AWCI's Centennial: The 2010s
“Can United States companies use these undocumented workers? Should they be given legal status?”
The United States economic recovery stalled at the beginning of the decade, and the federal budget deficit soared above $1 trillion annually. In the first quarter of 2010, 11.5 percent of homeowners were in default on their mortgage loans, says the 2011 World Almanac and Book of Facts. The economy turned a corner, and eventually payroll jobs started to grow.
So far, the 2010s is associated with extremes. Extreme weather: At least 753 tornadoes and twisters struck the United States during April and May 2010, World Almanac says. Extreme gun violence. Extremist groups. In contrast, a sign of the times is society’s tolerance for diversity. On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling, upheld same-sex marriage as a Constitutional right.
Everyone likes a feel-good story. In 2012, Michael Phelps became the most decorated Olympic athlete in history. In 2015, American Pharoah won the Triple Crown for the first time since 1978. In 2016, the Chicago Cubs won a championship for the first time in 108 years.
“The Storm Continues” was the headline of a 2010 article in AWCI’s Construction Dimensions. The Great Recession had gripped the economy and showed little signs of letting go. “We have an environment of uncertainty coming off of one of the worst economic downturns since the Great Depression, if not the worst,” said Dr. Martin A. Regalia of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The recession took a huge toll on industry payrolls. Danny L. Bonnell II of Commercial Systems Plus in South Carolina cut staff to just key employees. The employee count at Denver Drywall, Englewood, Colo., shrunk from 500 in 2007 to less than 100 in 2013.
The first construction sector to come back was multifamily housing. It jumped 18 percent in 2010 and 22 percent in 2011, AWCI Members Only reported. Other sectors followed.
By 2014, the outlook was good. “Count on growth,” AWCI’s Construction Dimensions reported. Developers had queued up large projects: the $20 billion Hudson Yards development on the West Side of Manhattan; the $3.2 billion project for the National Security Agency and the U.S. Cyber Command at Fort Meade. Out west Amazon.com, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft were building, too. Even multifamily condo construction in New York, Miami and San Francisco made a comeback.
Construction employment grew in 2014. The Bureau of Labor Statistics said construction added 189,000 jobs in the year ending April 2014. The industry had to reckon with having too many projects and not enough workers. To ease the shortage, some wall and ceiling contractors turned to panelization for quality and speed, technology, such as PDF annotation apps, and manufacturers now offering ultra-lightweight products.
American steel producers have been through a lot. They have lost market share to foreign steel companies. And new technologies have made the traditional oxygen furnace largely obsolete. The top producers today use the electric arc furnace, which can use scrap metal feedstock and vary its production with demand. It’s important to understand this. As a result of losing business, big steel has nurtured self-preservation instincts. Its default position is to protect its turf, having lost so much of it.
Some cold-formed steel producers and suppliers think along similar protectionist lines. In the mid to late 1990s, when the Steel Stud Manufacturers Association attempted to standardized CFS studs, the effort fell short, says Robert Grupe, AWCI’s director of technical services. The industry preferred a fragmented existence to cooperating for common good.
“Steel framing producers were attacking other steel framing producers,” says Grupe. “They were neglecting other competitive threats, which contributed to a wood-framing intrusion. The steel guys were too busy fighting among themselves.”
Thus, as the 2010s began, the CFS industry needed an association to unify and lead the industry.
The Steel Framing Industry Association. On the morning of Oct. 2, 2010, during AWCI’s fall conference, Steven A. Etkin, AWCI’s executive vice president and CEO, told the board of directors about “non-code compliant steel” in the market. He had spoken with the Steel Stud Manufacturers Association about it. On behalf of AWCI, he asked SSMA to develop a third-party code compliance testing program. SSMA had a program for structural CFS, and it was almost finished with one for non-structural CFS.
But AWCI President C. Brent Allen felt SSMA’s code compliance program was restrictive. It favored selected SSMA members’ products, not the entire industry. Allen had drafted a memo requesting that SSMA remove the “elongation test” from its compliance program, since “ASTM has no elongation standard for non-structural steel.” Further, Allen wanted SSMA to “include equivalent metallic coatings” in the program.
