What does it take to form an IEC chapter? Desire? Passion? Guidance from those who have come before? Maybe even a sprinkling of pixie dust? Luckily for the electrical contractors of the Charlotte, NC, area, Jason Parks checks all the boxes. Meet the master electrician who has led the charge to form the Greater Charlotte IEC.
Jason Parks, owner of M&J Electric of Wichita with locations in both Kansas and North Carolina, traces his interest in becoming an electrician back to middle school in the late 1980s.
“I was highly involved with my church, and my English teacher in seventh and eighth grade was big in theater, doing drama, and putting stage productions on at our church,” Jason remembers. “I got interested in these dramas and I remember the day when she had rented all this stuff from a theatrical services place — light towers and lighting boards and sound boards — and she said, ‘Jason, I think you’d be perfect to run this production.’”
That was the beginning for Jason as he got “totally enthused and overtaken by all the stuff on the lighting side” and pursued that love through high school, perfecting his vocational and technical skills in the popular trade school adjunct his junior and senior years with Vo-Tech in Kansas.
“In the early 1990s, everybody was pushing trade schools,” he says. “At my high school, I did the normal English and math in the morning. Then in the afternoon I would go to the other side of town and have vocational skills in the electrical trade. The push for trades was huge and we even had a lunch meeting with then Vice President Al Gore and the Koch Brothers of Koch industries to talk about vocational training. I was a hands-on guy and for me, this was great. You could put me behind a book and I could pull off straight As, but it just wasn’t for me.”
His senior year, he added on working for a small electrical contractor, ElectriCraft Inc. — again his church provided the connection. ElectriCraft owner Joel Troyer is a current IEC Kansas member and immediate past president. Jason ended up working for him for 11 years, doing more and learning more. Jason did a short stint at a large union shop where he learned more aspects of the business but didn’t like the politics. He went back to ElectriCraft and continued to help grow it.
The next step was his biggest — he left to form his own business, M&J Electric, in 2004 — and it was his current largest customer, QuikTrip, which set him on the road to success.
Passion for People
As he got deeper into his own company, he realized why he loved it so much.
“I knew that I loved the electrical trade but I started to figure out why,” he recalls. “It’s really a pathway for me to help take care of people. And that means our vendors, our customers, and our employees. In fact, our mission statement is Taking Care of People.”
That made him a perfect partner and a perfect choice for customers to continue working with his company.
By 2006, in addition to his core business in the Wichita area, he had 25 to 30 people working in the Dallas / Ft. Worth area on construction of new QuikTrip locations.
“Then In 2010, QuikTrip asked us to help them in a brand-new market and at first they didn’t tell me where,” he says. “They wanted me to sit with their managers and project managers in meetings to interview general contractors for the work. They wanted me to be available to explain what their builds were all about.”
Jason agreed and shortly found himself on a private plane to Charlotte, NC. In 2011, QuikTrip got this market started but problems began surfacing. Two weeks before the first store was due to open, they called Jason.
“They had some issues and asked me to help them. I’m always the adventure guy. You put a challenge in front of me and I’ll take it on. I love to make it happen,” he says.
The next day, he and six other M&J employees arrived, they hired another six local folks, and they got busy. At 3:00 p.m. on the scheduled grand opening day of the first store, they passed inspection and opened the store at 6:00 p.m.
That morphed into M&J being asked to supervise or take over the seven other stores under construction in the Carolinas. Jason’s two very long work weeks morphed into more weeks, then months.
“We are probably three months into it and I remember calling my wife up and saying it’s beautiful out here in the Carolinas,” he says. “You should come and take a look. It’s gorgeous here, and I think there is opportunity for us.”
The next they knew, Charlotte was home and a new M&J division, while Wichita kept going strong. Jason proudly reports working closely with son Caleb in Charlotte.
Opportunity for IEC
As Jason found out, there was an abundance of work awaiting electricians in the Carolinas and especially in the Charlotte area. What was missing, however, was apprenticeship and training like he had come to expect in his recent years in Kansas through the IEC chapter.
There also were major differences in the requirements to work.
