A belief in 1950 that construction projects should be awarded based on merit to the most qualified and responsible low bidder had great momentum behind it and spread rapidly across the United States. This created various local chapters of the Associated Builders and Contractors.
In 1972, the Renaissance Center was not a part of the Detroit skyline, the Detroit Tigers won the America League East, and the Merit Shop Philosophy was on the mind of a few southeast Michigan contractors.
Six southeast Michigan contractors decided to accept the ABC responsibility in 1972 to fight towards equal opportunities for work. They were granted a chapter-in-formation status by the ABC National Board and, within a year, the Metropolitan Detroit chapter grew to 30 members strong.
The Metropolitan Detroit chapter expanded to become the Eastern Michigan chapter, which encompassed all counties in metro Detroit, along the Lake Huron coast, and up into the thumb. At that time, there were five chapters in Michigan: Eastern, Central, Saginaw Valley, Western, and Northern.
“I can’t believe how quick they grew the first membership of the chapter,” said Pat Acciavatti, founder of Pamar Enterprises, Inc. who joined ABC in 1981.
In 1979, the chapter had 90% membership retention, which was their best year yet. Carrying that momentum, the board and staff knew they wanted to provide training to their members, and worked to lay the foundation for what is now one of the most sought-out craft training schools in the area.
“We thought we had a deal in Detroit with a trade school on the west side during the initial planning process,” said Doug Cryderman, founder of Douglas Electric. “We were having really good conversations with them, but then someone tipped them off about who we were, and we couldn’t get them to return another phone call.”
Cryderman continued saying they were in Oakland County evaluating next steps to provide training and found out the Oakland County supervisor had an injunction filed because the organization wasn’t a legitimate training organization. He noted that the politics were all stacked against ABC and the county just didn’t want them training because that was competition.
“Somehow that injunction just went away. We followed the process to legitimize our training, but they took back the injunction, so we started training,” Cryderman said.
Seven years later, in 1986, the Construction Education Trust, today known as the Southeast Michigan Construction Academy, started training a new generation of skilled workers and attracting new membership. ABC member efforts had paid off.
“Everything was carrying on as planned,” said Acciavatti. “But then all our hard work almost disappeared.”
Local government and finances posed a challenge for the chapter that halted growth and lead to a difficult conversation.
“The Eastern Michigan chapter faced numerous challenges and pushback in 1980, and there was a conversation to disaffiliate as a chapter,” said Doug Curtis, vice president of chapter services at ABC National. “Fortunately, that didn’t last long.”
Also at that time, the Saginaw Valley chapter requested the annexation of three counties in the thumb: Huron, Tuscola, and Sanilac. The restructured chapter filed with the Michigan Department of Commerce on November 5, 1981 and became ABC Southeastern Michigan. They had almost 150 members.
From there, they chugged along helping promote the Merit Shop Philosophy until the recession began affecting the industry and the chapter in 2010.
“Even ABC wasn’t immune from those tough economic times,” said Keith Ledbetter, president and CEO of ABC SEMI. “At one point, they thought to give the building back to the bank and call it quits.”
The chapter was experiencing hardships due to increasing costs from the school that required chapter staff to make severe cuts, including lower monthly payments on the office and school building.
According to past ABC SEMI Board minutes, several options were pursued to overcome these economic challenges, but as the days went on, the bills continued to pile up and bankruptcy was explored.
“It’s not a glamourous history, but it’s our history,” Ledbetter said. “We were motivated hearing about the struggles, and it inspired today’s leadership to stay on top of the chapter to ensure its success for the sake of our members.”
Ledbetter continued saying today the ABC building is fully paid off and the chapter has expanded exponentially since that board meeting. He also mentioned that ABC Southeastern Michigan is one of very few states that have achieved the labor reform trifecta: Prevailing Wage repeal, elimination of Project Labor Agreements on public projects, and Right to Work.
“The values of ABC have allowed free enterprise and entrepreneurship to flourish as the backbone of our state and country,” Ledbetter said.
Today, ABC Southeastern Michigan has 272 members in our community and counting, continuing the mission put before us by the six contractors who came together 50 years ago.
“I am confident in where this chapter is at and where it’s headed,” said Chris Scott, president of Paul C. Scott Plumbing and current ABC Board chair. “The 50th anniversary is the perfect time to re-engage with the chapter and see how it can grow your business’s footprint.”