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Kelly B. Van Winkle & Alison L. LaValley - A Year of Success for the Roofing Alliance - PODCAST TRANSCRIPTION

Roofing Alliance Blueprints
February 21, 2023 at 1:57 p.m.

Editor's note: The following is the transcript of a live interview with Roofing Alliance President Kelly B. Van Winkle and Executive Director Alison LaValley. You can read the interview below or listen to the podcast

Speaker 1: Welcome to Roofing Road Trips with Heidi. Explore the roofing industry through the eyes of a long-term professional within the trade. Listen for insights, interviews, and exciting news in the roofing industry today.

Heidi Ellsworth: Hello and welcome to another Roofing Road Trips from Roofer's Coffee Shop. This is Heidi Ellsworth and I'm here today with a brand new year. It is 2023, and what a great way to spend the new year than with two amazing ladies in roofing. And that is Kelly Vanwinkle with King of Texas Roofing and Alison LaValley with NRCA and the Roofing Alliance. And in fact, Kelly is the president of the Roofing Alliance. So welcome ladies. Welcome to Roofing Road Trips.

Kelly Vanwinkle: Thank you for having us.

Alison LaValley: Yes, thank you, Heidi.

Heidi Ellsworth: I love it. What a great way to start the year, as far as I'm concerned.

Kelly Vanwinkle: Let's kick it off well, yes.

Heidi Ellsworth: Kick it... We've got a great... A lot happening this year. So a lot of great things and all the wonderful things that happened in 2022. And so we want to go over all that today. But before we start, let's start with a little bit more thorough introductions. So Kelly, can you introduce yourself, tell us a little bit about your company and your role with the Roofing Alliance?

Kelly Vanwinkle: Sure. Thank you so much, Heidi. I am the president of the Roofing Alliance, enjoying this year and working with tremendous volunteers from our industry to make wonderful things happen. I'm also the president and CEO of King of Texas Roofing Company right outside of Dallas in Grand Prairie, Texas. We do commercial work, primarily new construction, and we specialize in warehouses and large distribution centers. Origins of the company date back to the Great Depression, so I guess you could say roofing and roofing related causes and philanthropy has been in my bloodstream a long time.

Heidi Ellsworth: How many generations?

Kelly Vanwinkle: So my maternal grandfather in the Great Depression started roofing in Eerie, Pennsylvania. It was mostly residential back then, but we're in Texas now and a lot bigger than we were in the thirties.

Heidi Ellsworth: A lot bigger. Wow. That is so cool. Alison, can you introduce yourself?

Alison LaValley: Yes, good morning to everyone. I'm Alison LaValley. I am the executive director of the Roofing Alliance and vice president of strategic partnerships for NRCA. I have been blessed to be in this industry and actually with NRCA, I am just one month shy of 35 years. So I have grown up in this industry and as anyone will tell you, and Kelly will attest to, when you get into this industry, you don't leave. And it's because of the people. They become not only colleagues, but mentors and mostly friends. And for that I am eternally grateful.

Heidi Ellsworth: Wow. It took 30 years. I mean, 35 years. Congratulations, Alison. That's awesome.

Kelly Vanwinkle: Wonderful.

Alison LaValley: And I'm blessed every day.

Heidi Ellsworth: And along with that, the Roofing Alliance just celebrated its 25th year now. It's kind of over, but can you share with us a little bit of the history of the Roofing Alliance and just kind of what it is?

Alison LaValley: As you mentioned, we just celebrated 25 years and just to clarify, the Alliance is the NRCA Foundation. And since its inception in 1996, really we're talking about a dedicated, dedicated forum of roofing contractors, manufacturers, distributors, suppliers and industry professionals who have committed their time not only to trying to educate and better the industry through philanthropic outreach and research and so forth, but this group has committed more than $14 million to fund research and education and scholarships that really is enhancing the success of the industry and preparing it and securing it for its future, which is so important. And with those funds, we have been able to fund 53 successful research projects and really a lot of forward thinking responses to a lot of really, when you think about it, economic and technological issues, again, advancing education and training.

