By: Martha E. Conway
The Syracuse Builders Exchange was founded on April 30, 1872, and was known as the Builders Board of Trade. In 1900, the organization changed its name to the Syracuse Builders Exchange. The Syracuse Builders Exchange is the largest Builders Exchange in New York State, serving 950 diverse member firms, and is affiliated with the Building Industry Employers of New York State, which was founded in 1895. As the oldest Builders Exchange in the United States, the Syracuse Builders Exchange has evolved over the past 136 years to become the regional industry leader in gathering and disseminating of important construction information to construction industry employers.
The mission of the Builders Exchange is to further the best intentions of the building and construction industry in Central and Upstate New York; to uphold wholesome relationships among all constituents of the building and construction industry and the public which they serve; to foster and encourage just and equitable principles for the conduct of business within the building and construction industry; and to acquire and disseminate information and materials which are useful and beneficial to the building and construction industry.
For more information, visit syrabex.com/, email Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 315.437.9936.
“Make plans, engage your teammates and create the vision where you want the organization to be. Identify the skill sets of your team that will allow you and them to lead best. Take your experienced and talented people … promote buy-in, and lean on them for collaboration and advice … Most importantly, don’t be afraid of failing.”
Syracuse Builders Exchange Executive Director Earl R. Hall, 53, has a hard time taking sole credit for his nearly three-decades-long career; he said he surrounds himself with good people and encourages them to play to their strengths.
Hall was born and raised in Central New York. He has ties to Syracuse and Brewerton and graduated from Liverpool High School. He attended Syracuse University’s School of Business Management and enjoyed being a part of its National Championship lacrosse teams in his junior and senior years.
Hall was president of the Liverpool Youth Lacrosse League until the younger of his two daughters aged out of the program. His eldest, Cassidy, a senior at Wagner College in New York City, was recently named co-captain of the Wagner women’s lacrosse team this year. Kendra, a junior at Liverpool, has committed to playing lacrosse for Wagner, as well.
Hall said his lacrosse experience didn’t give him a lot of insight into performing under pressure or learning how to lead; he said he felt there were far better people on his team than he.
“I learned from the strengths and weaknesses of my teammates,” Hall said. “There are people better than you, and everyone brings different strengths and skill sets to the team. These are the same things that make an organization successful.”
Hall said he didn’t fully realize this on his own.
“Coach Roy Simmons, Jr. was the architect of that environment, and I learned from him,” Hall said.
His team now is made up of the officers, board of directors and staff at the Syracuse Builders Exchange, as well as professionals such as its accountants and attorneys. Hall said playing the strengths and experience of his team drives the success of the association.
“That’s the playing experience I bring to the business world,” Hall said.
Hall said as a young boy, he loved athletics and was on the path to a career in sports business. He said he did an internship at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. He joked he learned the internship was more important than the paycheck.
During this time, Hall’s father was the executive director of the Syracuse Builders Exchange, and Officers were talking about a succession plan down the road. Hall said he was brought in at a very low-level position in spring 1992.
“It was supposed to be a very short-term sort of thing before I went off to conquer the world of athletics,” Hall said. Fast-forward 27 years, and I’m still here, just in a different capacity.”
He said his father, the officers and board of directors gave him the opportunity to prove himself; he said he learned there were amazing people and opportunities in construction.
“They provided the skills and experience for me to eventually succeed my father,” Hall said.
He said he was trusted and given confidence to work to his potential and earn respect for his own abilities and not be seen as riding his father’s coattails.
“I was concerned with how that could be viewed by the general public and by the members we serve,” Hall said.
He said the officers, board and his father allowed him to transition into the position over time, groomed by those leaders and mentors, eliminating any transition hiccups or surprises. Hall said he was a part of the launch of the virtual plan room and said he was allowed the opportunity to mold and manage the association to his vision and wasn’t micro-managed, something that might be expected by a younger employee.
“They gave me their confidence and trust, judging me on my own merits,” Hall said. “I had the support of a team working in the best interest of the organization.”
Hall said the definition of success can be widely debated, even within the association. He said as a not-for-profit organization, the Syracuse Builders Exchange should be judged on the range of services delivered to members, growing and retaining membership during challenging times, delivering as much value as possible for every member dollar, developing team members toward their own strengths and encouraging them to lead in their own areas.
“Who are we serving?” Hall asked. “Are we growing as an organization? Are we growing our membership? Are we growing our services?”
Hall said he believes the Syracuse Builders Exchange is the largest in the state.
“We have morphed our traditional marketing and sales efforts into those more modeled after for-profit firms,” Hall said. “We’ve undertaken an internet marketing campaign, social media marketing campaign, as well as traditional marketing and sales strategies to attract as many potential members as possible.”
