Dan Magyar knows firsthand the challenges faced by smaller electrical contractors — especially in today’s uncertain economic climate. When the owner of Rocklin, Calif.-based Magyar Electric witnessed many of his competitors closing up shop for good, he decided a proactive approach might be in order. To help set his company apart from other contractors, Magyar opted to specialize in energy efficiency.

Recently, he became one of the first electrical contractors to become certified by the California Advanced Lighting Controls Training Program (CALCTP), a statewide initiative aimed at increasing the use of lighting controls in commercial buildings and industrial facilities.

“CALCTP is offered to licensed C-10 electrical contractors and state-certified general electricians,” Magyar explains. “The class is divided into two parts: a lecture series and a lab series. The goal is to train participants how to program, install, tune, commission, and maintain advanced lighting control systems for energy savings. I’m hoping it will help drive additional business to my company while the economy recovers.”

Magyar is no stranger to economic upheaval. A native of Detroit, he had just recently received his journeyman electrician’s license in the early 1970s when the U.S. oil crisis and subsequent recession struck his region of the country particularly hard.

“Thousands of electricians suddenly found themselves out of a job, and I was one of them,” he recalls. “Rather than pump gas or go to work on one of the automotive assembly lines, my father — who is a now-retired electrician — and I headed west to Wyoming and Montana to look for electrical work. The first job I got was in an open pit coal mine. It took me less than two weeks and a nasty lung infection to decide that wasn’t for me.”

Magyar next followed electrical jobs to southeastern Washington State, eventually traveling south to San Jose, Calif., before finally putting down roots in Rocklin, Calif. He spent the ensuing years working for various companies, including SASCO, Fullerton, Calif., both in the field and in the office until he was laid off in 2004.

“My wife had often encouraged me to start my own business, so after working for other contractors for 34 years, I decided to strike out on my own,” he says. “I hit the books, took the California contractors license test, and started my company with no clue how I was going to make a living. I have to admit it was pretty scary.”

According to Magyar, his extensive knowledge and hands-on experience in the electrical industry has proven invaluable when it comes to running his own business.

“Obviously, I know how to do the work, but I’m not sure I would have been able to stay afloat if I hadn’t been familiar with project management, estimating, and bidding a job correctly,” he notes. “I also realized I needed to find a niche to distinguish myself from all the other small electrical contractors out there. I chose energy efficiency because I live in California, which is one of the leaders on this front. Just as important, the energy-efficient technologies I’m installing allow my customers to actually see a return on their investment.”

In addition to advanced lighting controls, Magyar specializes in servicing, building, and implementing electrical control panels; performing variable-speed pool pump conversions; and installing emergency generators and back-up systems. Furthermore, he plans to extend the solar installation segment of his business. He also continues to attend numerous training classes in order to educate himself on the latest electrical products, procedures, equipment, and technology.

“I don’t think contractors and electricians can ever amass too much education, as long as it is pertinent to what they are doing,” Magyar says. “This is one of the reasons I decided to pursue CALCTP certification. The technologies in this industry are ever-evolving. If we don’t evolve with them — and we don’t become more educated contractors — then we’re shortchanging ourselves.”