And then the community and the philanthropic outreach and the honoring of workers is beyond what I can even begin to explain about what we've been able to do for the industry. And I think looking ahead, we're protecting communities and we're really being a catalyst for innovation. And I say that because this year's board of trustees under the leadership of not only Kelly but Dave Lawlor, really looked at the organization and its vision and mission and rewrote those to talk about really protecting those communities, advancing research that is going to help members' businesses, and then also being innovative.

What's ahead, not only for the next 3, 5, 10, but what do the next 25 years look like? Which I think are really important to be talking about today. So all in all, we have 185 members right now and we've been able to bring in eight in 2022. So we were fortunate and people are giving up their time and energy and it's just really... I think we're on a really positive path to not only... I don't want to necessarily change the industry, but influence it. And in a really positive way, again, to help members' businesses, and really to help the industry overall. So I'm excited for what's ahead and Kelly has been a big part of that. She's been dedicated and talked about her sense of community and the philanthropic outreach and the importance of these volunteers. She sees that and believes that every day in the work that she's doing with the Alliance, and it's really come in fruition. So...

Heidi Ellsworth: The Roofing Alliance, I think, is so inspirational overall. And with everything that you're just talking about, Alison, and everything that's happened, it just continues to enrich and empower, I think, the industry and this level of professionalism. Kelly, I would love for you to share because your family actually was part of the establishment of the Roofing Alliance when it first started. So I would love for you to share your history, your family's history as part of the Roofing Alliance and really why did it... What kind of motivated the roofing professionals from the very beginning to help start the Roofing Alliance?

Kelly Vanwinkle: Great question. So back in 1996, a number of the prominent roofing contractors, people that were very, very active in the NRCA and whether it be people from the board or people that were on committees, some ex-chairmen, they got together and really determined that there was a bigger need. That there was a bigger need to serve the industry in general, to do good for people that worked within the industry, that worked for these roofing companies. And also to look at cutting edge research in roofing related issues, whether it be something with decks or something with certain materials, the need for research in our group. So they came together and made a foundation. There were a number of people that were right there from the beginning. My father was one of them, 1996. And then it just grew, it grew like wildfire. People became so passionate about the group and the more that the group did that was good for society, the more people came on board.

And as Alison mentioned, now we have almost 200 members today, and this has become something that no one could have ever dreamed. And I think what's also exciting, Heidi, is that some of the original founders in 1996... Maybe some have retired or some unfortunately have passed away, but sometimes people from their companies, whether it be their children or nieces and nephews or just people that have been in the company for many, many years have kind of taken the reins. And these companies now, some of them are in their second and third generation of Alliance volunteers, like me. I've taken up the interest and I've been the last 10 or 11 years involved in the Alliance. So it's fun to see that now the second and third generations from these roofing companies, from the original founders get interested.

Heidi Ellsworth: That's what I think is really cool too. Because I've been watching you, Kelly. I mean, I've been lucky enough to help and be involved with the Roofing Alliance and I've seen how active you've been in all of the committees and the finances and just everything to help bring the Roofing Alliance... Continuing to grow it throughout the years. And I know sometimes we don't all want to say this, but I'm going to say it. You are also the first woman president of the Roofing Alliance. And congratulations. You have done so much for the association and it's just so fun to see you as president.

Kelly Vanwinkle: Well, thank you. It's been quite an honor to be selected, but I have to tell you, most of the credit goes to the volunteers. I have an amazing group to work with. They make it so much fun for me. They are always willing to step up to the plate. And whenever the alliance needs to get a task accomplished, I simply just say the word and I have many people raising their hands. So I'm very lucky to have a great group of colleagues.

Heidi Ellsworth: That is so awesome. So in 2022... And this is this Roofing Road trips, we wanted to talk about what happened in 2022 and what's going to happen in 2023. So maybe Alison, can you share some of the top initiatives for the Roofing Alliance in 2022?

