In the world of journalism, an evergreen topic is one that provides a never-ending supply of fresh story angles. In the world of electrical construction, CEE News editors search the nation for new angles to the evergreen topics that interest our readers most.

In a CEE News survey performed for our Top 50 article in June, the nation's largest electrical contractors said that the skilled-worker shortage reigns as the biggest industry challenge, so it's a topic we cover continually. Other perennial CEE News topics include datacom wiring, alternative energy, new technology, Web sites and the slowing economy — for which new technology and Web sites can in part be blamed. Following you'll find some short takes on some evergreen electrical-industry topics.

Nature's green is gold. The government's goal to subsidize the installation of one million solar roofs by the year 2010 represents a sizable market for electrical contractors who know how to install the panels. Though anti-environment politicians still deride it as a pie-in-the-sky fantasy for tree-huggers, solar energy (along with wind, fuel-cells and other alternatives to fossil-fuel energy) offers a clean, natural and viable solution for any area where the sun can still burn through the haze of pollution. If not sidetracked, by 2010 the Million Solar Roofs initiative could reduce as much carbon-dioxide emissions each year as taking 850,000 automobiles off the road, according to the Sierra Club.

Sometimes green is also the color of money. See Russell Fortmeyer's article on California's new green-lighting standards on page 22.

This wire stripper's for hire. Like many Americans I worry about the long-term health of the environment. But I'm not particularly worried about the skilled-worker shortage — at least not in the long term.

I know finding labor continues to be a big problem for many contractors. But, like many economic problems, the skilled-labor shortage ultimately will be solved by simple supply and demand. Basically, this means electricians will be paid more money, which means more students will vie for electrical-construction careers. Already, colleges are starting to offer degrees in electrical wiring, which gives the electrical profession more cache. Ultimately, non-electrician homeowners will just have to pay more for electrical wiring. Do-it-yourself is never a good idea for electrical wiring, which simply isn't as forgiving as painting, carpentry, plastering or even plumbing.

Carved niche or shallow grave? In this month's installment of “Breaking into the business,” Contributing Editor Bill Addiss reminds those of us over 40 that niche and rut can mean the same thing. Addiss, likening himself to an old dog learning new tricks, bravely took three days out of his profitable schedule to take an expensive fiber-optic installation course. And he liked it! Sometimes we magazine editors can be a bit too pat and simplistic with business advice. We blithely tell readers to climb out of their ruts to find new market niches. (See “Nature's green is gold.”) Sure, it's easy for us to say — from the safety of our air-conditioned cubicles. What do we have to lose? So it's always nice to present contractor success stories from the real world. Sounds like it's easy to be successful in power and data wiring installation — if you're smart and savvy like Bill.

Geez, again with the supply and demand. What is this — Econ 101? You heard it here first: The problem with commerce on the Internet is there are too many sites hawking too many products for too few buyers. Also, many consumers (particularly those of us over 40) still aren't comfortable casting our credit-card numbers into cyberspace. There's plenty of potential for plenty of Web sites to sell plenty of electrical supplies — particularly semi-commodity products, like wire, cable and lighting ballasts. But first commercial Web sites will have to offer buyers speed, convenience, safety, security and good value. In an ideal transaction, a buyer should simply point and click to get the items he wants. Then he should get a detailed receipt automatically, the option to cancel his order and the opportunity to talk to a live person before ordering.

Don't look back. Finally, speaking of the Internet, it's amazing what you can stumble upon free-associating on a great search engine like Google. [Get to work, Harrington!] So, for no other good reason than this is being written on the late, great baseball pitcher's 95th birthday, I present Satchel Paige's rules for good living:

  1. Avoid fried foods, which angry up the blood.
  2. If your stomach disputes you, pacify it with cool thoughts.
  3. Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.
  4. Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society, as the social ramble ain't restful.
  5. Avoid running at all times.
  6. Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you.

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