In May’s column, I referred to NECA 2011 San Diego as a mega-opportunity. Last month, this opportunity might have appeared to be a bright spot far off on the horizon. Now, it’s closer, practically banging on your door, with an information-packed brochure included in this magazine (starting on page 101) and registration already open at www.necaconvention.org. Now, it’s time to get serious about planning for your attendance—and that of your employees who can also benefit.

First, don’t be confused by the name of the website. It’s the right place to learn about and register for the NECA Show, too.

The NECA Convention is a very important part of the big annual happening sponsored by the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA). It’s targeted to members, but the trade show is open to all industry participants, regardless of NECA affiliation, and so are many of the training and educational sessions held in conjunction with NECA 2011 San Diego. The show at the San Diego Convention and Exposition Center will be held Oct. 22–25; some preconvention workshops and tours will be offered as early as Friday, Oct. 21.

Why should you go? Because the business model for electrical contracting is changing, and so electrical contractors must change, too, in order to remain viable.

At NECA 2011 San Diego, you can learn all about changes—new technologies and emerging technology-driven markets, the latest “best practices” to improve business management, Code changes, changes in government rules and regulations that impact our businesses, and more. The professional development offerings that will be available are not limited to teaching you how to cope with change; they’ll also give you the tools you need to determine which opportunities are right for your business and how to go get the work.

This year, the emphasis is on green electrical construction. As a new feature, the Energy Forum on Saturday, Oct. 22, is a day for CEOs, presidents and key executives in electrical contracting firms to learn from industry experts how to navigate these new technologies successfully. It will include electric vehicles and charging stations, energy storage, retrofits and renewable energy, the smart grid, and solar and wind power. But that’s just one of dozens of attractive professional development opportunities awaiting you this fall in San Diego, and energy is just one of dozens of topics to explore there.

I could go on and on, but you have the brochure and the website. Check them out for yourself. I’m sure you’ll discover plenty of reasons why you need to be at NECA 2011 San Diego.

But, why should your employees attend? Well, here’s what we at Valley Electrical Consolidated Inc. and Evets Electric Inc. told ours last year: “There are several interesting things that go on. Several classes are put on to educate in tool management, renewable energy, manpower management, design/build, and labor relations to name a few. Also, NECA brings in a great group of speakers that are interesting and informative. To top all this off, there is a vendor floor of [hundreds of] companies showing off all the latest tools, equipment, and material. ... Whoever goes will come away with a better outlook on our industry, with many ideas to help our company out.”

That’s an excerpt from a memo from our superintendent, Rich Tice, to field employees, announcing a program wherein workers would receive “quality points” in a number of work-related areas and the winner would receive an all-expense-paid trip for two to NECA 2010 Boston.

The idea caught on, to the extent that NECA officially launched the “Contractors’ Challenge” last year to encourage members to provide an employee-performance-recognition program of their own that awards top performers with a chance to participate in the educational and networking opportunities at the annual NECA convention and trade show.

The challenge is on again for 2011. If you accept it, you can customize the performance criteria to match your firm’s unique goals and challenges. You decide what measurable behaviors or activities will earn points to advance outstanding employees to San Diego. You can get the whole company in on this program and make it fun for everyone as the points accumulate, all the while motivating your workers to improve.

Then, you and your winning employees can have even more fun—and a whole lot of learning adventures—at NECA 2011 San Diego. And, like Rich said, you’ll come home with a better outlook on our industry and new ideas to help your company succeed. That makes everyone who attends a winner!