Sue McCart
President, HFI Event Services
National Electrical Contractors Association

Few industry professionals have had the opportunity to “work both sides of the fence” as they say. McCart has over thirty years of industry experience as a trade show producer, and a convention facility manager, yet has equal sales and marketing experience. There are very few trade show marketing or logistical event questions out there that Sue McCart has not asked or have not been asked of her. McCart spent over fourteen years with Atlanta Market Center (now AmericasMart). The last five years were spent leading its AMC Tradeshows division, as Vice President / General Manager, prior to founding HFI Event Services in 1997. The Atlanta Market Center (AMC), which also functions as the World Trade Center in Atlanta, provided a tremendous platform for her diverse experience.

Prior to AMC, McCart spent over a decade in sales, marketing, conference planning, and convention services in the hospitality industry with the Holiday Inns, Dearborn Inn, and the Hyatt Hotel chains. Sue served as the 2016 Chairman of the International Association of Exhibitions and events “IAEE” Southeastern Chapter, a trustee for the Center for Exhibition Industry Research “CEIR” Foundation, and serves on the IAEE Senior Education Task Force. In addition, she is a Board Member of Lutheran Towers in Atlanta, a senior housing facility.

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Techtopia Pavilion Set to Attract Record Attendees at NECA Show
Mukesh Buch
August 9, 2017

What is the history of NECA and who are its members?

NECA, the National Electrical Contractors Association, started in 1901. Membership is primarily made up of owners of electrical construction firms in the commercial and industrial segment of the business.

NECA is the voice of the $130 billion electrical construction industry that brings power, light, and communication technology to buildings and communities across the U.S.

The NECA has 119 chapters spread across the U.S., Australia, Bermuda, Canada, Honduras, Korea and Mexico. Once a year we hold an annual convention and trade show.

The convention is open only to NECA members, but the trade show is open to the entire electrical industry. The show is the largest annual event focused specifically on the electrical construction industry.

NECA publishes the Electrical Contractor magazine, the industry’s number one trade publication that has about 86,000 subscribers.

Who is the core audience of the NECA Trade Show?

Our audience consists of company owners, C-level executives, project managers, electrical distributors, estimators, foremen, supervisors, safety directors, purchasing agents, apprentices, and journeymen.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), which represents nearly 750,000 workers, runs a joint educational program with NECA called the electrical training ALLIANCE.

The apprentices and journeymen that go through the program usually attend the event. About 25% of the attendees come from the local area with the balance coming from across the county and around the world.

When and where is the NECA Trade Show going to be held this year?

This year’s show is going to be held between October 7 and October 10 in Seattle. The trade show runs from Sunday through Tuesday, but preconvention workshops and education start on Friday and run through Tuesday.

Last year we had about 6,600 attendees and, so far, enrollment is running 12% ahead of last year.

Next year we will hold the event in Philadelphia followed by Las Vegas in 2019 and Chicago in 2020.

Many of our members are involved in solar and wind energy, as well as all kinds of energy retrofits like LED lighting, energy storage, and the smart grid.

What can an attendee expect from the show?

Most people think of the NECA as being focused on the traditional power industry, but many of our members are involved in solar and wind energy, as well as all kinds of energy retrofits like LED lighting, energy storage, and the smart grid.

The show includes a pavilion we call Techtopia which features new, disruptive technologies that are being used in the field. We also have a digital technology component to TECHTOPIA. Our “tech experts” help attendees be more efficient and productive on the job. As part of our commitment to education and training, we offer 18 free, technical workshops in classrooms that are set up on the show floor.

Our most popular event is the Electrical Contractor magazine’s annual Showstopper Awards. We get close to 200 entries each year of new product or service that have been introduced within the last 12 months. Between 20 and 25 of the products are selected by our judges and are feature in the magazine.

What are the event’s main education tracks?

We have six education tracks and a total of 50 sessions. They cover such topics as executive leadership, business management, labor relations, communications, project management, and safety.

All of the sessions are basically focused on how to run an electrical construction company profitably and successfully.

Are there any specific tracks covering technology and innovations?

There are several sessions focused on technical trends in the industry. Prefabrication is one growing trend in the United States, where electrical installations are prefabricated in the shops and then brought to the job site to be installed.

Solar system design, LED energy monitoring, lighting retrofits, human performance tools, and electric motor system diagnostics are some areas of our focus.

Another important topic this year is our energy storage and microgrid certification program. Many of our members are now working in computer cabling, building automation, and smart building systems.

NECA is the voice of the $130 billion electrical construction industry that brings power, light, and communication technology to buildings and communities across the U.S.

