AWCI's Centennial: The 2000s
“We continue to evolve and witness events and changes like never seen before.”
Time magazine calls the 2000s “The Decade from Hell.” It lacked “a large-scale armed conflict,” Time says, but it was “as awful as any peacetime decade in the nation’s history.” The world experienced 9/11, a horrifying Asian tsunami, mounting losses in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Great Recession. “We feel as if we’ve been through a 10-year gauntlet,” says Time.
The recession began in 2007. “By the end of 2008, the S&P 500 had declined 38 percent, jobs lost came to 1.9 million and the U.S. government owned stock in 206 banks,” says The Concise Encyclopedia of The Great Recession 2007–2012. The U.S. Census Bureau reported that the number of American citizens living in poverty swelled by 2.6 million to 46.2 million from 2009 to 2010.
But, the 2000s had good news: Scientists mapped the human genome. NASA landed two rovers successfully on the surface of Mars. Germany elected its first female leader. The United States elected its first African-American president.
A series of tragic events in the 2000s affected the industry’s labor pool, materials availability and project volumes. 9/11. The attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, upended everyone’s world view. America’s great cities, airlines, railways and bridges were now potential targets for terrorists. And the resulting fear turned government attention to securing the borders. Thus ended any hope for progressive views on immigration to advance forward. Legislation enacted after 9/11 blocked what could have been a steady supply of drywallers and tapers coming to the United States from Mexico and Central and South America.
Hurricane Katrina. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina caused widespread damage in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi. It also affected Arkansas, Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, Ontario, Pennsylvania, Quebec, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia, until it dissipated off the coast of Greenland. Texas took in about 220,000 people seeking refuge.
During post-Katrina reconstruction, gypsum board producers allocated their product. The supply turned to China for help. But some Chinese wallboard contained calcium sulfate laced with hydrogen sulfide. This latter sulfur compound gave the board a pungent and caustic smell, making it unsuitable for use in the reconstruction of Gulf Coast structures.
Not all gypsum board producers were affected. PABCO Building Products, for example, issued a 2010 press release stating that “neither PABCO nor any other Pacific Coast Building Products Family of Companies retail … has imported or sold any gypsum drywall made in China or from raw materials imported from China.” This came after the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission released the results of its multiyear $5 million study of gypsum drywall. All foreign and domestic manufacturers’ drywall was tested. PABCO’s gypsum drywall “did not emit any hydrogen sulfide,” its release noted.
The Great Recession. From late 2007 through December 2009, construction jobs had fallen by 1.6 million, states the aforementioned encyclopedia. Construction unemployment in October 2009 reached 19.1 percent, up from 10.7 percent the year before, the reference says.
In 2009, AWCI President James M. Keller of Kentucky called 2008 “the worst year for the economy since 1931.” He told the industry in 2009: “We continue to evolve and witness events and changes like never seen before in the past two generations.” Keller urged contractors to stay on top of collecting money they were owed.
However, the 2000s also saw manufacturers introduce several innovative products that transformed wall and ceiling construction.
EQ metal studs. EQ or “equivalent” cold-formed steel studs appeared on the market in 2005 when Worthington Industries’ Dietrich Metal Framing (ClarkDietrich Building Systems) licensed UltraSTEEL™ from a U.K. firm for the U.S. market. UltraSTEEL featured a light, dimpled steel that could achieve “equivalent” limiting heights and, thus, be a lighter weight alternative to standard metal studs.
“EQ studs represented a technology shift,” says Robert Grupe, AWCI director of technical services. “There has been a lot of disinformation out there.”
AWCI members, however, took care of that. Many participated in updating ASTM specifications to account for the base thickness of the new steel. Paragraph 9.2 of ASTM C645 was rewritten to allow EQ studs. Steven A. Etkin, AWCI executive vice president and CEO, says non-structural EQ studs have become the predominant cold-formed steel stud today, accounting for 90 percent of the market.