Alison LaValley: Certainly, and there are many. I think one of the biggest things that we talk about and we have committee work and volunteers working on is our construction management initiative. And really I consider that sort of an umbrella because so much falls under that. We've got a committee led by Allen Lancaster that meets multiple times a year to talk about a multitude of things. One, the biggest probably being our construction management student competition that happens annually. And we held our eighth, we'll be holding our ninth in Dallas at the IRE. And that student competition, it's something that we've really had to pace ourselves with and know that it has to grow this year. We have six schools involved coming up in Dallas, but it really opens the student's eyes to understand the importance and specificities of roofing, that it just doesn't fall under just construction.

That there is opportunities and intricacies that they have to understand and the importance, as we say, there may be a building, but if there isn't a roof to protect all of the contents, you're not going to have much success. So the student competition allows these students to read blueprints and understand and present, and they do a written proposal before judges to review, and then they present orally during the IRE. And it's amazing to see their eyes open up and understand roofing and understand the opportunities because of course, we're always trying to encourage them to see roofing as a career opportunity and all the different positions, whether that be on the contracting side or whether that be in manufacturing and distribution. And we've had success there. It's a slow process, but a viable one. And we've had many members hire a lot of these students from these construction management programs and these schools, and it's been very successful.

So that's probably the biggest thing. One of the newest things that I want to make sure that we touch on that we introduced in 2022 was our faculty retreat. For years now, we've been educating students, but we have to make sure that the professors and... Understand the importance of teaching roofing. And we were able to do that. One of the reasons we were able to introduce the faculty retreat and educate professors we've held to now and actually educated 27 PhD level professors in universities with accredited construction management programs. And we were able to do that because of the other large initiative that we've been working on really for three years now but it really saw its peak in 2022. And that was the development of a curriculum through Clemson University. Our partnership with Clemson and Dr. Dhaval Gajjar is... I can't say enough. Talk about inspiring, about opportunities for this industry.

There have been three courses developed through Clemson, elective courses, that have been offered to those students and then replicated that can be shared with any accredited construction management program in the United States. The alliance owns that curriculum that has been developed through Clemson. And when we share that, I'm not just talking about, here's a syllabus and have at it, we're talking about a syllabus, videos, curriculum for an entire semester's worth of work. And now multiply that by three courses. So these electives, it's the most well attended elective at Clemson. There have... Even through Covid when this started, we've been able to offer it online and in person of course now and has been so successful.

And so through this faculty retreat, we have been able to not only educate these faculty members about roofing, about other teaching techniques, but then share that curriculum with them to say, "Now that you understand roofing, here you can implement this." And other schools, Drexel University, Bradley University in Peoria and others have taken that curriculum and actually implemented it. So again, slow process, but we're in for the long haul, as I think Bill Good and Dennis [inaudible 00:14:49] a long time ago when we started this initiative nine years ago. We're in for the long haul, but talk about what a successful ride it has been. And I think Kelly can add on to my sentiments as well.

Kelly Vanwinkle: This involvement with the world of academia and the students and the professors, it's been a win-win for everyone. I mean, not only does it help us meet the next generation of potential colleagues, but they enjoy it. They enjoy having the experience of learning to estimate something in a competition or learning what is safety, what are best business practices for roofing. They love learning about all of that. And involving the professors and the academics, to Allison's point, that has been so tremendously successful. And doing this retreat and getting their buy-in, it just really works better when we have the buy-in from the actual universities. And working together, all of us hand in hand to provide opportunities for the next generation and to spread the information about our industry, let people in society know that we are a professional industry, we are a giving type of people, very philanthropic. So it helps get our message out to the broader community as well.