“In Kansas we have to have licenses or our electricians have to be journeyman electricians to run a job, to do service calls, all that,” he says. “And then as the owner, I’m the master electrician. Out here in the Carolinas, nobody’s licensed. The only license required is the master electrician as the owner. When I first came out here to interview guys for full time, I had interviews set up every 30 minutes for 10-hour days for 3 days straight. Not a single one had a license and I was like ‘why are you here?’ I didn’t know.”
These huge differences between his new home and the Midwest did not sit well with Jason. In the Midwest, because they had to go to school, pass tests, obtain education, electricians were well versed in the codebook and rules and regulations, and their electrical knowledge was greater.
“The guys in the Carolinas did not have the opportunity to get trained and have all the education that my guys in Texas and the Midwest did,” he says. “I thought, we need help out here.”
There was no IEC chapter around so he tried looking at the ABC but it didn’t have the feel he wanted and needed. IEC Kansas Executive Director Keely Turner introduced Jason to then IEC National chapter lead Walt Czyrnik and things started happening.
“We announced Greater Charlotte IEC provisional chapter status at SPARK in Louisville in 2022,” Jason says. “It finally came about, and I was more than excited, as it felt like there was really something here. It was the answer to a four- or five-year strong search and trying to figure out how am I going to educate people out here? And not just my people. I’m a believer in education. If the industry becomes better, it will obviously impact my business for the better.”
Jason stresses that he wants people to be successful and that if he learns something, he’s all for someone else learning it better and then he can move on to learn something else. That’s a philosophy his grandad instilled in him. School is so important to M&J that they have 17 students in the Charlotte apprenticeship program and 4 more in Kansas.
He notes that for many in areas that have not heard of IEC’s collegial nature, it can be tough to get their arms around it and understand the benefits. His Greater Charlotte IEC fellow members now have been energized through their participation. When they hear Jason’s stories of finding assistance through fellow IEC members, they are both shocked and excited to find this for themselves.
“They count on my IEC stories to learn more about what is possible,” Jason says. “I heard more than once at the beginning, ‘you mean contractors help other contractors?’ Then they were asking what can I do? How can I help? Now, I think they’re all signing up to attend SPARK because they feel as if they are missing out. And, they are missing out!”
The year has been busy en route to achieving full chapter status, which is to be announced at SPARK 2024 in Dallas.
“After that first Meet & Greet, we had our first contractors ready to join and together we chose who would have which board position,” Jason explains. “I was named president since I kind of got things going.”
The Greater Charlotte IEC has many ideas and plans, but has had to slow themselves down, prioritize their efforts, and think through plans. Their absolute number one goal was to be ready to offer the IEC Apprenticeship Program to first-year students by the fall of 2023.
That is happening, and it’s happening big time. They hired Rob Bradford as first-year instructor. They have facilities to hold their classes and labs. And, drumroll please, they have enrolled 40 students who began classes on August 15.
“I’ve got so many ideas rolling around in this big old bald head of mine,” he laughs. “It’s sometimes hard for me to remember that I am now part of a group who can help with putting those ideas into action. It’s a great feeling.”
Year One – Check!
The Greater Charlotte IEC Board, with assistance from IEC National, has accomplished the following as of mid-August 2023:
- Enrolled 12 contractor members
- Hosted two chapter awareness events for local contractors and an open house / apprentice orientation
- Hired Bethany Lerch, its first executive director
- Represented its chapter to legislators at the IEC 2023 Workforce Development and Policy Conference
- Accepted 40 students into its first IEC Apprenticeship Program to begin Fall 2023
- Hired its first-year instructor
- Celebrated its inaugural apprentice class with an open house and orientation
- Considered education for other levels, like OSHA training, project management, business estimating
- Discussed whether licensing should be put back in the state
- Begun workforce development efforts by meeting with career counselors, attending career fairs at local high schools and community colleges, and working with the Home Builders Institute program at Ft. Liberty.
- Grew membership
Know a geographical area not yet represented by an IEC Chapter? Contact Walt Czyrnik at email@example.com to see how you can help get things going like Jason!