I set out on a new journey when I officially became president of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) on Jan. 1, after spending a year working as Dennis Quebe’s understudy for this role. I would like to thank everyone who is traveling along with me. 


I thank my fellow NECA members for giving me this opportunity to expand my service to our association. And, to all of the readers of ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR, I thank you, too. The fact that you are reading these words indicates you have an interest in NECA and its ongoing work to advance our industry. Improving conditions for electrical contractors (ECs) and helping them succeed is what both NECA and I are all about.


When I set out to write this introductory column, I was not sure whether to emphasize continuity or progress, but I quickly realized these concepts cannot be separated. Both are important in my life and the life of my company. 


I guess you could say electrical contracting is in my blood. It goes all the way back to the 1920s when my father, Carl Hardt, started winding motors for Wagner Motors. By the time I started working in the family business he subsequently established, C&H Electric had become a NECA member. I grew up learning about electrical construction and developed an appreciation for what NECA can do to help an electrical contractor succeed.


Today, Hardt Electric does a lot of commercial remodeling in Chicago and Cook County, Ill. We also handle large condo conversions and high-end residential work. We have a low-voltage division that provides voice and data cabling systems for a wide variety of contractors and businesses. We also have a sustainable energy division. Hardt Electric joined the green revolution in 2007 by providing turnkey alternative-energy resolutions for our customers, and it is now a leading solar integrator.


In other words, we do typical electrical contracting work, from traditional power and lighting to state-of-the-art green construction. But, I realize there’s no way we could have gotten where we are today without the tremendous help offered by NECA—education and training, safety resources, marketing support, research, advocacy, and on and on. Given the rising level of business sophistication involved in contracting today, all of these elements are necessary for success, but it would be impossible for a company of our size to obtain them all on our own. That’s true for most other electrical contractors, as well.


So, throughout the years, as I served NECA in various leadership positions, I was the guy who continually raised the question, “How does this program or service benefit a contractor like me?” That gave rise to other questions, of course: “How is NECA addressing the varied needs of all of its members?” and “How can NECA remain relevant to the entire electrical contracting industry?”


You see, my appreciation of continuity and progress goes beyond the personal. I recognize them as two entwined concepts that run throughout the history of our association and industry and lead into the future. They are what support my pledge to follow in Dennis’s footsteps on the path of dedicated leadership, while, like him and our predecessors in this post, working hard to improve our association and the industry it serves in light of current and emerging issues. 


So, NECA members, be assured that I will continue to push for progressive labor relations. That includes seeking expanded portability and greater use of new worker classifications that give our contractors more flexibility in manning projects.


I also intend to take up where Dennis left off in addressing the so-called “benefits burden.” He oversaw NECA’s participation in developing a comprehensive plan from business and labor to safeguard multiemployer retirement security, protect taxpayers and spur economic growth. Titled “Solutions, Not Bailouts,” this new law implements provisions that will enable us to take action and use new measures to preserve promised benefits for millions of retirees. Our challenge in 2015 is to enact additional reforms to relieve our contractors from uncertainties that rob us of the ability to grow our businesses. It is an issue that should be important to everyone, and I know that, working together, we will be more than up to the task.


There is more that must be addressed during my term. Now that the long-anticipated market turnaround has arrived, the biggest concern among construction employers is the availability and cost of workers for future projects. Another area of concern regards the increased costs of complying with new federal and state regulations expected to be released over the next few months. Incorporating technology effectively is another constant concern.


Of course, these are topics for another month, or for the next 35 months. I expect we’ll have a lot to talk about over the three years I’m in office. Let the dialogue begin!