The Electricity of Hope

By Rex A. Ferry | Apr 15, 2009
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The National Electrical Contractors Association's standing policy on energy independence acknowledges the electrical industry’s important role in advancing economic stability and growth. It’s a fact proven through more than seven decades.

Our policy statement notes that growth in the use of electricity has coincided with growth in the nation’s gross domestic product ever since the end of World War II. But, before that growth could commence, our power infrastructure had to be vastly expanded to help pull America out of the most severe economic crisis to ever impact our country.

Give yourself a gold star if you knew I was referring to the Rural Electrification Administration (REA). Part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, REA was designed to stimulate an economy still in the grip of the Great Depression by bringing electricity to much of rural America, where only about 10 percent of households enjoyed such modern conveniences as electric lights.

The naysayers of the day said things like, “Farmers work from sunrise to sunset. Why would they even need electric lights?” But, thankfully, power lines soon spread all across the country. The availability of electricity created demand for all the things that run on it, which, in turn, created millions of new jobs. Twenty years after REA was enacted, Americans were enjoying the highest standard of living in the world.

Well, I think we may be on the verge of history actually surpassing itself. I am optimistic that the nearly $150 billion in infrastructure and energy project appropriations in the economic stimulus has real potential to save or create 3 million to 4 million jobs. I believe our national investment in responsible energy projects—in improving and expanding the power grid, in particular—will provide the foundation for a vital, new economy.

Don’t get me wrong; I know the stimulus package is far from perfect. The omission of some needed tax provisions is a serious flaw, and it will be a huge challenge to ensure that appropriations are spent wisely. However, my confidence is renewed because NECA and NECA-member contractors are continuing to work hard to secure what was left out of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The follow-up work includes our ongoing efforts to win permanent repeal of the pending 3 percent withholding tax on government payments to contractors. Given the credit crisis, NECA also is pushing for the creation of means to help investors obtain financing for renewable energy construction projects. And you can be sure NECA will be providing a heaping portion of the vigilance necessary to ensure the stimulus is not squandered.

One of the most common complaints I hear about the stimulus is that it won’t stabilize the economy soon enough. Nearly everyone with an opinion on the subject—President Barack Obama and all the leading economists included—has indicated that the second quarter of 2009 may be just as tough as the first, that we won’t see much improvement until late in the year, and that we won’t achieve full recovery until 2011. So, what should you do in the meantime?

Start by reading the articles on the stimulus in this magazine. I also recommend that you visit regularly. That can help you determine where to focus your efforts.

In my February column, I offered some general advice about how to make the most of your downtime. I recommended the following:

• Evaluate your company thoroughly, so you can develop and implement a strategy to improve key processes.

• Take an aggressive approach to cutting costs and inefficiencies.

• Build relationships with vendors, creditors and top clients.

• Determine where opportunities exist and what you must do to take advantage of them.

• Invest in management education and employee training, so you will be better prepared to cope with current challenges and profit in the future.

Now, I further suggest that you devote some time to such efforts every day. This will not only enable you to hone in on the specific actions you need to take, it also will lift your spirits. Hope must be exercised daily in order for confidence to grow strong. In other words, the best way to get through the recession is one day at a time. Hopeful, positive action carried out every day will invariably lead to brighter days ahead!

About The Author

Rex Ferry was president of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) from 2009 through 2011 and contributed the President's Desk column monthly.





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