History of safety and compliance paves way for strong year by electricians

(Portions of the following first appeared in the Business Journal Growth Report 2021)

NECA-IBEW Electricians, an association of IBEW union locals in Youngstown and Warren and signatory electrical contractors in the Mahoning Valley, leveraged their workplace safety track record to ride a strong year despite the obvious hurdles put up by the pandemic.

“We adapted quickly to the changes required to meet customers’ needs because prioritizing workplace safety is nothing new to us,” said Jim Burgham, IBEW Local 64 business manager. “We’re used to making changes and being in compliance with any rules or regulations in place. Customers were confident that our contractors and members would follow the proper protocols.”

IBEW Local 64’s Jim Burgham said union electricians were able to work through the pandemic safely because they’re accustomed to rules and regulations on jobsites that are continually changing.

Essentially working through COVID

Burgham said very few of the major construction projects around the Mahoning Valley were impacted significantly by COVID. The projects, for the most part, were budgeted and funded and were only briefly stalled. Once customers had faith the economy would survive and employers could keep workers safe on jobsites and conform to social distancing guidelines, projects resumed, he said.

“The projects kept going,” said Mark Phillips, president, IBEW Local 573. “We just had to learn how to work around the pandemic and adjust to the changes.”

Mark Phillips of IBEW Local 573 was upbeat about the year that just concluded and what lies ahead for commercial and industrial construction projects in 2021 in his Trumbull County district.

NECA-IBEW Electricians member contractors kept busy on several large commercial and industrial projects, including at Youngstown State University, Mercy Hospital, Meijer, Vallourec, wastewater treatment plants in Youngstown, East Palestine and Meander, PurFoods in North Jackson, and TJX.

Momentum continuing in 2021

Many of those projects continue into 2021 and could be joined by continued ramp-up of activity at the GM-Ultium battery plant, Lordstown Motors and potentially the second Lordstown Energy Center, among other projects in Trumbull and Mahoning counties.

“Our contractors and union locals overcame some unique challenges throughout the year, particularly in March and April. Their collective strong response and positive attitude enabled us to have our best year in a while from a man-hours perspective,” said Tom Lipka, Mahoning Valley NECA executive director.

Residential electrical work also thrived in 2020.

Residential work booming in 2020

“The residential market was very strong with the exception of March and April when homeowners were being extra cautious about letting people into their homes,” Burgham said.

He said with low interest rates, stimulus money and many people choosing to forego vacations and stay home instead, the number of remodels and renovation projects soared. Swimming pools are a good example, he said.

Mahoning Valley NECA executive director Tom Lipka said despite a temporary slowdown in March and April, local electrical contractors rebounded to have one of their best years ever man-hours-wise.

“We get involved in swimming pool work because it’s a specialty service to safely and properly ground the electrical, and there was a lot of that last year,” Burgham said.

Home generators, LED lighting, service upgrades, and inspections and repairs from all the home selling and buying were other drivers of growth in residential.

Giving back is our mission

Steady work throughout the year enabled NECA-IBEW Electricians to continue to support and give back to many community service causes. Highlights included projects involving Veterans, children, college students and the family of a firefighter in Warren who died from COVID complications.

electricians presenting check

Representatives from NECA-IBEW Electricians presented a check to the Beauchene family in honor of Don Beauchene, who passed away from complications of COVID-19, leaving a wife and 10 children. From left to right, Mark Phillips (IBEW Local 573), Mike Nemkovich (IBEW Local 573), John Jerina, Warren Firefighter and IAFF #205 President, and Jim Burgham (IBEW Local 64).