the association with cash flow problems.
Bill Carroll of Carroll Ventures, Albuquerque, proposed a lifetime membership fee of 20 times the annual dues (then $400). His goal was to build a $1 million reserve by selling the memberships and compounding the interest on the funds. AWCI’s board accepted Carroll’s proposal, which had the endorsement of the executive committee. Carroll and Vito Arsena were the first to purchase lifetime memberships for $8,000 each. By the end of 1985, 18 AWCI firms had paid lifetime dues.
Today, more than 70 firms are active AWCI lifetime members. Lifetime membership is open to all categories of members.
EIFS training. EIFS was a boom category of work in the 1980s, and AWCI recognized the industry would need to develop more trained applicators. So, AWCI’s board of directors launched an EIFS recruitment and training program in 1989.
By the end of 1989, AWCI’s technical committee on EIFS, chaired by Bill Bell, had formed a steering committee to develop a comprehensive pre-apprenticeship training program for vocational school systems in the United States and Canada. Pilot programs began in the early 1990s.
Here are the values, thoughts and accomplishments of just a few of AWCI’s presidents during this decade.
Jim Biddle of Mader Construction Corp., Buffalo, N.Y., was AWCI president from 1982 to 1983. Biddle strongly believed that education was important to AWCI’s membership, and he worked to promote member participation and AWCI’s educational programs.
Diminishing productivity was a problem in the 1980s. During his 1983–1994 presidency, Bob Whittle of Niehaus Interiors, Inc., St. Louis, Mo., appointed a special task force on declining productivity. He asked the task force to pursue the Business Roundtable’s Construction Industry Cost Effectiveness study recommendations, which had recently been released. He represented AWCI at the September 1983 White House Conference on Productivity.
As 1984–1985 AWCI president, Bill Marek of Marek Bros., Texas, presided over a productive year. AWCI seminar attendance surpassed previous records. The association fully leased its Washington, D.C., headquarters building, “ending what had become a serious cash flow drain,” Marek said. In 1985, AWCI’s membership base passed the 1,000 mark.
William C. Scott. Bill Scott of W.C. Scott Co., Houston, served as AWCI president from 1987 to 1988. He helped fellow contractors to bid, sell and negotiate with a view to high quality. In doing so, they could count on repeat business.
Burt Fisher of Davis Acoustical Company, Troy, N.Y., became AWCI president in 1988. During his presidency, the Wall and Ceiling Industries Political Action Committee endorsed George H.W. Bush. “We are proud to be leaders behind George Bush’s drive to the presidency,” Fisher said.
AWCI 1989–1990 President Ronald P. Brady of California believed that a stronger, more responsive association was possible. He wanted AWCI’s board of directors, executive committee, past presidents, councils and chapters fully aligned to benefit members.
Brady proposed to the board strategic goals that included restructuring, a new financial strategy and membership growth of 25 percent per year. Brady asked the board members to view AWCI not as a single organization, but as “a family of organizations.” He sought to refine AWCI so that each component functioning within the association would be “consistent with its desires.” Board directors would handle only board matters. Executive committee members would stay within their scope of authority. Councils would fulfill their assigned tasks. And so on. Through Brady’s leadership, AWCI became better organized for the decade ahead.
In the 1980s, Reaganomics jump-started American growth. The U.S. economy recorded only two negative-GDP years during the decade—1980 and 1982. The rest of the decade saw growth, and growth was evident among AWCI members.
All told, AWCI grew during the 1980s. Membership was up, and so was participation. The 1980 Annual Convention in Phoenix had 1,500 attendees. Nine years later, 3,000 convened in Las Vegas.
The Berlin Wall fell in 1989, and the Cold War ended. Reagan’s free-market economy appeared to be working. How would the 1990s turn out for the world, the construction industry and AWCI?