Alison LaValley: And one more thing, Heidi, I should add when we're talking about construction management now, and really something else that was new for 2022 is our partnership with Arizona State University. And so with that partnership... Actually those faculty retreats were held at Arizona State, but that's only part of what we've started to work on with them. The alliance funded the opportunity for us to partner with ASU to fund a fellow. That fellowship will be to a PhD student who aspires to actually have a career in academia yet teach roofing. They're going to help us and the alliance members, and we have a committee established for that as well. They're going to engage and conduct an innovative research aligned with roofing, sustainability and the building envelope, hopefully to have someone emerge not only as a leader, but an educator under the guidance of ASU faculty.

So I just learned the other day that they did accept a PhD student from East Carolina University. I just got that word over the holiday. They've been accepted into the program. So talk about some exciting work ahead for the Alliance in 2023. Because all of that will start to unfold and develop, again, working with members and volunteers to guide that research in the work that they're doing. And ASU also has hired a former leader from the industry to teach the Clemson curriculum at ASU in 2023. So we have another inroad to teaching that curriculum at ASU. So lots going on there too.

Kelly Vanwinkle: And I just wanted to add onto that quickly. What I think is so neat about that Arizona State opportunity is not only would that PhD then be able to teach, but as we mentioned, the research, that they would be able to research scientific issues related to roofing technology. And it's kind of great, it's a twofold opportunity for that PhD student.

Heidi Ellsworth: Well, and they have someone to look up to with Dr. Dhaval Gajjar, who did a lot of research before being able to start developing the courses. And I wanted just everyone to also know that... I mean, I know this may be obvious, but this is all funded by the Roofing Alliance, by what they do and the money they bring in, they're able to really start getting roofing into the universities, into construction management, which is huge and so exciting. I do want to make sure we also... Kelly, I know that every president who comes in has... They pick a couple things. Last year started the Bennett Award, which Dr. Gajjar won this year, which was so exciting. You've had some special focuses this year too through your presidency. Maybe you could share those with all of us.

Kelly Vanwinkle: Sure. I went back and looked at some of the programs that may have been a little more prominent a few years ago and thought, could we reincorporate those or bring those back to life a little bit? I want to work a little bit more with the Helping Our Own Program, which was a great program that the Alliance did for a lot of years, and see if we can keep that in the prominence. And the point of that program is funds are available for people that work within the roofing industry, if there's a certain need. We've had situations where a particular person working in the roofing industry maybe has a child that needs some surgery or a wife that needs some surgery or a prosthetic device for a child. And it's a lot of times the actual individual we're helping may not be the actual roofing mechanic, but it's someone from their family.

And the point of this program is to show that we care about the families of the people that are employed by our industry. Also, we have through some other programs scholarships. That's always been a thing with the Roofing Alliance, that we've tried to fund money for people to study. And I feel like that's very, very important. And potentially we can expand upon our scholarship offerings, offering people that are related to the industry, maybe children of employees or relatives of employees to then go to school using some alliance funds and continue their education. So I think that's important. Of course, all the work we're doing with the construction management schools that Alison has talked about is key.

But I also just wanted to remind everybody in this audience about the importance of the student competition at the IRE. And I want to issue an open invitation for everyone listening today to please come out to the IRE in Dallas. Please come to the actual student competition. It's 7:45 in the morning. Yes, I know it's early, but I think it's important to show support to the students and come see, come watch them make their presentations. Let's hear about what they've estimated. It's an exciting project. Globe Life Field in Dallas is where the Texas Rangers play, so it's a great stadium. I mean, what 22-year-old gets to estimate a very famous stadium? I think it's a lot of fun and it's a tremendous learning experience.

Heidi Ellsworth: And it is so fun to sit and watch those students. I mean, it is one of our favorite things to do. And the thing that's great is if contractors are in classes, but in between, or maybe they can come... Because you can walk in, there's four to five presentations and it goes all morning. So don't think, "Oh, if I can't be there the whole time, I can't do it." We want people... We want the students to see how much the industry loves them.

Kelly Vanwinkle: Yes. Each team makes a verbal presentation. They've already submitted their written presentations, and we'll see who sways us, which school sways us with their presentation.

Heidi Ellsworth: I know. I know.