EQ coatings. In the late 2000s, some manufacturers started protecting their cold-formed steel studs with coatings developed in the automotive and appliance industries. Because they met the ASTM A1003 requirements for steel sheet, the new coatings were dubbed “equivalent” to traditional coatings. “They are code-approved coatings worthy of inclusion in project specifications, says “Framing the Future” from ClarkDietrich. EQ coatings were “another huge step forward for the industry,” the ClarkDietrich literature says.
As the decade began, AWCI was posting the best financials ever in its history. The association had 1,283 members in September 2001, up from about 800 members in 1995. Importantly, AWCI was retaining members. In September 2001, the renewal rate for contractors was 84 percent. For contractors associated with AWCI chapters, it was 91 percent, AWCI reports state.
On the publishing front, AWCI’s Construction Dimensions was the market leader with nearly half the industry’s estimated paid advertising pages. It was well ahead of Walls & Ceilings and Jobsite, which had market shares of 38 and 14 percent, respectively.
One of AWCI’s big successes was its conventions. Its 2000 Expo in Las Vegas, Nev., had delivered $592,300 in exhibitor revenue. The 2001 Expo in Nashville, Tenn., produced $645,407. The San Antonio exposition in March 2002 had locked in $703,500 in exhibitor revenue by Sept. 5, 2001, and more was expected.
So, by September 2001, the new decade had all the makings of being exceptional. And was it ever.
9/11. The attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, displaced more than 25 million square feet of structures in New York City, AWCI reports say. Thirty-five construction workers representing carpentry, painting and electrical had been lost in the tragedy. A long-time employee of Island Acoustics, Bohemia, N.Y., was lost when the World Trade Center towers collapsed.
That Tuesday’s devastation brought a swift response from AWCI. On Wednesday, Sept. 12, Etkin asked AWCI’s chapters to contribute to the American Red Cross. Most did so within days.
Others donated directly to the recovery work at Ground Zero. AWCI’s New York chapter, the Association of Wall-Ceiling & Carpentry Industries of Long Island/New York, donated 3,000 sets of hard hats, safety glasses, dust masks and work gloves. AWCI board member Carol Schary, president of supplier Nathan Kimmel Company, Los Angeles, donated equipment. The Drywall & Interior Systems Contractors Association of New Jersey contributed clothes. Grabber Construction Products organized a rebuilding fund using the Foundation of the Wall and Ceiling Industry.
Though other associations canceled events, AWCI’s October 2001 Industry Executives’ Conference & Committee Week proceeded without interruption in Puerto Rico. Nearly 150 attendees came to the meeting.
“Industry committees conducted business, attendees played in the Foundation Golf Tournament and all took some part in advancing the industry,” AWCI Members Only reported.
“The unity of the Tri-State area has been amazing,” said Brian McGlone of the Mid-Atlantic/Northeast Conference about the aftermath.
“The region is seeing additional work,” said Tom Clerkin also of the Mid-Atlantic/Northeast Conference. But business generally suffered. Ronald Prescott of the Western Conference said tourism was down in Hawaii. Alfons-Jean Knauf, AWCI’s international representative, said home sales in Berlin, Germany, plummeted after the attacks. Contractors working on government and military projects saw their crew productivities plunge once lengthy security checks were added to job sites.
Larry Cotten of the Southeast Conference pointed out that Congress was drafting legislation to close the U.S. border with Mexico. “I’m all for having work visas be part of the solution, but how do we do this fairly, safely and economically?” Cotten asked. “Does AWCI have a position regarding this legislation?”
Immigration. AWCI did not have a formal immigration policy in October 2001, and events were moving quickly.
“There is strong support for closing all borders,” said Past President Stephen Baker.
Steven Sharpe, a contractor at large, said AWCI should form a committee, study the effects of Sept. 11 on U.S. immigration policy and make determinations for the membership. “After all,” said Sharpe, “people who come to the United States for work are paid below prevailing wages.”
Baker, Clerkin, Cotten, Keller, Sharpe, Richard Baker of the Southwest Conference, Chris Walter of the Southwest Conference and Michael Weber of the Mid-Atlantic/Northeast Conference volunteered to be on the committee. Weber was the one who had lost a man when the Twin Towers fell.
