Bringing Everyone Together
Great Lakes Construction Association reaches members with beyond-the-box ideas
Tim Marabella, Executive Vice President of the Great Lakes Construction Association (GLCA), is passionate about engaging members, building value and finding the construction industry’s next generation of workers.
GLCA serves workers across the construction industry in Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan. It was founded in 1947 by a group of contractors who recognized that in order to have a bigger voice in union labor talks and government affairs, they needed to join forces with like-minded contractors. In 2017, the organization’s name was changed from Lake County Contractors Association to Great Lakes Construction Association to more aptly convey its audience and geographic reach.
Marabella has an extensive background in association management, having previously served the Muscular Dystrophy Association and the Foundation Fighting Blindness. He joined the GLCA as Executive Vice President in September 2011. He says that GLCA is different from other union trade associations because it is not made up of just one type of contractor, but every trade within the union construction industry. “We have different characters, personalities and backgrounds all under one roof, trying to network and work together to achieve common goals.”
While one of the main focuses of the association is to negotiate contracts with unions, it is also concerned with government affairs and providing education and training opportunities for members through their committees. Many of the 215 members serve on committees that help monitor and push for legislation and plan and host various types of events. While there are fees involved for special events, some programming is covered by the association membership dues.
The Next Generation
While much of GLCA’s work is addressing the needs of its current membership with regard to contracts, networking and learning opportunities, it is also heavily focused on finding the next generation of trade workers. In order to do so, a big priority is connecting with high school and college-age students to educate them about construction careers and hopefully draw many of them into the industry.
Marabella says, “It’s important to keep the construction industry viable. A big emphasis of our organization is outreach to high school and college students, showing them that a career in construction can be an incredible opportunity.”
GLCA attends frequent career fairs at local high schools and colleges, educating young people on what is involved in construction careers, which can encompass laborers, lawyers, supervisors, project coordinators and engineers. Students learn about required education, apprentice programs, expected salary and benefits and what the work entails. One program the association has in development will be a printed “baseball card” that volunteers will distribute in high schools and at career fairs throughout the state. Each card will feature an individual in a different trade, and the back of the card will list that trade’s “stats”—education received, starting salary and other benefits. A QR code will link to a video where the worker speaks more at length about his or her profession.
Marabella says, “It shows them that there are other opportunities aside from four-year colleges—opportunities that can be very rewarding and lucrative. We missed an entire generation of kids that didn’t go to trade school. It was viewed as a last resort. We have to sustain the amazing workforce we have in place and find the next generation of construction workers.”
Members Make the Difference
According to Marabella, the driving force behind all of this work is the incredible group of people who make up the association’s membership. He says, “We have such a high level of engagement and participation, which is not typical when it comes to associations.”
Marabella describes GLCA as a leader when it comes to networking, striving to help members across the construction industry learn from each other, gain inspiration and see how others solve problems and come up with new ideas. He says, “Our people are completely open to communicating to each other on an equal level, whether they are contractors, associates or suppliers. This is where they interact and move from business relationships toward friendships.”
GLCA holds monthly meetings to connect members with one another in addition to special events where members can involve their families. For example, the association held a chili cook-off in January that boasted 50 company entries and more than 200 attendees, and last spring, members hosted a clay shoot for 100 attendees that sold out in one day. Last summer, a cook-off, free for members, featured more than 30 member companies competing in 14 different food and drink categories with an attendance of more than 1,200 members, their employees, staff and families. The association also hosts popular golf outings and other social events, all designed to encourage networking and build relationships.
Marabella says that the creative thinking used to develop member programming is the single most impactful attribute of the association and why its programs are so well attended. “We have about 215 members in this association (115 are contractors) and we manage to get 50-60 companies to participate every month at our meetings. That is unheard of in the association world in terms of percentages of company attendance at functions and events on a regular basis.”
Furthermore, Marabella says the association has one of the youngest leadership teams in the industry making up its board, board of governors and committee chairs, designed to ensure longevity of the association. “We are very proud of the succession plan we created over the last seven to nine years so that the GLCA will be here to assist the next generation of construction professionals for years to come,” he says.
The hard work of members also extends to philanthropic efforts. Marabella proudly describes how members have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in labor and supplies to complete the Beacon Place, a community center in Waukegan, Illinois, for children and families that focuses its programming on academic growth, improved health and building life skills. GLCA members also participated in building a memorial at Waukegan National Airport, built a home for a wounded veteran, and most recently partnered with the Midwest Veterans Closet to provide food and clothing to veterans and family members of actively deployed soldiers living at or below the poverty line.
Marabella says, “The generosity and team approach to everything we do is like nothing I have ever seen from members of any association I have worked for or engaged with in the past. When the community reaches out and asks for assistance, there is always someone ready to stand up and take the lead, extending far and beyond any industry matters.”
Each year, GLCA recognizes its most valuable volunteer with the prestigious Governor’s Award. Marabella describes the recipients as the helper people, those who have taken the time to get engaged and set a tremendous example to follow. He says, “The interesting part is that the most successful people that I have met here at the association are all past Governor’s Award winners. So, if I am a new member or fresh out of school with a desire to succeed, whose example should I be following? Our members see firsthand the value of becoming involved.”
According to Marabella, the opportunities to build relationships and learn within the association are invaluable. He describes his members and staff as paving the way with out-of-the-box ideas, often seeing other associations following suit. “Our members’ only limitation to success is based on their ability to participate in our meetings, trainings or events. We take pride in the customer service we provide above all else. Finding out what members need and finding a way to get it to them creates the greatest satisfaction for our leadership and staff.”