AWCI’s board of directors approved Allen’s memo. But before sending it, the board wanted to insert “a strongly worded section,” the minutes say, that consisted of these words: “If SSMA doesn’t create the program as originally intended and in compliance with codes and standards, AWCI will.”
SSMA got the message. In January 2011, Etkin reported to the executive committee that SSMA’s president had agreed to exclude both the elongation test and the restrictive definition of metallic coatings from the SSMA’s code compliance program. However, the Steel Framing Industry Association had just formed. With that news, SSMA’s president “reversed his decision” on the elongation test and coatings restriction, the minutes say.
Joint programs. AWCI had played a key role in SFIA’s formation in January 2011. “As our industry struggled to grow up, AWCI was the adult in the room that kept [all the players] working together,” says William Courtney, president and CEO of ClarkDietrich Building Systems.
Shortly after its formation, SFIA produced a code compliance certification program. The AWCI board of directors endorsed it in May 2011. “SFIA looked at the entire vertically integrated production of steel framing, including the mills, distributors and contractors,” Grupe said. “It coalesced as one voice for the industry.”
By June, the new steel association had 1,000 members. “The industry [was] energized,” said AWCI supplier and board member Peter Wilhelms. AWCI benefitted from this energy, since a prerequisite to becoming an SFIA supplier or contractor member is also to be an AWCI member. SFIA’s rapid growth was good for AWCI, too.
Today, AWCI and SFIA continue to work together on joint programs and projects. Grupe says the programs are still in their infancy, but, in time, they will help contractors grow their CFS framing businesses.
Project manager development. The Great Recession had left wall and ceiling contractors somewhat decimated at their managerial levels. Some senior project managers and superintendents retired when construction activity dried up, or they were downsized and lost their jobs. Now, with a building boom underway, a new generation was entering the industry’s management ranks—but at a younger age than previous generations and lacking the collaborative leadership skills they would need, ultimately, to work as managers. AWCI recognized what was happening and drafted a course in management and leadership development. AWCI called it the Project Manager Development Series.
Executives from AWCI member companies Baker Triangle, Grayhawk, Marek and Performance Contracting helped design and produce the course. The lessons included “Defining the Role of the Project Manager,” “Project Manager’s Key Elements of Success,” “Pre-Bid Communications and Documentation,” “Estimating,” “Contract Clauses,” “Industry Software,” “Bid Preparation and Strategy,” “Job Specific Safety Plan” and more.
The first webinar series ran from July 2014 through March 2015. About 80 individuals from 21 member companies registered for the program. Ten member companies registered five or more people. The instructors included Norb Slowikowski of Slowikowski & Associates, Angelo Castelli of On Center Software, Charles Mahaffey of Precisions Walls, Don Gregory, Esq., of Kegler Brown Hill & Ritter, Steve Watkins of Pivotal Consultants, Mark Nabity of Grayhawk, LLC, Michael Vickery of Baker Triangle, Michael Chambers of J&B Acoustical and Doug Dahmer of Performance Contracting.
To date, 109 individuals have earned the AWCI-PM credential, says Annemarie Selvitelli, AWCI director of education and Foundation programs.
Labor shortage and immigration. On April 1, 2014, at AWCI’s Convention in Las Vegas, AWCI’s board of directors listened to representatives give their regional reports.
Travis Vap of the Southwest Conference said his region faced high unemployment and low work margins, but his top concern was the labor shortage. Jerry Smith, also of the Southwest Conference, blamed “labor services” companies for “taking people” from the wall and ceiling trades to work in other industries. But George Stripp of the Mid-Central Conference encapsulated the true plight of the day.
“Plugs are being pulled on five and eight years of major work because there is a fear there won’t be enough workers,” said Stripp. “We need to get more people interested in this business [of ours] and, perhaps, loosen the immigration laws.”
The economic boom was pressing the government to reform immigration rules, quotas and the like. The construction industry employed 7.7 million workers in 2006, AWCI’s Construction Dimension says. But 2.1 million construction workers had lost their jobs during the recession. Some returned to work in construction during the 2010s, but many left to find jobs in oil and gas, food service and manufacturing. Others settled on retirement or left the country to return to their homeland.
