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Trade groups pushing greater collaboration

KCA leader touts joint networking, seminars, community service to boost membership

Jon O’Brien may be a one-man show, but he isn’t going it alone to grow the Keystone Contractors Association, a trade group that represents commercial construction companies in Pennsylvania.

Since coming on board at the Cumberland County-based association this fall from the Pittsburgh area, the Mechanicsburg native has been busy forging partnerships with other trade groups that impact the construction industry and trying to engage new members to join the nearly 80-year-old organization.

KCA is known for working with union contractors, though O’Brien said there is opportunity to work with non-union members.

The organization has already built relationships with the local chapters of the American Institute of Architects, U.S. Green Building Council and the American Subcontractors Association, as well as the Pennsylvania Builders Exchange, a trade association that tracks project bidding opportunities.

O’Brien, who replaced Terry McDonough as executive director, is focused on boosting collaboration with other groups through networking events, educational offerings and community service projects.

“We just have to realize we can’t pull professionals so thin and in different directions,” O’Brien said. “It’s silly for us to host the same seminar on an emerging topic. We should come together for events.”

One seminar topic could be recent changes to the mechanic’s lien law in Pennsylvania and a new online directory that launched at the end of 2016.

In addition to seeing more membership crossover, O’Brien’s goal is to engage more younger members as they rise through the corporate ranks, O’Brien said. “They will either climb the ladder and run the company or maybe they will start their own company.”

Longtime KCA members said they are happy to see the new energy that O’Brien is bringing to the organization, energy that should help grow membership.

There were 29 members when he started last fall. KCA is now up to about 40 member companies.

O’Brien’s goal is to double the membership in his first year.

“Anytime we can all join forces as one collective group to take on a challenge is definitely a plus,” said Jim Darr, vice president of Darr Construction Inc. in Somerset County. “That’s something we need to do more of.”

Other association leaders agree on the push for more collaboration and see partnering as a way to save their members time and money. They also get face time with people from other companies that they might work with in the future.

That sounds like a natural thing to do and some companies have been doing it on their own, but the broader effort is new, officials said.

“People want to stay in the game and be competitive, but there are only so many jobs out there,” said Stephen Swarney, executive director of the Pennsylvania chapter of the AIA, which has about 3,000 members. “Any personal relationship you can develop is only going to help you.”

Swarney believes the cross-pollination between groups will help attract so-called allied members: the suppliers and professional service firms that support the construction industry. In addition to new project connections, new relationships often lead to additional service offerings for the associations.

“We have a lot of general contractors who tend to employ a lot of vendors and subcontractors,” O’Brien said. “By teaming up, our members can touch a lot of other companies.”

In a bid to improve the association, O’Brien also is trying to meet with past members to see what KCA services they liked or didn’t like.

In addition to government affairs work, a staple of most trade associations, KCA also is known for its safety consulting and labor relations services.

The latter involves helping members, mostly general contractors, negotiate contracts with the labor unions they use on projects.

All of the services are valuable, even to larger general contractors, said Rick Seitz, president of Alexander Building Construction Co. in Harrisburg.

While he employs in-house safety directors, he said it’s nice to have KCA as an extra resource to ensure job sites are as safe as possible.

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