Associations mean many different things to many different people. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines an association as “an organization of persons having a common interest.” Sorry, Merriam-Webster, but that doesn’t do it justice. Your definition is incomplete.
All too often, associations tend to focus on a “return on investment” in an attempt to access and understand the value of the association. I understand and, to an extent, that’s fair. However, I would argue that the real value of an association is the empiric industry spirit of its members, which is the true measure of an association and why they form to begin with.
I’ve worked as a lobbyist for more than three decades on Capitol Hill, predominately in the construction industry, and I’ve seen the work of associations for many years. Some associations understand what it’s all about and some don’t. Let me explain.
When the chemistry of the members of an association can demonstrate the kinship of its industry, it tends to elevate the entire industry in the eyes of lawmakers, regulators, the media and the people — and makes that industry (that career) much more aspirational.
You’d think that the mission of the plumbing and HVAC industry — “protecting the health and safety of the nation” — would be enough to make it aspirational. But wait.
This is a story of a successful association that gets it — this is the story of the Plumbing, Heating and Cooling Contractors of Long Island, N.Y. It is in its 80th year as an organization of professional licensed master plumbers — heating and cooling contractors — operating in Long Island, New York. I recently had the opportunity to speak with the leadership (past and present) and staff of the regional group to better understand how and why it is thriving.
Here are the PHCC of Long Island players: Don Conway, president; John Bifolco, vice president and future president; Joe Cornetta, immediate past president; Hunter Botto, a past president as well as vice president of the national PHCC; John DeLillo, executive director; and Allison Wieland, deputy director.
This is a group of passionate, dedicated contractors and staff committed to the industry, their association and one another. That in-and-of-itself is a great story and worthy of great respect — but it doesn’t end there. This is a story of the leadership and staff of the PHCC of Long Island, N.Y., and how they’ve taken the success of their association and the spirit of their unity to reach out to their communities to engage and help people, partner with lawmakers, work with children and honor those who have sacrificed on behalf of our freedoms.
In my heart and mind, this is the true return on investment — the spirit of an association.
Here’s just some of what the PHCC of Long Island is doing:
• The organization recently participated in a task group initiated by U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi, D-N.Y., and other leaders from the business community, labor, local community colleges the Board of Cooperative Educational Services and workforce development boards to announce the formation of the Long Island Apprenticeship & Workforce Development Task Force.
The purpose of the task force is to provide “centralized coordination to create a streamlined process that is more effective for employers looking to fill open positions, and for job seekers that are interested in these opportunities,” Suozzi says. This is significant. For many years, Congress has attempted to fund programs to not only assist the skilled trades, but to make the skilled trades more visible in an attempt to address the crisis of the skills gap.
Suozzi’s “centralized coordination” is a laser-focused approach that offers genuine opportunities and solutions. PHCC of Long Island’s participation with the task group is a continual message that the plumbing and HVAC industries are part of the solution.
• Members volunteered to work with the Tunnel to Towers Foundation to build a custom-made smart home for Army Ranger Cpl. Christopher Levi, who received a Purple Heart 10 years ago, having lost his legs in an explosion while serving our nation in Baghdad.
The Tunnel to Towers Foundation honors the sacrifice of firefighter Stephen Siller, who laid down his life to save others on Sept. 11, 2001. The foundation also honors the military and first responders who continue to make the supreme sacrifice of life and limb for our country. PHCC of Long Island’s work with the Tunnels to Towers Foundation exemplifies the true selflessness of their association.
• PHCC of Long Island supported relevant new legislation (as proposed by the Hempstead Town Board, Long Island) to dissuade master plumbers from sharing their licenses with those who have not gone through the town’s rigorous testing process. The organization’s support of the legislation plays into its mission as professionals to ensure high-quality professional services.
The group’s leadership spoke at the announcement of the legislation to express that the association and the plumber's unions are united with Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney to fix this problem of unscrupulous contractors and plumbers who have been “lending out” their licenses to unqualified, under-qualified or improperly licensed individuals. Sweeney is the daughter of U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y. PHCC of Long Island met with King this past May to discuss a series of issues impacting the contractor industry.
• The Long Island group works with the Theodore Roosevelt Council of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) to help Scouts earn their Plumbing Merit Badge. Members attend BSA jamborees to work directly with the boys to not only help them earn a plumbing merit badge, but to engage with the great opportunities to be found in the plumbing and HVAC industries. This is extremely important as working with youth provides guidance and a strong role model.
The Theodore Roosevelt Council was initially incorporated in 1917 as the Nassau County Council (N.Y.), but changed its name to honor and pay tribute to its first Council Commissioner, the 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt. The organization is one of the nation's oldest Boy Scout councils and is home to the nation's first Eagle Scout, Arthur R. Eldred. In 2012, the council served nearly 10,500 youth and 294 scouting units.
Here’s the clincher — the PHCC of Long Island isn’t looking for the proverbial “pat on the back,” credit or attention. This association does what it does because it cares about the industry and its communities and its people. It is more than willing to share its ideas, inspiration, successes and accomplishments so that other associations can learn.
When I asked PHCC of Long Island members how and why it is successful, they chose to talk about the care they have for the people in their communities and the love they have for their industry — and their association. Truly awesome.