This group of eight formed an ad hoc task force. Their job was to draft an immigration policy position on behalf of AWCI. In 2002, they released the policy draft. In short, AWCI’s new policy called for legislation that would allow immigrants to apply to remain in the United States, while also acknowledging the importance of and the need for national security. “Without the availability of immigrant workers, construction of all types in this country would be delayed and/or not done [at all],” the policy draft said.
In July 2007, the Foundation Research Series published “Immigration and Construction.” The paper cited figures on the number of undocumented immigrants working in the United States and gave suggestions to contractors wanting to employ immigrant workers.
Foundation Research. When the Foundation paper on immigration came out in 2007, AWCI was already an expert in producing credible research reports.
The Foundation’ first paper, the March 2002 “Mold: Cause, Effect and Response,” discussed Stachybotrys chartarum, a genus of mold that had put wall contractors on the firing line. A July 2002 press release from Chelsea Group Ltd., a Chicago-based indoor air quality consulting firm and author the 44-page report, called “Mold: Cause, Effect and Response” a best seller and said that 10,000 copies (through print and downloads) were in circulation. “We commend FWCI for taking this important step of providing clear, factual information about this critical issue,” said Chelsea Group’s chairman and CEO.
“Mold: Cause, Effect and Response” was followed in 2003 by two more papers on mold: “Preventing Losses from Moisture and Mold During Construction” and “Mold Litigation Prevention and Defense.”
The July 2004 paper, “Using Labor Brokers: The Legal Issues,” addressed the ramifications of using brokered workers. “Labor Brokers” explained the legal relationships contractors have with their workers. In August 2005, “Job Descriptions” reviewed the specific responsibilities associated with the industry’s jobs. A year later, the Foundation helped members to plan ahead with the paper, “Preparing for Tomorrow.”
Then came 2007’s “Immigration and Construction.” It was followed by “Green Building: Understanding, Bidding and Building Green in July 2008 and “Building Information Modeling: Understanding and Operating in a New Paradigm” in July 2009.
“These reports were important milestones for AWCI and the Foundation,” said McNulty Brothers. President Joseph Feldner and a member of AWCI’s board. “They broadened AWCI’s credibility and the AWCI brand, and they were useful to the industry.” Doing It Right. As AWCI was releasing more reports, it was producing more learning programs. During the 2000s, AWCI broadened its course curriculum to reach more mechanics, inspectors and managers. It also started branding those programs.
In April 2000, AWCI introduced (and later trademarked) the Doing It Right brand of trade-specific industry education. The first course was EIFS—Doing It Right, a seminar series and a self-study program. The self-study program used five workbooks and two, one-hour instructional videos and was expected to be popular.
“The boss can schedule the program around inclement weather, work shortages or use a pizza party to entice his workers to come in on a Saturday for a little bit of fun and learning,” said Nancy Roylance, then AWCI’s director of education and certification programs.
AWCI updated the EIFS—Doing It Right videos in 2005 and added EIFS—Doing It Right in Spanish in 2006. By August 2008, about 4,600 mechanics, inspectors and industry professionals had taken the course.
AWCI’s second Doing It Right course was “the long-awaited Steel—Doing It Right,” AWCI Members Only said. It was first presented at Academy 2006 in Atlanta. Past AWCI President Patrick Boyd of Ray Boyd Construction Services and Don Allen of the Steel Framing Alliance instructed 80 attendees. AWCI introduced a self-study version of Steel—Doing It Right in 2008.
Next came stucco. Stucco—Doing It Right covered the application of portland cement-based plaster to metal and solid bases. It was first presented in September 2008 by Frank Nunes of the Lathing & Plastering Institute of Northern California.
Acoustical Ceilings—Doing It Right debuted at Academy 2009. Originally, a general ceilings instructional course, the program evolved to focus on acoustical suspended ceilings and was based on the seismic provisions of the American Society of Civil Engineers. Today, it is called Ceilings—Doing It Right.
