Q&A with Cynthia Buffington, MCAA senior executive director.

The Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA) serves over 2,800 firms involved in the heating, air conditioning, refrigeration, plumbing, piping and mechanical fields. The organization is known for its high-quality education and the unique learning opportunities it offers to its members. The MCAA Convention is a prime example of how the association focuses on always exceeding its members’ expectations. 

PHC News recently had an opportunity to speak with Cynthia Buffington, MCAA’s Senior Executive Director, about plans for the upcoming MCAA 2016 convention. The event will draw at least 2,000 people to the Orlando Grande Lakes from March 20 – 24. 

PHC: What can first-time attendees look forward to?

CB: MCAA is known in the industry as the premier construction industry convention. This year we’ve enhanced everything. We’re making it ‘better than ever’ and ‘double the awesome.’ That’s why you will notice we have at least two of everything: Peyton Manning and Shaquille O’Neal, Rob O’Neill and Chris Tarbell, and Andy Grammer and Sheryl Crow.  MCAA will also present UA General President Bill Hite with its first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award. 

We have inspirational people — Amy Purdy, the U.S. Paralympic snowboarder featured on “Dancing with the Stars” and the “Amazing Race”; Chad Hymas, who had a critical accident at age 27, leaving him a quadriplegic; Shannon Galpin, a global activist and founder of Mountain2Mountain, a foundation for women in conflict areas; and Chris Tarbell, who is known for taking down the notorious dark web drug trafficking site, the Silk Road — these are just a few of the speakers who will share some their insightful and engaging stories.

Another highlight is the Annual Manufacturer/Supplier Council Exhibit held on Tuesday, March 22 from 7:00 – 10:00 a.m. 111 of MCAA’s Supplier Partners will be on hand to help members strategize the supply chain to enhance company productivity.

PHC: What are some of the informational sessions or workshops you would like to highlight?

CB: John Spence offers his presentation, “Six Simple Strategies for Building a Successful Company.” Spence is a dynamic speaker on business and leadership. Then there’s Connie Podesta, a human relations expert, who showcases leadership like you’ve never seen before. 

Some of our emphasis this year is on tech. James Benham, who has been working extensively with MCAA, will be adding two new topics in addition to his popular forecast of trends. One is on data, dollars and mitigating technology risk, and another covers the Web and mobile apps that are useful for contractors. 

Then we have a session with Brian Helm, MCAA board member and Chicago contractor, and Chris Haslinger, who is the director of training at the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters as well as one of our staff people. They will be discussing the changing landscape of tech, tools and training, and how we are positioning our workforce to be able to use new technologies. 

PHC: What are some of the topics and key focus points for the convention?

CB: Technology and people. As I mentioned before, technology is a key focus. MCAA recently had its first Technology Conference in Chicago this past June, and we looked at all types of building resources — things like total stations, new Revit software, handheld devices, fabrication — anything that is up-and-coming and has to do with productivity enhancement.

Another one of our ongoing themes is recruiting and retaining people. There are just not enough workers in this industry — people in the field or office staff. We have many speakers on this front, including Jason Dorsey and Jon Finch. 

PHC: What can we expect from this year’s Student Chapter Competition?

CB: The four finalist teams that will compete at the convention were selected by a panel of contractors from submissions sent in by 26 of our 55 student chapters. The project was an 8-story, multi-use facility in San Jose. The students had to put forth a proposal, which included an HVAC system that would qualify for LEED credits and a preventive maintenance program.

During the convention, the four colleges will present their projects. Each team has around seven students who will present in front of a panel of judges. Winners will receive cash prizes. It’s a huge deal. Students also take away the real life experience of what it’s like to submit a proposal to a selecting body. 

PHC: What initiatives does MCAA have in the works for 2016?

CB: Most of our initiatives are ongoing. We continue to focus on construction applications to improve productivity in member companies. We also focus on leadership. This past year, we started our first-ever conference for field leaders — supervisory level leaders. Our Fabrication Conference is another event that continues its popularity with our members. Finally, we continue to work on our national initiatives, which include assisting our members in complying with safety regulations, building new leadership and affordable health care, among other topics. 

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