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ABC Mass. Chapter Celebrates 40 Years Throughout 2008

Wed November 12, 2008 - Northeast Edition
James A. Merolla

For 40 years, it has been almost as simple as ABC. Simple — if working, growing, adapting, advocating, supporting and learning are simply put.

The Massachusetts Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC MA) is celebrating its 40th anniversary throughout 2008.

ABC is the largest construction trade association in the Commonwealth, representing more than 475 local general contractors, subcontractors, and supplier and associate companies. These companies employ more than 20,000 workers throughout Massachusetts.

Nationally, ABC is an association representing nearly 25,000 merit shop construction and construction-related firms in 78 chapters across the United States. ABC’s membership represents all specialties within the U.S. construction industry and consists primarily of firms that perform work in the industrial and commercial sectors of the industry.

It is the construction industry’s voice with the legislative, executive and judicial branches of the federal government and with state and local governments, as well as with the news media.

ABC’s mission is the advancement of the merit shop construction philosophy, which encourages open competition and a free-enterprise approach that awards contracts based solely on merit, regardless of labor affiliation. Through its national office and chapters, ABC’s objective is to provide its members with an organization to deal with issues on an industry-wide basis.

ABC’s activities include government representation, legal advocacy, education, workforce development, communications, technology, recognition through national and chapter awards programs, employee benefits, information on best practices and business development through an online contractor search directory.

ABC was founded in 1950 when seven contractors gathered in Baltimore, Md., to create an association based on the shared belief that construction projects should be awarded on merit to the most qualified and responsible low bidders.

Their courage and dedication to the merit shop philosophy spread rapidly, and, in time, ABC became the fastest-growing association in the United States. Today, ABC is recognized as one of the leading organizations representing America’s business community and the U.S. construction industry, according to ABC.

Just Doing ’GREAT’

Earlier this year, ABC MA welcomed National Chairman Bill Fairchild to the Cafe Escadrille in Burlington to officially kick off the Massachusetts chapter’s 40th anniversary. The dining room was filled with individuals who have been members for as long as 30 years or as short as 30 days.

Long-time member John Cheney of Ellis Fire Protection began the meal with a moving invocation. Fairchild then outlined his continued goals for 2008 with the acronym “GREAT.”

• G: Growth — The ABC Executive Committee recently commissioned a membership study to help the association identify growth potential at existing chapters and in new geographic markets.

• R: Responsibility — “We need to do a better job empowering and educating our board members and national leaders of their roles and responsibilities,” Fairchild said.

This goal includes making board meetings more strategic and action-driven, as well as ensuring the association has healthy chapters across the country.

• E: Enhancing the Lives of Industry Employees — “As ABC contractors, we need to recognize the importance of providing competitive wages and benefits, and a safe work environment for our employees,” he added. Fairchild has created a task force to measure key performance indicators to ensure member firms will improve on their weaknesses and capitalize on their existing strengths.

• A: Alliance — Through alliances, such as the ABC Free Enterprise Alliance, the association can continue to promote a business-friendly agenda on Capitol Hill and in local decision-making.

In addition to political alliances, the association will continue to partner with industry groups such as the National Association of Minority Contractors and the Women Construction Owners and Executives.

• T: Trifecta — Taking back the Senate, taking back the House and keeping a pro-free enterprise president in the White House will be at the top of the association’s grassroots agenda in 2008.

Shifting Beacon Hill

“It’s only natural for an organization to mark its 40th anniversary,” said ABC Mass. chairman Chris Kenney. “This is particularly impressive about the milestone for ABC MA because it finds us looking ahead to even greater achievements than what we’ve accomplished in the past.”

Kenney said that the goals that drove the organization’s founding members in 1968 — a level playing field and free choice regarding labor affiliation — still drive them today.

“But even as political winds shift, we are defining ABC on our terms, not by what others claim us to be,” said Kenney. “For years, ABC was routinely overlooked on Beacon Hill [the center of state government in Mass.]. But in the 1990s, we teamed with Weld and Cellucci to stop the spread of exclusionary project labor agreements. Despite some success, we recognized the need to broaden our efforts. Today, political leaders on both sides of the aisle see ABC members as responsible construction industry leaders who value their employees.”

Kenney added that with help from Beacon Hill leaders, ABC has “beat back union attempts to exclude us” from the all-important public construction reform commission that was formed in 2004.

“But even more important than securing a seat at the table was what happened after we took that seat: ABC worked to achieve consensus through thoughtful deliberation,” said Kenney. “On some issues, we agreed with our union colleagues. When we didn’t, we focused on policy, not personality.”

Over the course of the year-long commission, Kenney said his group changed the way Beacon Hill viewed ABC.

“We have built on that transformation to bring positive results to our members and our industry,” he said. “Today, we are leading an industry coalition that works with Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office on the hot-button independent contractor law, working with the AG and industry colleagues to develop a pro-active compliance program.”

Growing Like ABC

Among ABC’s growing influence in the industry are the following alliances:

• Taking a lead role in green and sustainable construction by forming an alliance with the Boston Green Roundtable

• Looking to help build career ladders for young people entering the construction industry, their Gould Construction Institute has launched a partnership with Wentworth Institute of Technology. The first offering, a project management program, is getting rave reviews.

• Their focus on partnerships and recruiting talented young people into the construction industry has led ABC to create a Strategic Alliances Task Force and an active Young and Diverse Leaders initiative. These efforts made ABC’s future even more promising.

“ABC MA has reason to be proud of our first 40 years, but even more important is the fact that we have positioned ourselves to make the next 40 even more productive,” said Kenney.

Among the ABC chapters throughout New England is a Connecticut Chapter with more than 200 merit shop member firms, which account for more than 80 percent of the construction industry in that state. This chapter was founded in 1972 as a part of the Yankee Chapter (Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island) of ABC. It was then chartered in 1976.

The Rhode Island Chapter has existed as an independent chapter since 1990. Prior to that time, Rhode Island also was a part of a combined Massachusetts/Rhode Island Chapter.

Since becoming its own chapter, Rhode Island has established an apprenticeship school (the Rhode Island Construction Training Academy), represented its members at all levels of government, provided ongoing safety and management training, conducted a number of networking events including monthly dinner meetings, golf tournaments and family outings.

In recent years the Rhode Island Chapter’s board of directors have focused on defeating Project Labor Agreements, as well as educating their members and the general public about them.

There also is a Chapter in Maine. CEG

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