He said the Syracuse Builders Exchange covers an 18-county area and remains in that footprint to avoid crossing into regions covered by other associations.
“We’re constantly working to attract new firms and following up with the human element throughout the year,” Hall said, listing off a host of social events, education and training opportunities for member firms and their employees. “When members get their annual dues notice, they have time to reflect on the numerous human interactions we’ve had during the year.”
In addition to providing access to comprehensive construction bidding documents, the association provides information on projects that are in the planning stages, safety training and other educational training – including state-mandated trainings on a variety of subjects, social outings and group purchasing power – the economy of scale for even the smallest member outfit – for things such as medical and dental insurances, cellular phones, fuel and workers compensation insurance.
Hall said he thinks the association is heading into a challenging time because of the projected construction boom the next five years. As a past president of the International Builders Exchange Executives, he said he was struck by the different markets around the country.
“History has shown in other regions of the country that members may not need their local association when they’re busy,” Hall said. “We’re in a good economic environment, and there are a lot of opportunities for contractors throughout the region. I think it’s going to be increasing the next five years out.”
Hall said his team will meet that challenge by stepping up human interactions with members and additional training opportunities while continuing to be leaders in project bidding documents and those in the planning stages, right down to the town, city and county levels.
“Delivering services when our members are extremely busy is the most pressing challenge we will face as we enter 2020,” Hall said. “The Syracuse Builders Exchange was the first such association in the country, founded in 1872. We have a rich history working with construction firms, industry professionals and project owners; we will continue delivering bidding documents to contractors and identifying projects in the planning stages going forward.
“We will continue making contractors’ business lives easier by offering more training opportunities and making sure members continue to be able to review bidding documents and other project information in the ePlanroom daily,” he said. “We are a one-stop shop for contractors who rely upon a wide variety of industry services.”
Hall said he hopes the personal communication with existing and new members provides them with a thorough orientation of all the association has to offer. Identifying what contractors will need in the future will lead to a broader vision five and 10 years down the road, and finding that blend of services and technology will be critical to enhance members’ experiences, he said.
“Our vision for the next five to 10 years is a little different,” Hall said, explaining that peer associations across the state will meet early next year to collaborate what potentially new services they may offer members. What technology will be important and how can it be delivered in a cost-effective manner?
He said some big considerations are adapting to increases in state mandates, as well as developing a more diversified workforce that can meet the requirements for minority- and woman-owned business enterprises, particularly in demand for public works projects.
“We are heavily engaged in developing outreach to cultivate a diverse workforce,” Hall said. “How do we attract the next generation of construction industry workers? There is a labor shortage predicted. And employers want engaged workers. Where do we find them and how do we entice them into the industry?”
Hall said he is proud of the volunteer work he does with the Syracuse City School District’s Career and Technical Education Advisory Board.
“I get to work with the city school district officials and educators, and identify students who do not want to go to college, but instead want a construction career pathway program,” Hall said. “I think I take the greatest pride in that capacity and have the most impact, albeit small, on development of a much-needed diverse workforce.”
Hall said he is proud of the other impacts, involved, as well.
“I think it may help in a small way to address the poverty issue impacting particular segments of our society,” Hall said. “While addressing labor needs, the most meaningful piece of that board is working with students in the Pathway Program who want a construction career, who want a way out of poverty, who want to work.
“If we can capture that diversity for the workforce, various segments of society will be engaged, and those engaged citizens are just what our community and the state want to see in our communities, not just in construction.”
Hall’s advice to those seeking to be – or finding themselves in – leadership roles is to think big.
“Look at the big picture of what the industry needs,” he said. “Make plans, engage your teammates and create the vision where you want the organization to be. Identify the skill sets of your team that will allow you and them to lead best. Take your experienced and talented people and allow them to lead in their own areas; promote buy-in, and lean on them for collaboration and advice. Be open to change if the change makes sense. Most importantly, don’t be afraid of failing.”
On leaving a legacy at the Syracuse Builders Exchange, Hall said he doesn’t really think of it that way.
“The Syracuse Builders Exchange is a very strong membership association for the construction industry,” he said. “I’m just the fiduciary of the association. The only thing I would hope for is to leave it even better than when I took over. It’s a great team effort, working in the interests of members and the organization in general. The association has adapted over the past 147 years and it will continue to do so with or without me.
“I think long after I’m gone, the Syracuse Builders Exchange will continue to adapt to changing times, hire good people and thrive due to the dedication of the Board of Directors and Officers. It will be in really good hands for decades to come.”