By 2009, AWCI had produced four Doing It Right courses and had started writing a syllabus for a fifth course, Gypsum—Doing It Right, which was presented in May 2010.
“There has been a significant interest in expanding the Doing It Right educational programs,” said AWCI’s March 2009 Management Report on Operations. More Doing It Right branded programs would be introduced in the 2010s.
513 West Broad Street. For 36 years, AWCI never had permanent headquarters offices. The business of running the association traveled with its presidents and was administered by secretary-treasurers, most of whom lived in Michigan and Ohio. In 1954, AWCI (as the Contracting Plasterers’ International Association) opened an office at 1401 K St. NW, Washington, D.C. The association moved several times, sometimes renting, sometimes owning, but always remaining in the Washington, D.C., metro area. But in 2006, AWCI moved to a space that would showcase the innovative products and craftsmanship of its members—the 7,700-square-foot office condominium at 513 W. Broad St., Suite 210, Falls Church, Va. As real estate purchases and buildouts go, 513 W. Broad Street happened quickly. AWCI’s board of directors approved the plan to buy property in early 2004. Site selection began in June 2004. In October, Etkin negotiated special terms with the landlord for AWCI’s leased office at 803 W. Broad St., Suite 600, obtaining a favorable opt-out provision so the association would be free to move when it found suitable property.
AWCI secured a loan to purchase the new office space in 2005. AWCI’s bank allowed it to cash in a $1.5 million certificate of deposit in 2006, with no early liquidation penalty, even though the sale was prior to the CD’s maturity date. The redemption gave AWCI additional funds to complete the purchase.
AWCI President Burke Nicholson of Bayside Interiors in Freemont, Calif., appointed AWCI Past President Kenneth P. Navratil of J&B Acoustical, Mansfield, Ohio, to assist Etkin with the project. Navratil and Etkin selected an interior design scheme—“a contemporary look with some classic details,” AWCI Members Only says—and they selected furniture. Navratil did the job take-off, tallied material quantities and set the specifications. He made several trips from Ohio to provide direction. “The general contractor and architect learned a lot about our industry by working with Ken,” Etkin says.
AWCI’s executive committee invited members to donate materials. So many wanted to participate that AWCI had to create a list of members who had first right of refusal. Priority was shown to members who previously sponsored AWCI programs. “We are very proud of the fact that each member when asked said yes,” Navratil told AWCI’s Construction Dimensions. “[They] said we could have whatever we wanted.”
The donated materials included polished plaster from Armourcoat USA, cold-formed steel framing from Dietrich Metal Framing (ClarkDietrich Building Systems), drywall and primer from National Gypsum, insulation from Knauf Insulation, joint compounds and joint tapes from Lafarge (Continental Building Products), fasteners from Grabber Construction Products and acoustical ceilings and suspension grid from USG. AWCI Lifetime Member C.J. Coakley Co., of Falls Church, Va., won the bid for the wall and ceiling subcontract. Liam Coakley served as the buildout’s project manager.
AWCI closed on the property in August 2006. The buildout was completed that October, and staff moved into the new offices before the year was over.
Financials. At the opening session of the 2007 convention, AWCI President Mike Heering spoke of AWCI’s accomplishments. The association had $400,000 of assets in 1995, Heering said. Twelve years later, AWCI’s assets had ballooned to $9.4 million.
The feeling of pride was strong among members. Their numbers had jumped from 800 members in 1995 to 2,200 members in 2007. And, Etkin said the membership retention percentages were “very high by national trade association standards,” an AWCI report states.
So, it was with good reason that Keller, now AWCI’s president, declared in AWCI’s Construction Dimensions in August 2008, that “AWCI is flourishing.” Keller and the executive committee had just returned from their June 2008 meeting in Niagara Falls.
“[AWCI] is in great shape financially,” said Keller in AWCI’s Construction Dimensions. “And our programs, such as Steel—Doing It Right and EIFS—Doing It Right continue to … lend credence to the advantages of belonging to this association.”