Alison LaValley: And to your point, Heidi, about registering, one of the things that Informa did this year, which has been really wonderful, is this, you can register for the student competition and register for your classes if you're attending educational events. Before it was kind of an either-or because they're running simultaneously. But to your point, they can register for a class and then you can register for the student competition and come in and out. We have a little breakfast there if you want to stop by, if there's a particular school that you are interested in, and that'll be there. And you want to see just their presentation. But Kelly's charge is really, let's pack that room.

Allen Lancaster, who a lot of times talks to the mentors for those teams and those students when we meet them. They put a lot of work into this. These kids are juggling school, internships and regular jobs and other competitions. So it's a lot of work. And for them, a lot of times the prize is really not only being there, but seeing people there to support those presentations. So we're hoping for 200 plus in the room. We don't care if people are packed to the walls, we'll find other chairs and accommodate anybody that wants to come. So please. And if you can't come, we've said, then send your colleague, make it a point. So please come and support those kids. They need to understand that the roofing industry supports them and wants them and understand.

Kelly Vanwinkle: Yes. And there's one other program too, Heidi, that I should probably bring up. I would be remiss if I didn't mention it. It's been going on for a lot of years now, which is the Ronald McDonald Program. But what I'm excited about is just the enthusiasm of our members. We have a new house that's being constructed in Ohio and these Ronald McDonald Houses, for those of you that are not familiar, they're places where families can stay that are near hospitals where when children are receiving treatment, their families can stay for free. We have 165 in the United States, Ronald McDonald Houses that have been adopted by our alliance members.

We are responsible for anything from simple roofing repairs to full replacements to new construction of Ronald McDonald Houses. There's one going on right now in Ohio with one of our members [inaudible 00:24:48] with some of our manufacturer members, like IB Systems is helping, Hunter Panels, GAF. So really what's exciting about the Ronald McDonald program is not only is it contractors helping fix these buildings, but the manufacturers get involved. Maybe they'll donate materials that can be used in the construction of these Ronald McDonald houses. So it's an effort by everyone together. And I don't want to leave that stone unturned. Anyone who wants to participate and help out with the Ronald McDonald House, please let us know.

Heidi Ellsworth: Oh, talk about something that makes everyone feel great. And the involvement of the roofing industry overall to adopt every roof for every Ronald McDonald House in the US has just... Phenomenal. And that's been going on for, what, four or five years now?

Kelly Vanwinkle: Many years. Yes.

Heidi Ellsworth: So, oh, this is all so exciting. And so again, I hope we get to see everyone at the IRE, which will obviously... It's the student competition launching off this new 2023 year. I would love just any other thoughts on... Allison, let's start with you, on some key initiatives going... Looking forward to 2023 that people should be watching out for.

Alison LaValley: Definitely. One thing that I wanted to mention, when we're talking about the involvement with the alliance in moving forward, talking about really community. And it's the community not only that we affect, like Kelly said, especially through helping our own and Ronald McDonald House, but also community in the volunteer efforts on the committees. I want to let people know that we have 10 committees and task forces. And so we're working with all facets of the industry, welcoming really at an equal setting. Everyone has an equal say and vote in the alliance, and it even trickles into our affiliate organizations that NRCA has. And I would be remiss... Like with the Arizona State Initiative, we're working and partnering with the foundation from the Arizona Roofing Industry Foundation from ARCA, and also with a group of roofing contractors that are local to Arizona. So you see how we permeate really multiple levels of volunteers.

So it's also individual giving as well as the company effort. And so I would be remiss if I didn't call out those people. And also, when we're talking about affecting and communities and really working within the communities, it's our MVP program. Our MVP program where we honor workers, not only for outstanding leadership within the companies, and we're talking about workers in the field that are recognized, but also in the community. We have two categories where we honor those workers. And that's another thing along with the winners of the student competition that you will see honored at the awards ceremony in Dallas at the IRE. So I think it's important there. Starting off in 2023 and this year are the deadline for our scholarships due January 31st. Our Melvin Kruger Scholarship Foundation is our premier scholarship offering that was named after Melvin Kruger, an icon, a legend in our industry, former president of NRCA and such a wonderful man. Talk about giving and helping start the alliance.

