In an industry where the local touch still reigns supreme, North America's electrical leagues and associations provide valuable opportunities for networking and training.

Building membership and improving programs are not new concerns for the association executives of the industry's local electrical leagues and associations. But these goals loom larger than ever because of some key industry trends. Utility deregulation, mergers and acquisitions and the robust electrical construction market now make it tougher than ever for electrical leagues and associations to recruit new members and offer programs that will be of interest to companies from all segments of the electrical market.

Historically, these groups focused on providing networking opportunities for electrical distributors, independent reps, electrical manufacturers, electrical contractors and other end users and electric utilities on a local basis. In addition to networking, many of these groups now often offer discount programs on business services such as health and life insurance, liability insurance, and courier discounts.

Training is another key service these groups provide, and leagues are expanding their offerings from a base of technical courses in products and electrical design to more general business courses such as basic computer skills, desktop publishing, accounting for non-financial managers and stress management. One league, Minnesota's North Central Electrical League (NCEL), even has a Toastmasters chapter so members can hone their public speaking skills.

Association executives agree that it's tough to develop a package of courses applicable to the information needs of distributors, reps, manufacturers and end users, yet does not duplicate what a member's "core" industry trade group may offer, or is otherwise available at local colleges or business schools. These core trade associations include the National Association of Electrical Distributors (NAED), St. Louis, Mo.; National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), Rosslyn, Va.; National Electrical Manufacturers Representatives Association (NEMRA), Tarrytown, N.Y.; and National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA), Bethesda, Md.

"National associations have more staff and funds to develop programs," says one association executive. "We try to complement each other rather than compete with each other."

Along with networking, training and business-program discounts, local leagues and associations offer a voice for the concerns of a region's electrical businesses to other local or regional business or government entities, says Don Glays, executive director, The Electric Association, Oak Brook, Ill., and director of the International League of Electrical Associations (ILEA).

"Having a large membership base, especially one that includes national and regional companies, gives a local association credibility when dealing with government, utilities and the public," he says. "When government, utilities and the public recognize that the local association represents a broad base made up of all sizes of membership, they are more apt to listen. I know from personal experience that we get a better hearing and a better reaction to issues when we can state that our membership includes leading, well-respected companies. The benefit to companies is that when the association works successfully on issues, the entire industry wins."

Yet when any association member starts searching for justification for business expenditures at budget time, league membership dues often come under close scrutiny, and association executives must be ready to answer the question, "What have you done for me lately?" That's why the current emphasis on solid programming at league events is key, say several association executives.

Time is also an issue, and when business is good, some members or prospective members may not believe they have time to devote to league activities. For instance, Kansas City's solid electrical construction market has actually had an adverse affect on member participation in the Missouri-Kansas Electrical Association, because companies are so busy, they don't have as much time to spend at league activities. The business surge also means some members aren't prospecting as hard for new business contacts at association events because they have all the business they can handle, says Olivia Golden, the association's executive director. "They have plenty of business, maybe more than they know what to do with. That makes our job a little harder," she says.

In St. Louis, utility deregulation and mergers and acquisitions have had a negative impact on membership and have Gloria Baysinger, executive vice president, St. Louis Electrical Board, searching for programs to entice new members. As utilities reevaluate their businesses, she says, some will question their involvement in local electrical leagues. It's a scenario that happened in her market when Union Electric, a St. Louis-based electric utility and historically one of the Electrical Board's strongest supporters, cut back on its league membership.

"Utilities are rethinking their support of the leagues, but we are good for them and they are good for us," she says.

Union Electric's move prompted Baysinger to redouble her efforts to get new members. She recruited Bob Finley, former president of Glasco Electric Co., St. Louis, and a well-respected figure in the area's electrical business, to help her find new members. It's an effort that is already bearing fruit, she says.

Mergers and acquisitions have affected the St. Louis Electrical Board's membership, too, but many other local electrical associations have the same problem, she says. "Membership is always a problem with the merging of companies. That's becoming more of a concern. The more they merge, the fewer members we have. We always have to be on the lookout for non-dues revenue."

She says many leagues are trying to maximize income from their trade shows and from discount programs on insurance, long-distance or cellular telephone service and other business services.

Local trade shows held every two or three years can be a big revenue producer. Last year's Houston Electrical Leagues show, the Southwest Electrical Exhibition, had over 400 exhibitors, and is generally regarded as one of the biggest local or regional shows in the U.S. The Upper Midwest Electrical Expo, sponsored by the North Central Electrical League, the biennial trade show by the Philadelphia Electrical Association and shows sponsored by leagues in Chicago, St. Louis and Kansas City are also sizeable shows.

Key to the success of association-sponsored trade shows is having distributor support, says Don Glays of Chicago's Electrical Association and the ILEA.

"That support comes in two main areas: promoting the show to vendors for booth sales and encouraging customers to attend," he says. " Shows managed by associations with a large distributor base enjoy higher attendance when the distributors adopt the show as a good way to promote their products to customers. Trade shows are intended to be a source of non-dues revenue for the association, but they also serve an equally important function-educating and informing the industry."

