Partners in Progress Conference Recap

Contractors, chapter executives, business agents and managers gathered at the beautiful and newly renovated Hilton Orlando Buena Vista Palace in Orlando, Florida, for the first Partners in Progress Conference since 2012. This year’s theme was “Communicate. Commit. Deliver.”

“Partners is more about relationship development than anything,” said Hank Artlip, president of Artlip and Sons, Inc. in Aurora. “The best part is that you get to see your labor partners outside the usual setting, in a setting that provokes conversation. More often than not, when you’re dealing with the union it’s about negotiations and struggling through issues. At Partners, you’d sit with your union partners at the meetings or breaks and have open discussions. It helps a lot to break down barriers.”

From February 13-14, SMACNA and SMART members heard from a range of expert speakers on topics that included diversifying the workforce by recruiting women and minority workers, innovative residential rebates, effective lobbying as partners, resilience and suicide prevention. Tony Adolfs, SMACNA Greater Chicago executive vice president, along with John Daniel and Charles Ruegge of SMART Local 265, prepared a great business session centered around the I Want SMART marketing campaign. The goal was to encourage other contractors in the industry to participate, and gain momentum on a proposed I Want SMART 2.0 “app” initiative. The app is envisioned as similar to Uber, but for the HVAC industry. The idea is to deploy the closest participating contractor to the client to fix whatever issue they’re having — without having to wait.

“A lot of areas throughout the country don’t do any residential work. It’s a whole new market for them, and there’s a lot of opportunity there,” Artlip said. “We’ve got the I Want SMART rebate program that’s helped us gain market share, and this app platform could take it to the next level.”

More work is needed before the idea becomes a reality, but Artlip is encouraged by the positive response it’s received so far.

This year’s Partners in Progress Conference also provided a forum for members from the National levels of both SMART and SMACNA to communicate directly with local chapter execs, contractors, business managers and agents about the issues they tackle day to day.

“The leaders on the National level became more accessible, and I think this benefitted those who may not have had the chance to meet these people in the past” Artlip said, noting that he sits on the National SMACNA board. “It was a great forum to hear them speak, and hear how they feel about certain issues, and you don’t usually have that opportunity.”