“The manpower you were accustomed to just five years ago no longer exists, and the way the United States treats undocumented workers is sure to have an effect on your business,” wrote Laura M. Porinchak, editor of AWCI’s Construction Dimensions, in her February 2013 column. “Let’s get talking about it so that we’re all prepared.”
By 2015, construction had jobs to offer, but much of the industry’s skilled labor was now retired or working elsewhere. AWCI’s Construction Dimensions asked: “Could America’s construction companies hire more workers if the law allowed it?” In context, the magazine article, “Undocumented Workers: Immigrants on Hold,” was referring to the potential for children of undocumented immigrants to be trained and put to work. AWCI’s magazine made no bones about saying, based on reporting, that the nation needed to consider a pathway to legal employability for undocumented residents.
AWCI needed to act. In 2015, the association drafted a fresh immigration policy. The new policy states that AWCI supports guest workers. It calls for simple worker verification. It asserts that undocumented workers needed a pathway to earn legal status. And more.
In July 2016, the Foundation Research Series released the comprehensive report, “Immigration: A Solution to Workforce Shortages.” The paper discussed the convoluted, restrictive immigration system, citing data on the number of undocumented workers in the United States and sharing, objectively, the economic reasons why immigration reform could help the construction industry complete more projects.
“Can United States companies use these undocumented workers? Should they be given legal status? Should immigration be reformed?” the paper asked. Based on research, original interviews, newspaper articles, Web posts, academic journals and books, the paper concluded that millions of undocumented immigrant workers should be able to work legally in the United States.
Construction technology. To a degree, technology has helped ease the need for more wall and ceiling workers. But the latest technologies are still early in their lifecycles and are at various stages of adoption in the industry. Nevertheless, construction technology is finding a following among several AWCI member contractors.
For example, it is now possible to have real-time project collaboration using cloud-based technologies. But this requires that contractors move forward in adopting such systems.
“Interestingly, 31 percent of the industry plans on moving to the cloud, but over 75 percent have delineated a scenario that only the cloud can provide: a single source for all data,” Angelo M. Castelli, chief operating officer at On Center Software, told AWCI’s Construction Dimensions in 2015, after his company released the results of a construction industry survey on cloud technologies. “Technically, this means an additional 40 percent of the industry wants the collaborative technology of the cloud, but doesn’t realize it yet.”
Still, cloud technologies and other kinds of construction technology are finding a following among several AWCI member contractors.
AWCI member Craig Daley of Daley’s Drywall & Taping, Campbell, Calif., uses all-in-one estimating, project management and accounting software. The integrated systems “link our projects and our accounting,” he said in AWCI’s Construction Dimensions.
Bardia Jahangiri, a software specialist at AWCI member firm, BakerTriangle Prefab, Dallas, has written software to operate augmented reality headsets. Jahangiri has also written script so customers can see “wall assemblies” as holograms.
AWCI member firm South Valley Drywall has run a BIM department for about a decade. Digital modeling allows the company to order studs cut exactly to length, which reduces waste and field-cutting. “[BIM] is low-hanging fruit,” says Travis Vap, president of the Littleton, Colo., firm.
“The IT side of our business is changing quickly,” Grupe says. “Thankfully, AWCI has the Construction Technology Committee to focus on it.”
Branding and expanding. AWCI underwent its first BPA brand audit in 2014. The audit verified audience data and demographics for the association’s magazine and its website, awci.org. The audit showed awci.org to be highly popular. “AWCI’s online engagement surpasses that of [the other industry magazine] by no less than 69 percent,” an AWCI report stated. Compared to the competition, awci.org had 95 percent more page impressions, 69 percent more user sessions, 70 percent more unique visitors.
A 2016 audience survey confirmed “the market strength of AWCI’s Construction Dimensions as well as [its] users’ purchasing power,” another AWCI report said. The information helped AWCI optimize its media planning programs for 2017, aiding AWCI’s Construction Dimensions continued market share growth. In 2001, the magazine had 48 percent of industry estimated paid ad pages. In 2016, that share of market had grown to 60 percent.
By optimizing its media channels and branding its educational programs, AWCI has become the industry leader in publishing, technical services and education for the wall and ceiling industry.