Several association executives believe many of the solutions that will help them overcome these challenges in the future will come from talking with representatives from different electrical associations around North America. They find the annual ILEA meeting to be a great place to see what programs are working in different areas of North America.

Says the St. Louis Electrical Board's Gloria Baysinger, "You sit in your own office and you think, 'I am the only one who has this problem.' And then we have the conference once a year and I find out that everyone has the same problem."

Arizona Electric League of Arizona 727 East Bethany Home Rd., Suite D122 Phoenix, Az. 85014-2151 Phone: 602-263-9391 Fax: 602-277-9881 Larry Yehle, executive director

California Electric & Gas Industries Association 16445 Alverado St. San Leandro, Calif. 94577 Phone: 510-357-6231 Fax: 510-357-5703 Duane Tuttle, executive director

Colorado Rocky Mountain Electrical League 2170 South Parker Rd., Suite 285 Denver, Colo. 80231-0704 Phone: 303-695-0089 Fax: 303-695-0704 Ed Blum, executive director

Georgia Southeastern Electrification Council, Inc. 4225 University Ave. Columbus, Ga. 31907-5645 Phone: 706-569-3186 Fax: 706-565-3564 H. Cecil Biggs, president/CEO

Greater Atlanta Electric League 2750 Roxborough Dr. Roswell, Ga. 30076-2451 Phone: 770-740-9616 Fax: 770-664-1658 Robert Brown, executive vice president

Illinois The Electric Association 1919 Swift Dr., Suite 121 Oak Brook, Ill. 60521-1502 Phone: 630-575-8045 Fax: 630-575-8049 E-mail: dglays@aol.com Web site: www.eachicago.org Don Glays, executive director

Indiana Electric League of Indiana, Inc. 6801 Lake Plaza Drive, Suite A-110 Indianapolis, Ind. 46220 Phone: 317-842-3024 Fax: 317-842-3025 E-mail: eli@indiana-eli.org Web site: www.indiana-eli.org Nancy Rainey, executive director

Louisiana Electrical Association of New Orleans 4501 Camp St. New Orleans, La. 70115 Phone: 504-899-4352 Clarence Miller, executive director

Maryland Electric League of Maryland 815C Central Ave. Linthicum, Md. 21090-3114 Phone: 410-636-3666 Fax: 410-636-6685 John Benzing, executive director

Massachusetts Electric Institute 40 Salem St. Lynnfield, Mass. 01940-2665 Phone: 617-246-2300 Fax: 617-246-5531 Timothy Marsac, managing director

Minnesota North Central Electric League 2901 Metro Drive, Suite 203 Bloomington, Minn. 55425-1556 Phone: 612-854-4405 Fax: 612-854-7076 Web site: www.ncel.org Dale Yohnke, executive director

Missouri St. Louis Electrical Board 8514 Eager Rd., Suite E St. Louis, Mo. 63144-1483 Phone: 314-968-1000 Fax: 314-968-1050 E-mail: sleb@il.net Gloria Baysinger, executive vice president

Electric League of Missouri & Kansas P.O. Box 414168 Kansas City, Mo. 64141-4168 Phone: 816-561-5323 Fax: 816-561-1249 E-mail: ogolden@westernassn.com Web site: www.electricleague.org Olivia Golden, executive director

Nebraska Nebraska-Iowa Electrical Council 8801 W. Center Rd., Suite 207 Omaha, Neb. 68124-2057 Phone: 402-392-2832 Fax: 402-392-1543 E-mail: NEC50@aol.com Robert Morris, executive director

New Jersey Metropolitan Electric League 2810 Morris Ave. Union, N.J. 07083 Phone: 908-964-1122 Fax: 908-964-4379 William Bodnaruk, executive director

New York Electric Association of Rochester P.O. Box 20219 Rochester, N.Y. 14602-0219 Phone: 716-334-4730 Fax: 716-334-1919 Charles Eckert, executive vice president

Ohio Electric League of Eastern Ohio 126 City Centre One Youngstown, Ohio 44503 Phone: 330-744-5238 Fax: 330-744-3922 Carol Catheline, director

Electric League of Northern Ohio 5005 Rockside Rd. Independence, Ohio 44131 Phone: 216-221-8370 Fax: 216-226-5961 Terry Hanna, manager

Greater Cincinnati Electrical Association P.O. Box 37096 Cincinnati, Ohio 45237 Phone: 513-731-4232 Fax: 513-731-8832 Louis Zimmerman, executive director

Oregon Western Electric Power Institute 827 Northeast Oregon St. Portland, Ore. 97232-2108 Phone: 503-231-1994 Fax: 503-231-2595 E-mail: anderson@powerin.org Web site: www.powerin.org Clifton Anderson, executive director

Pennsylvania Electric League of Western Pennsylvania 919 Maryland Ave. Pittsburgh, Pa. 15232 Phone: 412-363-8011 Fax: 412-661-5403 Carole King, executive director

The Electrical Association of Philadelphia 40 Monument Rd., Suite 107 Bala Cynwyd, Pa. 19004-1735 Phone: 610-668-1700, ext. 11 Fax: 610-668-1703 E-mail: electric@eap.org Web site: www.eap.org Dwight Price, executive director