How has your educational efforts evolved over the last few years?

Our educational program has remained pretty much the same from year-to-year, but what changes is the show floor and the exhibitors we attract. For example, on the west coast we get more energy storage companies than we do in Chicago, even though Chicago is our largest show.

Of course, California is ahead of the curve in terms of technology and when the show is located there we attract many companies that want to present their new ideas to our technical workshop.

NECA also hosts other conferences like our Legislature Conference and Business Development Conference. And we a have a Future Leaders Conference which focuses on areas outside of traditional power industry.

In May, we held the NECA Safety Professionals Conference which was attended by over 300 safety directors, human resource people, and project managers. OSHA regulations and safety is critical on any electrical job site and the standards are constantly changing.

We have people within NECA that sit on the National Electrical Code Board and are able to keep our members informed about forthcoming developments.

What is this year’s exhibitor lineup?

We have eight primary partners and they are our largest exhibitors including Graybar, the country’s largest electrical distributor. The other partners are: Milwaukee Tool, Schneider Electric, Southwire Company, Federated Insurance, 3M, Philips Lighting, and Thomas & Betts.

They are truly partners and help us, not only at the event, but throughout the year. They are supporters of our electrical training ALLIANCE and provide free tools. We also have many other smaller sponsors that provide support for our shows and other programs.

Last year we had a total of 298 exhibitors occupying 86,600 net square feet. The size of the exhibit space has tended to increase over the last few years because the companies are requesting larger spaces every year. This year Milwaukee has a 60 x 60 square foot space and Southwire has two of that same size.

What percentage of exhibitors are repeat exhibitors?

About 80% of the companies are repeat exhibitors. Our goal, however, is to broaden the scope of the show to include a broader range of the industry.

We now have good penetration in lighting area, which we didn’t have in the past. In that area, we are competing with the Light Fair, which is the biggest lighting show in the country and organized by the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America.

We are not looking to expand with additional tool or safety companies, since we have all of them. What we want to do is broaden the show into areas where our members are increasingly starting to work.

Can you tell about your mobile app?

We use a third party app and sponsored by Graybar. It provides a simple way for attendees to search for other attendees or sessions.

Attendees can create their own profile and schedule appointments with exhibitors. We have a 70% percent adoption rate for downloading the app. But in addition, we still print a show guide.

Would you ever consider international locations for the show?

No. This year we have attendees coming from 50 states 21 foreign countries. In addition, we have international exhibitors, but we require them to have some U.S. presence.

Last year we had 16 companies from China and they all had U.S. web sites and a U.S. representative. We have held district and regional meetings in Florence, Italy and Paris, France but they are strictly conference rather than trade shows.

Can you elaborate on your conferences and webinars.

Webinars are offered in two different ways. Our eight premier partners have an opportunity to conduct a couple of webinars each year to highlight a subject of their interest. In addition, the Electrical Contractor magazine offers a variety of webinars. They usually attract an average participation rate of 300.

The NECA has 119 chapters and each chapter meets once a month. In addition, there are 10 districts that hold meetings in January or in early September. The meetings are always held at resorts areas like Hawaii, Mission Bay, Scottsdale, or Naples. The chapter and district meeting tend to focus on issues relevant to their particular regions.

Our business development conferences are also very well attended. They focus on new areas of the energy industry and ideas the help our members learn how to and open opportunities outside our traditional area of work.

We also offer “cross border” meetings where 60 to 100 contractors will meet with electricians or electrical contractors from countries like Honduras, Dominican Republic or Mexico to help power to areas of poverty.

A NECA/IBEW Electrical Training Center hosted one county's first Women in Trades Workshop as part of Apprenticeship Week.

Can you shed some more light on the WIN program?

WIN, Women in NECA, have their own conference every year where they discuss issues relating to executive leadership and how to work effectively in a man’s world. We have 60 to 70 attendees at the meeting every year.

In the United States, there are many jobs where preference is given to minority or women owned businesses. As a result, there are more and more electrical construction firms that are owned by the women in the family.

What are you planning for the opening and closing sessions this year?

The NECA selects motivational speakers for their general session that focus on overcoming challenges. At the end of the event, we always have a party and Huey Lewis and the News are going to be our closing performers this year.

What is your role in the organization of the NECA Show?

I am the founder and president of HFI Event Services. It is a company that offers professional management services for Trade Show & Event Owners. We are based in Atlanta, Georgia and have a staff of five.

NECA has been my client for the past 19 years and they have outsourced the entire trade show operation to my company. We sell the sponsorships, help them with budgeting, and provide marketing services.

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