Savannah, Georgia, Hosts 2016 NAEC Spring Educational Conference

Every seat was filled for the Welcome Breakfast.

The National Association of Elevator Contractors (NAEC) convened in the historic southern U.S. city to network, trade ideas and learn.

The sounds of foghorns on the Savannah River and palm fronds rustled by gentle breezes formed a tranquil backdrop for the 2016 NAEC Educational Conference at the Westin Savannah Harbor & Golf Resort on Hutchinson Island — a 5-min. ferry ride from downtown Savannah, Georgia — on April 9-12. Approximately 240 attended, and the resort was abuzz with activity as guests caught up with old friends, made new ones and discussed and learned about topics such as safety, codes, equipment and issues affecting the industry.

People learned that Savannahians call a candy consisting of caramel, chocolate and pecans a “bear claw”; are fierce about historic preservation; and think nothing of having fried chicken and waffles (topped with melted Velveeta®, no less!) for breakfast. 

People either loved or hated the chicken and waffles served at the Opening Breakfast Sunday morning, featuring keynote speaker Steve Gilliland, an author and comedian who had the crowd laughing but left them with an inspirational message of unity, compassion and hope. 2016 NAEC President Bret Abels remarked on the impressive crowd and the charm of Savannah, praising Mark Traetow of Schumacher Elevator for suggesting it as a host city “more times than [he] could count.” Abels provided an overview of the educational sessions and events — both on and offsite — in store.

Sessions covering topics such as hoist ropes, control valves, Americans with Disabilities Act compliancy and business strategies were interspersed with activities including a golf tournament, clay-pigeon shoot and trolley tour of historic Savannah that included the famous Bonaventure Cemetery from what Savannahians simply call “The Book,” the best-selling Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt that was made into a hit movie. A free river ferry shuttling guests between the resort and downtown runs from early in the morning until late at night. Many guests took advantage of it.

Saturday, April 9

The NAEC Board of Directors met from 8 a.m.-3 p.m., at which point contractors and suppliers held hourlong, separate meetings. Here, they discussed their sectors’ hot issues. In the contractors’ session, much of the conversation revolved around machine-room-less (MRL) elevators. Contractors said MRL systems are prone to wear out quickly, expensive to replace and difficult to service and maintain. Often, they said, architects or property managers will request such systems without fully understanding all the pros and cons. It was observed that MRL systems have been essentially outlawed in California and that, throughout the U.S., products are evolving faster than the code.

That evening, for the Welcome Reception, guests entered a Spanish-moss-draped archway, where they were greeted by Southern belles and enjoyed guitar and violin tunes from a pair of musicians dressed in Colonial garb. A fountain reminiscent of one in a historic Savannah courtyard was illuminated by blue light in the center of the ballroom as guests enjoyed conversation, an open bar and snacks such as Hoppin’ John — a Southern black-eyed-pea salad — and pulled-pork sandwiches.

Abels welcomed incoming NAEC President Joe McNally of McNally Elevator and thanked the staff for organizing such a fun, informative event. With conversation and laughter flowing, people were clearly reluctant to leave when the event wrapped up at 9 p.m. For those not ready to call it a night, the ferry was available to carry them to the many bars and restaurants on historic River Street and beyond, where the networking and entertaining, for some, lasted well into the wee hours.

Sunday, April 10

Education presentations kicked off directly after the Welcome Breakfast. They were:

  • “Fiber Optic Cables — Overview, Application and Hands-On Review,” Richard Taylor and Eric Lazear, Draka  
  • “Managing a Powerful Personal Brand,” Belen Gassen Lollis, Pathbuilders, Inc.
  • “Door Reopening Code and Safety Training,” Dean Heasley, SCS Elevator Products

The golf tournament and Historic Savannah Experience tour took up most of the afternoon. Those on the tour learned about book and movie character Forrest Gump’s connection to the city, that River Street’s brick buildings served as cotton warehouses during the early years, that downtown was largely derelict during the first half of the century, that Savannah is among the U.S.’s busiest seaports, that author Flannery O’Connor once made the city her home and that the first black church in the U.S. was founded there. There are also reportedly plenty of ghosts, including those of pirates.

Also that afternoon, Jackie Mortman of JM Associates/Burnham + Co., a division of HUB International, moderated an open-mic session, which provided an opportunity for industry members to share their thoughts and discuss issues. The forum had active participation from start to finish, she said. “In my opinion, several people walked away a little more aware of various situations,” Mortman observed. Topics included:

  • The new 3- X 5-in. rule for residential elevators being replaced by the .75-in. rule
  • Proper brake maintenance according to manufacturers’ specifications
  • Weighing cars before and after installation to determine if adjustments are needed
  • Proper condition of motor rooms: would you take a customer to the motor room without advance notice to show/demonstrate the machinery?
  • New technicians in the industry: where and how do you find them?
  • Insurance policies

Monday, April 11

The day was packed with well-attended educational presentations, during which presenters gladly fielded questions from attendees. Presentations were:

  • “Moisture Means Death for Hoist Ropes,” Martin Rhiner, Brugg Lifting
  • “A Day in the Life of a Nerdy Elevator Professional,” author and technology expert Beth Ziesenis
  • “ASME A17.4 — Guide for Emergency Personnel: The Do’s and Don’t’s of Elevator Emergency Operations for Elevator Personnel,” Lee Rigby, Elevator Safety and Technical Service
  • “What Is Exceptional Customer Service?” Michael J. Ryan, The Peelle Co.
  • “Elevator Lighting/Ceiling Materials,” Walter Barnes, Elevator Controls, Inc.
  • “Don’t Kill Your Golden Goose — Succession Strategies to Protect Your Business,” Larry Oxenham, ASAP
  • “Control Valves,” Abe Salehpour, Elevator Equipment Corp.

The afternoon also featured the Georgia Port and Wildlife Refuge Experience Tour. As is traditional, many NAEC members brought along their loved ones (including their dogs, as the Westin is pet friendly), so spouses and children also enjoyed the optional activities. Savannah is home to an abundance of wildlife, including alligator, deer and egrets — giant white birds that could be seen nesting in the trees in the swamps between the Westin and the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport.

As the sun set, guests gathered on the resort’s lawn overlooking the river for cocktails as they enjoyed the musical stylings of a harpist. The reception was brief, so many people opted to again entertain clients and friends across the river.

Tuesday, April 12

The ever-popular roundtable discussions took place throughout the day, with the clay-pigeon shoot occurring in the afternoon. The discussions were:

  • “ADA Compliancy in Historic Buildings,” Ron Rucker and Autumn Rucker, D-C Elevator Co., Inc.
  • “Streamlining Operations With iPads and Other Mobile Devices,” Steve Metzman, iBusiness Technologies
  • “OSHA Orientation Sessions,” Keith Evans, Premier Elevator
  • “Six Deadly Safety Points,” Ray Downs, NAEC Safety Committee/TEI
  • “Vertical Transportation Management Program,” Amanda Smith, NAEC

Later in the day, guests began departing, with some sticking around for the traditional Dregs Party that evening and meetings the next morning. All in all, those who attended went away somewhat weary but happy and satisfied. Thanking this year’s many sponsors, NAEC Executive Director Teresa Witham observed:

“From the education to the networking and downtime, it was truly a great experience. It’s always great to get together with friends within our industry and better your business in the process.”

The next NAEC Spring Educational Conference is planned in Scottsdale, Arizona, on April 1-4, 2017.

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