It seems fitting that the Mason Contractors Association of America (MCAA) is holding its annual convention in Orlando later this month. After all, it's the state that boasts the highest use of masonry in residential construction. By most accounts, Florida is the largest consumer of block.

With all the masonry construction going on in Florida, there's got to be a large number of contractors. A quick search of the Internet indicated that there are at least 160 contractors doing business in Florida. MCAA's Web site lists 14 member companies, or about 10% of the total I uncovered in my hour-long Google search.

Many of the MCAA Florida members are large commercial contractors who probably place more block than the other 146 companies combined. But hopefully by holding the Masonry Showcase in Florida, MCAA can attract more contractors to join.

But I have my doubts. In many ways, MCAA is struggling in its efforts to assume its rightful role of industry leadership. While there's not another national association trying to accomplish as much as MCAA, its effort can't keep going on without more members.

This leads to a question: If MCAA is doing such a good job, why aren't there more members?

It's probably a problem with projecting true value to those prospective non-members. Take for example the cost of a non-member to attend the full MCAA conference – $1400 to $1600, depending on whether he registered early, and that's not counting travel, housing, and food.

Contractors have a great aptitude for controlling costs and waste in their operations. That's why I was surprised that there hasn't been more than a minor grumbling about some of the recent announcements in regards to the future of the Masonry Showcase.

Following last year's sparsely attended effort in Las Vegas, leadership quickly changed plans, abandoned its tie with CSI, and moved the event to Orlando in an effort to join forces with the National Concrete Masonry Association.

Someone needs to wake up to the reality that it's hard for a small show to be economically feasible. True, the association staff uses the Showcase to hook up with its members, and hopefully draw new ones. And successful shows can help establish MCAA as the perceived leader of the masonry industry. But couldn't these efforts be accomplished more effectively through a strong convention with tabletop displays, rather than a stand-alone trade show?

Then there's the promise of new income when the National Concrete Masonry Association is reunited with MCAA to help revive Masonry Showcase in a couple years. I'd be very cautious about the optimism projected on this endeavor. Wasn't this tried before?

It's time for fellow MCAA members to take a close look at the real costs. It's been a show with a shrinking attendance. And this trend isn't going to change.

So who really pays for this trade show expansion efforts? You do, through various hidden costs.

Each manufacturer is under great pressure to participate in the Showcase to “support” the association. I'm certain that they just up the marketing budget and pass this expense on to contractors in their product's cost.

Then there's the cost at the association level. Managing a trade show is a big job. Key staff hired originally to facilitate important projects and initiatives are drawn into show operations. How cost effective can it be to have a senior technical engineer be a floor monitor for a week or so? The end result is the continuing request for more staff funds and increased dues to accomplish the work items of the association's various committees and task groups.

It's time to get the MCAA staff back on track and doing the jobs they do right: legislate nationally, work with OSHA, and help in standards development. It's time to stop raising fees and other member costs to cover the MCAA's deficit spending pattern trying to sustain a slowly shrinking trade show.

No matter what our fellow members decide later this month about the future, we stand committed to helping MCAA's leadership all we can. I urge non-member contractors to attend Masonry Showcase and MCAA's national convention activities. Stop by the MCAA booth and meet the fine staff that is currently representing you for free.