Recessions are never well-timed. The Great Recession was in full swing in 2009, and business was expected to decline. Etkin forecast a 10 percent drop in members and a 30 percent drop in exposition booth sales. “Overall convention sponsorship is down,” noted AWCI’s March 2009 Management Report on Operations. “Very few of the previous year’s sponsors chose to renew this year, and the challenge has been to identify and secure new sponsorships.”
However, AWCI was ready to weather this storm. In January, Treasurer C. Brent Allen told the board of directors not to worry. “The association’s asset base would be down,” Allen said, “but not as bad as the rest of the market.”
While we could select many people to feature for their tireless work on behalf of AWCI, here are a few worth mentioning.Mikel Poellinger. Mikel “Mike” Poellinger, president of Poellinger Inc. in La Crosse, Wis., served as AWCI president from 2000 to 2001. Poellinger is a family man, businessman, politician, volunteer firefighter, medical examiner and mayor. “[People] always think because we have a big house, and he’s the mayor, that he gets paid a lot to be the mayor,” Poellinger’s youngest son told AWCI’s Construction Dimensions. “No, he just works a lot.”
Some of Poellinger’s most notable work was with AWCI’s EIFS Curriculum & Examination Committee, which developed the EIFS—Doing It Right program, and serving on the board of the AWCI Insurance Company, Ltd. “I learned from my father … to always do the best possible job, whether the project is a patch or a palace,” Poellinger told AWCI’s Construction Dimensions. Poellinger won AWCI’s Pinnacle Award in 2015.
Anne Gibson Daly, co-founder and general manager of P.J. Daly Contracting Ltd., Hamilton, Ontario, took over the family business when her husband, Patrick, died in 1985. Daly was innovative, seeing early with her husband the value of running multiple lines of trade: drywall, metal framing and acoustical suspended ceilings. Her company’s project work included the Hamilton General Hospital, the Pantages Theatre, T.D. Tower #5, and Terminal 3 at Pearson International Airport.
Daly served on numerous AWCI committees. She was the 1994 winner of AWCI’s Unsung Hero Award and winner of the Pinnacle Award in 2000, the first woman and first Canadian to receive that honor. Daly passed away in 2002.
Lawrence J. Cooley. Lawrence J. Cooley of Huntington, N.Y., served as AWCI president, 2001–2002. His term as president included the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists attacks, during which he oversaw donations of time, materials and money on behalf of AWCI to help first responders. “We banded together again to rally around each other in support when things like EIFS litigation, mold and mildew threatened to undermine our work,” Cooley wrote in his May 2002 “President’s Message.” As president, Cooley also worked on skilled labor shortages, material shortages and finding way to pay contractors on time. J. Patrick Boyd. J. Patrick Boyd of Garland, Texas, served as AWCI president, 2002–2003. “The future is a little cloudy now,” Boyd said upon taking office. “But as always, a new day will dawn and the industry will continue to evolve and grow.”
Boyd was a source of optimism. He told AWCI members in August 2002: “My advice to those of you experiencing a bit of a downturn is this: Keep your standards high. Don’t change the way you work just to get a contract. Don’t downsize. In other words, don’t panic. The economy is well on its way to a great recovery, and we will be there for it.”
Boyd received AWCI’s Pinnacle Award in 2013.
Kenneth P. Navratil of Mansfield, Ohio, served as AWCI president, 2003–2004. As his term began in July 2003, AWCI was addressing problems related to mold and a lack of general liability insurance. “I look forward to resolving both these and other issues during my term,” Navratil said.
At AWCI’s October 2003 fall conference, Navratil and AWCI’s committee members discussed EIFS education and certification and mold and mold mitigation programs. Later that year, AWCI incorporated the AWCI Insurance Company Ltd. in Bermuda. “We have created an insurance company to uphold the quality standards that AWCI has established for the industry,” Navratil wrote in December 2003. “Our Foundation … has published a wonderful primer on preventing and defending against mold-related litigation,” he added.
But Navratil may be most remembered for serving as a long-time emcee at the Awards Brunch held during AWCI’s Conventions. He announced his retirement and was given special recognition during his last stint as emcee during the 2018 brunch.