So that scholarship's named after him. We've awarded over 150 students hundreds of thousands of dollars of scholarships over the years. So we renew scholarships and offer new ones every year to the tune of at least 50,000 or more a year. So again, another opportunity to give back, not only to the industry, but to prospective workers and students that can effect change and provide more innovation for our industry. A couple of other things coming up as going sort of back to Clemson, we will be debuting a roofing certificate program. Because those three classes have been developed, it brought enough attention to the university to offer a certificate program. Certificates will be offered to students at Clemson, not only from Clemson, but the Roofing Alliance will be awarding a certificate as well. And what is also key about that certificate program that will roll out this month actually, is that it is for industry professionals.

So whether you are actually involved in the industry or outside and want to learn more about the industry as an industry professional, you will be able to take that course. And again, Clemson will issue a certificate, as will the Alliance. So multiple opportunities, especially for anyone listening. If you have new employees or existing employees that want to learn more specifically about roofing, there's little tests at the end to test knowledge and so forth. So a really great opportunity. And one other that I will touch on is we will be continuing, as Kelly said, of course, with Ronald McDonald House efforts, and also really be, I think, having a keener focus on sustainability. We talk a lot about sustainability and resiliency, and the alliance, especially through this research that we're going to be doing at ASU, will not only be focusing on that, I think on the research side, but also possibly creating a committee just to talk about sustainability and what we can do from the Roofing Alliance to be more innovative in that arena.

Heidi Ellsworth: That's exciting. That is very cool. Kelly. What...

Kelly Vanwinkle: Yes. I want to encourage everyone, and that's really what I want to say today. If you have new ideas, if for projects or for involvement that we can have, whether it be an actual research project or whether it's a community service project, I really encourage you all to come forward with your ideas. No idea is too small and no idea is too crazy. We can manage a lot of things that you wouldn't believe that we could manage. So let's just give it a try, bring your ideas. And also please join us at our future events that we have coming up at the IRA. If you're interested in joining the Alliance or getting involved with one of our committees come out, we would love to welcome you and really show you all what we're about.

Heidi Ellsworth: Wow. Wow. This is so exciting. Some great stuff. I'm really excited about the sustainability, and I just have to echo your thoughts, Kelly, about people should step forward with ideas and with thoughts. I will say seven years ago, we took National Women in Roofing to the Roofing Alliance, and they were the first sponsor of National Women in Roofing. I'm not sure if everybody knows that, but the Roofing Alliance was key to the success of launching that program in that association. So you all are doing amazing, amazing things all the time. Thank you so much for sharing, and I can't wait to see you at the Student Competition at the IRE.

Kelly Vanwinkle: See you then.

Heidi Ellsworth: And you can get all this information on RoofersCoffeeShop in the Roofing Alliance directory. We are constantly adding information to there. We have a number of podcasts that we've done with Roofing Alliance Leadership that will give you all kinds of ideas and ways to get involved. So please reach out to these ladies. Please check it out, all on RoofersCoffeeShop. And again, Kelly, Allison, thank you so much for being here today.

Kelly Vanwinkle: Thank you.

Alison LaValley: Thank you for having us, Heidi.

Heidi Ellsworth: Thank you. And thank you, all of you, for listening and being a part of our Roofing Road Trips. You can catch all of them under Read Listen Watch on RoofersCoffeeShop.com. Just look for the Roofing Road Trip podcast or listen to them on your favorite podcast channel. Be sure to subscribe and set those notifications so you don't miss a single one. And we will be seeing you next time on Roofing Road Trips.

Speaker 1: Make sure to subscribe to our channel and leave a review. Thanks for listening. This has been Roofing Road Trips with Heidi from the RoofersCoffeeShop.com.

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