Since 2002, AWCI has produced 17 comprehensive research papers through the Foundation Research Series. “Mold: Cause, Effect and Response (2002), “Using Labor Brokers: The Legal Issues” (2004) and “Navigating Uncharted Waters: Understanding the Energy Codes and How They Impact the Role of the Contractor” (2012) are just a few titles. These technical reports have united the industry on important topics and given members money-saving tips.
At the same time, AWCI has expanded its education programs and updated existing courses so that they comply with the latest building codes, energy codes and building standards. The association now produces seven Doing It Right programs—three since 2013—covering the subjects of EIFS, structural cold-formed steel, stucco, ceilings, gypsum, the exterior envelope and BIM. As noted already, the Project Manager Development series was added to train the industry’s next generation of leaders.
As of September 2017, the number of participants in the EIFS—Doing It Right® program totaled 7,872—4,284 mechanics using the self-study format and 3,588 mechanics, professional and inspectors attending the live, instructor-led courses. Three of the live courses have been taught outside the United States in Spanish—two in Mexico City and one in Bogota, Colombia—and three courses were held for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Texas. During 2017, AWCI enlisted teams of experts to update the EIFS—Doing It Right® program content. The revised course material was then formatted into an online course with 15 learning modules to meet the demand for more accessible and self-paced learning. The online course replaced the self-study and instructor-led formats and went live on Sept. 1, 2017. During the first five months of 2017, 170 individuals registered for the online course, including several industry professionals in the United Arab Emirates and Mexico.
For the past 25 years, the association’s growth trajectory has been phenomenal. Today, AWCI has about 2,400 member companies—a 300 percent increase since the early 1990s. And the overall renewal rate of AWCI’s members is 95 percent, Etkin says.
“AWCI is now highly regarded by members of our industry as providing valuable technical and product information, education and training, industry contacts and the collaborations essential to operating a successful business,” Etkin says. “AWCI is the principal organization advocating the interests of contractors, suppliers and manufacturers in the wall and ceiling industries.”
We single out a few individuals of varied backgrounds and perspectives for their contributions to AWCI.
C. Brent Allen, vice president at Compass Construction, Columbus, Ohio, was AWCI president, 2010–2011. Allen’s AWCI experience includes chairing the AWCI Construction Technology Council and serving on the EIFS Curriculum & Examination Committee, which provides oversight of the EIFS—Doing It Right® program. Allen also served on the Expert Oversight Group for Steel—Doing It Right®.
“To stay ahead of the game, we have to stay informed,” Allen said in his President’s Message of July 2010. “Education and training [are] no longer optional, [they’re] a requirement if you want to succeed in this environment.” As AWCI president, Allen was instrumental in paving the way for the formation of the Steel Framing Industry Association. He has advocated the use of EQ studs and EQ coatings.
Tim Wies, president of T.J. Wies Contracting Inc., Lake St. Louis, Mo., was AWCI president, 2011–2012. Wies served on AWCI’s board of directors representing AWCI’s Mid-Central Conference and on the AWCI Industry Awards Committee. He was secretary in 2008, treasurer in 2009 and vice president in 2010, before becoming AWCI president. Wies has been a regular at the Foundation’s annual golf tournament.
Wies is a big proponent of lean construction project delivery. “It’s doing everything possible to eliminate waste—wasted steps, wasted energy, wasted material, wasted time,” Wies told AWCI’s Construction Dimensions in April 2016. Wies believes that construction companies of any size can go lean and can certainly do more project planning upfront.
Jeffrey Burley, president of B&B Interior Systems, Inc., Plantation, Fla., was AWCI president, 2012–2013. “It is truly a privilege to … give back to an industry that I have been involved in for more than 37 years,” said Burley in AWCI Members Only in 2008. B&B Interior Systems was founded in 1997, has been an AWCI member since 1990 and is an EIFSmart contracting company.
Burley makes training a priority. He told AWCI’s Construction Dimension in September 2014 that all supervisors should provide on-the-job training. Some might be “too crusty to sit through” a class with a life coach, he said. “But they still need to share their historical value and experience [with others],” he added. “They’ve got to try.”
Terrie L. Miller is the 2014 winner of AWCI’s Pinnacle Award, the first American woman to win the award and part of the first couple to have Pinnacle Award “bookends”—Miller’s husband, AWCI Past President Bruce Miller, won the Pinnacle Award in 1999.