Navratil received the Pinnacle Award in 2016.
Bruce L. Miller, president of Denver Drywall, Englewood, Colo., served as AWCI president, 2004–2005. Miller is an avid student of management and reader of books on the subject. “I have hundreds of books and books on cassette tape,” he told AWCI’s Construction Dimensions. Miller says that successful team building comes down to being a good collaborator. The key, Miller says, is having direct contact with employees. “Productivity gets better when leadership spends time in the field,” he says.
Miller received AWCI’s Pinnacle Award in 1999.
Burke Nicholson of Fremont, Calif., served as AWCI president, 2005–2006. Nicholson advocated that members take full advantage of AWCI’s resources. “I will never forget the sage words former AWCI President Ron Brady wrote in this very same space (“President’s Message”) years ago about how a company should make $100,000 in sales for each employee it had,” Nicholson wrote. “In my experience, he’s been dead on.”
Nicholson learned from others. A controller at one firm taught him how to ensure that change orders were included in work orders. An estimator gave him money-saving tips. “Connecting with contractors in other fields helps you learn how to run a more successful business,” Nicholson said. “I’ve found that almost any problem I have experienced has already been solved in one way or another by someone else.”
Nicholson received the Pinnacle Award in 2011.
Michael Heering of FL Crane & Sons, Fulton, Miss., served as AWCI president, 2006–2007. The biggest challenge of his term as president, he said, was finding a qualified work force. Heering urged members “to place … new hires with a qualified crew that is willing and able to teach,” make use of AWCI Academy and AWCI’s Industry Executives’ Conference & Committee Meetings and to sign up mechanics for AWCI’s EIFS—Doing It Right® and Steel—Doing It Right® programs. “Give them the opportunity to further their education,” Heering wrote in August 2006.
“I hope every member company takes a close look at its staff to see who might be groomed as the next active AWCI person,” he wrote in June 2007.
He received the Pinnacle Award in 2012.
Kevin Biddle of Mader Construction, Elma, N.Y., served as AWCI president, 2007–2008. One of Biddle’s goals was to boost member involvement in the association. “I am confident that the experiences will help your business,” he wrote in AWCI’s Construction Dimensions. “There is a direct relationship between what you get out of this association and what you put into it.”
Biddle also promoted AWCI’s educational programs. “If someone were to ask you where you rate training/education in the success of your company, what spot would you give it?” he asked in his February 2008 “President’s Message” column. “I would place it in one of the top two categories to success.”
James M. Keller of Louisville, Kentucky, served as AWCI president, 2008–2009. During his term, AWCI renewed its agreement with the Ceilings and Interior Construction Systems Association regarding the INTEX Expo, and AWCI allied with EIMA to streamline to facilitate better services for members engaged in EIFS projects. Keller also launched initiatives that eventually brought more professional development education programs to AWCI and a format to sign up more Lifetime members.
“When my term first started, little did I know this industry would end up going through one of its worst years ever,” Keller wrote in June 2009. “But you guys are tough and will make it through this downturn and probably be much better off for the experience.”
Michael Weber of Bohemia, N.Y., served as AWCI president, 2009–2010. As president, Weber’s goal was straightforward. “I aspire to keep the members as educated and informed as possible,” he wrote upon taking office in July 2009.
Weber offered clear direction to members mired down by the recession. “Financing for projects will continue to be difficult to obtain, and there will be more bidders for each job,” he said. “To get through these challenges, it is imperative that we understand the context and we develop strategies to deal with those challenges. Be aware of all external and internal factors and also know your customers and competitors. Obtaining information about your competitors is not always easy, but as long as you assess things constructively, you will attain the advantage of awareness.”
Amid a decade filled with unthinkable horrors, AWCI experienced its best years ever. Its asset base had grown significantly. Membership was up. AWCI was the clear industry leader in research, education and networking, and it had an expanding repertoire of Doing It Right classes and Foundation papers. However, the Great Recession had begun. What would come next?