Pennsylvania Electric Association 301 APC Building 800 N. 3rd St. Harrisburg, Pa. 17102 Phone: 717-257-5853 Fax: 717-257-5858

Rhode Island Electrical League of Rhode Island 38 Eagle Ave. Warwick, R.I. 02889 Phone: 401-737-4171 Fax: 401-737-4171 Mike Hickey, executive secretary

Tennessee Electric League of Chattanooga P.O. Box 182255 Chattanooga, Tenn. 37422-7255 Phone: 423-757-1241 Fax: 423-757-1234 Don Mills, executive director

Texas Houston Electrical League P.O. Box 61857 Houston, Texas 77208-9892 Phone: 713-207-7518 Fax: 713-207-9892 E-mail: gail-vyoral@hlp.com Web site: www.hel.org Gail Vyoral, coordinator

Utah Intermountain Electrical Association 512 Lawndale Dr. Salt Lake City, Utah 84115-4776 Phone: 801-484-7900 Fax: 801-486-6916 Klaas DeBoer, Jr., managing director

Washington Inland Northwest Electrical League 2211 East Riverside South, Suite B Spokane, Wash. 99202-4776 Phone: 425-646-4727 Fax: 425-646-4729 David Jackson, executive director

Electric League of the Pacific Northwest 123 105th Ave. SE, Suite 101 Bellevue, Wash. 98004-6265 Phone: 425-646-4727 Fax: 425-646-4729 E-mail: elpnw@halcyon.com Julie Brown, executive manager

Northwest Public Power Association P.O. Box 4576 Vancouver, Wash. 98662-0576 Phone: 360-254-0109 Fax: 360-254-5731 E-mail: power9999@nwppa.org Norman Jacox, general manager

CANADA Alberta Alberta Electrical League P.O. Box 40444 Highfield Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2G 5G7 Phone: 403-268-4085 Fax: 403-262-5928 E-mail: tterns@gov.calgary.ab.ca c/o Tara Ternes

British Columbia British Columbia Electrical Association 224-3989 Henning Dr. Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada V5C-6N5 Phone: 604-291-7708 Fax: 604-291-7795 E-mail: tracey@bcea.bc.ca Tracey Gallant, executive director

Manitoba Manitoba Electrical League 14-395 Berry St. Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada R3I-1N6 Phone: 204-885-3668 Fax: 204-885-3678 Larry McLennan, executive director

Nova Scotia Nova Scotia Electrical League 2735 Agricola St. Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada B3K-4E2 Phone: 902-455-6544 Fax: 902-453-1617 Kathleen Saunders, executive director

Ontario Ontario Electrical League 2 Lansing Square, Suite 1000 North York, Ontario, Canada M2J-4PB Phone: 416-495-0052 Fax: 165-495-1804 David Reid, president

Ideas You Can Borrow, Steal or Copy: If your local electrical league is on a crusade to increase membership or improve programs, get in touch with members of other leagues to see what's working for them. A list of North American electrical leagues and associations begins on page 38. Below are some ideas leagues are using and that you may want to consider for your own group.

Basic member benefits: * Experiment with new networking opportunities in addition to the standard venues such as monthly luncheons or breakfasts, trade shows, golf outings and holiday luncheons. * Look for other corporate discounts you can offer members in addition to what's generally available with car rentals, credit union memberships, long-distance telephone service, cellular telephone service and business or liability insurance. * Make sure all new members are enrolled in your local Better Business Bureau. * Provide updates on state and federal legislation that will impact your members most directly.

Training: * Offer courses on the fundamentals of electricity and product basics. * Sponsor workshops in basic business skills such as salesmanship, negotiating, time management and personnel management. * Consider sponsoring workshops on CPR and first aid, stress management and other areas of personal development. * Run classes on basic computer skills such as working with Office 98, desktop publishing and Web-site design. * Set up a video library with videotapes on general business skills, and get some members to donate videotapes on selected areas of study. * If your association office has a meeting facility, offer it to members as a training/meeting room that they can use with their customers. * Set up a chapter of Toastmaster's International within your association to help members develop their public speaking skills.

Employee development and recruiting: * Offer your association and its members as a resource to area colleges, universities and technical schools that offer electrical design classes or related fields of study. * Motivate your members to offer summer internships to students from these schools and universities. * Include job postings on your association's Web site.

Online communications: * Use a Web site for online surveys, membership registration and RSVPs for association/league events. * Develop an online buyers' guide. * Publish an online directory of the lines that area reps carry. * Include hot links to related regional and national organizations on your Web site.

General: * Make sure your association executives are active with the International League of Electrical Associations (ILEA) so they can bring back new ideas to your association from what's working in other. Contact Don Glays, Chicago Electrical Association, Chicago, Ill., at 630-724-0200 for more details on the ILEA. * Surf the Net to see what ideas you can borrow at other electrical associations. Start with these Web sites: www.eachicago.org; www.indiana-eli.org; www.electricleague.org; www.eap.org; and www.hel.org.