Miller has been a constant at AWCI committee meetings and Continuing Study Committee trips for decades. AWCI’s Construction Dimensions said Miller has “boundless energy and enthusiasm for life.”
In 2005, Miller contributed to getting AWCI CARES off the ground and was the AWCI CARES Committee’s first chairperson. “AWCI members are among the most giving, big-hearted people I have ever met,” Miller said.
Craig Daley, president of Daley’s Drywall & Taping, Campbell, Calif., was AWCI president, 2013–2014. An AWCI member since 1986, Daley served on the board of directors and various AWCI committees. He began working his way through the chairs of the executive committee in 2010 as AWCI secretary-elect.
Daley is a proponent of technology. A 2013 article in AWCI’s Construction Dimensions described him as “a forward-thinking, energy-conscious Californian who drives an electric Tesla.” Daley spent $400,000 “on an elaborate network of solar panels for his business,” the magazine said.
“Innovation is everywhere; be thinking about how it affects your big picture,” said Daley in AWCI’s Construction Dimensions, November 2013.
Scott Casabona of Mountain Lakes, N.J., served as AWCI president, 2014–2015. Casabona is president and CEO of Sloan & Company, which was founded as an acoustic ceiling company but diversified into drywall and millwork. Casabona told AWCI’s Construction Dimension in July 2014 that millwork is one of the best ways to get noticed. “You can do a 40-story building and it’s just repetitive walls,” said Casabona, “but when you put a reception desk in the lobby, everybody says, ‘Wow!’”
On developing talent, Casabona said: “I can assure you there is no shortage of talented and skilled young people. It is our job as industry leaders to engage this young group of eager and energetic men and women and challenge them to develop into the future leaders of industry.”
John Hinson, division president of Marek Brothers, Dallas, was AWCI president, 2015–2016. Hinson first served on AWCI’s board of directors in 2006 as a contractor at large representing the Southwest Conference.
Hinson is known for advocating professional development and craft training. “As the executive near the top, it’s my responsibility to provide career avenues for our craftsman. It is a pathway to success for them, their families and our businesses,” he told AWCI’s Construction Dimensions. “Reputable companies provide training, financial security, health and well-being, benefits and retirement plans.”
His AWCI accomplishments include overseeing the 2015 policy draft on immigration and the production of the Foundation Research Series white paper, “Immigration: A Solution to Workforce Shortages.”
Mike Taylor of Liddle Brothers Contractors Inc., Nashville, Tenn., was AWCI president, 2016–2017. Taylor was new to construction in 2000 when he was hired as an estimator by his in-laws, Leonard and Barbara Liddle. Before coming to Liddle Brothers, Taylor said he received “quite a bit of construction background” while working at Terminix. “I saw what termites actually do to structures,” Taylor told AWCI’s Construction Dimensions in July 2016.
As president, Taylor worked to help AWCI member contractors to succeed. “That’s really the sole purpose of AWCI now, and I don’t ever want to lose sight of it,” Taylor said. He believes promoting success applies to manufacturers and suppliers, too. “They support us, so we need to support them,” Taylor said.
Ed Sellers, president of the Cleveland office of OCP Contractors, is AWCI’s current president, 2017–2018. Sellers has focused, in part, on improving industry productivity. “If you do a job that takes 100 men and you figure out how to do it with 80, you will be a winner,” Sellers told AWCI’s Construction Dimension in July 2017.
But his passion “is the forward progression of our industry.” By that he means “the technology we use, the means and methods being developed, lean construction and how we can best address labor issues, generational hiring practices, and training,” Sellers wrote in his July 2017 “President’s Message.” “I want to encourage others to look at bringing our industry into the new paradigm [and] find ways to get past the low bid mentality,” he said.
While the 2010s are not over yet, AWCI has done a lot of heavy lifting to date. Management kept a watchful eye on finances during the Great Recession. AWCI nurtured the formation of SFIA which, for first time in a long time, united the cold-formed steel industry. On immigration reform, AWCI wrote a new policy and a compelling paper supporting the legal employment of undocumented workers. Finally, AWCI added new educational programs and updated existing courses. AWCI ends its first 100 years at the pinnacle of the wall and ceiling industry. It has grown from 26 original member companies in 1918 to more than 2,400 today.