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Posted on Mon, Aug 13, 2012 : 6:13 a.m.

Annual UA training at WCC brings 2,200 visitors and $5M into Ann Arbor area

By Janet Miller


Banners welcome visitors coming to Ann Arbor for the annual UA training sessions at Washtenaw Community College.

Angela Cesere |

While there is no expensive art and no bare-chested men painted maize and blue, the United Association packs a wallop when it comes to fueling the local economy.

The United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry (UA) brings about 2,200 visitors and $5 million into Washtenaw County each August as its members and instructors gather for a week of training held on the campus of Washtenaw Community College.

They fill Washtenaw County hotels and at night spill into area restaurants and bars, T-shirt shops and retail stores. They rent cars, fill their tanks and even visit the dentist.

While the Ann Arbor Art Fair and the University of Michigan football games are higher profile tourism magnets, for 23 years the UA has saved the sluggish month of August from being a bust for hoteliers, restaurant owners and retailers.

“They make August wonderful,” said John Staples, general manager of Weber’s Inn. “Before the UA came, August was a struggle.”

It’s one of the largest groups to visit Ann Arbor, said Mary Kerr, Ann Arbor Area Convention and Visitors Bureau president and CEO. “It has a huge impact, not only on hospitality but also by bringing national visibility to Washtenaw County.”

The CVB erects welcoming banners around Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti downtowns, distributes welcome buttons to hospitality staff around the county and supports a 24-hour hotline to help UA visitors find rooms, restaurants, even on-call dentists.

The UA also fills up WCC during an otherwise quiet time, taking over the entire campus. Many local companies outside the hospitality industry also benefit, including special equipment suppliers, rental companies and food service vendors, said Janet Hawkins, associate director of public affairs at the college.

Weber’s Inn blocked off most of its room for the UA between Aug. 11-17, Staples said. Countywide, UA members book close to 2,000 rooms each night.

“They fill virtually every hotel room in Washtenaw County for a week,” Staples said. “If we had a thousand more rooms, we could sell a thousand more rooms to the plumbers. It a tough week to get a hotel room.”

Since they started visiting in 1990, UA members have booked 201,000 room nights countywide, Staples said.

The art fairs usually don’t fill all of Ann Arbor hotel rooms, Staples said. Because the plumbers are in town for a full week compared to the four days for the art fairs, the plumbers generate more revenue for Weber’s than the artists and art lovers, he said. And the plumbers spend more in the restaurant and lounge than the art fair crowd.

For the week they are in town, the plumbers account for half the traffic at Conor O'Neill's Pub in downtown Ann Arbor.

“We have a lot of repeat customers, regulars, if that can be said of someone who comes once a year but every year,” said Caroline Kaganov, general manager.

The pub’s Monday Trivia Night is cancelled to make way for the plumbers, but the menu remains the same. “The UA’s demographic is different from art fair. There’s lots of guys who buy burgers and steak and beer,” Kaganov said. “Our menu appeals to the plumbers and pipe fitters. If we were selling sushi, perhaps we’d need to change our menu.”

The UA’s reach goes beyond the week. They helped pave the way for the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee of the National Electrical Contractors Association and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to hold their weeklong training program in Ann Arbor at the end of July and early August since 2009. They also helped bring the Iron Workers to Ann Arbor beginning in 2010, holding a much smaller training program during art fairs.

While not as crowded as the art fairs or as raucous as a football game, the UA has found ways to weave itself into the community.

One is the Community Block Party scheduled for Monday night blocks off a portion of Main Street in downtown Ann Arbor to make way for hot rod, classic and muscle cars along with live music and outdoor dining. The block party runs from 6-10 p.m. on South Main Street between William and Huron.

New this year is a 5K run and Fun Run Pub Crawl that will be held Monday night and benefits the Semper Fi Fund, a non-profit that provides medical care and financial help to servicemen and women wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq. Retired Major General Matt Caulfield and Retired Colonel Nick Marano will come to Ann Arbor to start the race.

Business owners aren’t the only ones happy to see the UA come to town. Wait staffs and other service workers also look forward to the visit, Staples said.

“The UA members are generous tippers.”



Tue, Aug 14, 2012 : 12:06 p.m.

djacks24, you are sadly mistaken about WCC. WCC has the largest HVAC, Welding, Plumbing Pipefitters and Automotive programs in Michigan and the US. All programs have won national awards. Yes, the College does provide assistance with students that want to transfer to UM or EMU but that is not the only focus. Also, WCC provides the County with the number of students that are taking classes during this week which helps with the number count. EMU does benefit because the graduation program is held at their Convication Center.


Mon, Aug 13, 2012 : 9:41 p.m.

Seriously, my comment was removed for suggesting WCC is more concerned with pumping EMU and UM full of transfer students rather than give students these kinds of marketable skills?


Thu, Aug 16, 2012 : 12:05 p.m.

EMU's graduation rate is not really reflective, transfer students are not allowed to be counted in the graduation rate - only students who start at EMU as freshmen and graduate within five years are. Many of EMU's students work to put themselves through school and take longer to graduate.


Tue, Aug 14, 2012 : 12:50 p.m.

Perhaps your comment was taken down because it is off topic.

Elijah Shalis

Tue, Aug 14, 2012 : 12:39 p.m.

Heaven forbid a student transfers in to EMU and U of M. EMU's graduation rate is just 39%. Yikes. U of M's is 88%. Heaven forbid a student wants to save money by going to a community college for two years instead of spending it on outrageous tuition.

Laurie Burg

Mon, Aug 13, 2012 : 9:48 p.m.

Your comment was removed because it is not true, I'd be willing to bet. You are sadly uninformed about WCC, djacks.


Mon, Aug 13, 2012 : 4:34 p.m.

Haab's in downtown Ypsilanti has been welcoming the convention every year with really cool swizzle sticks. Yet another reason to love Haab's. I can remember the first year the convention came to Ypsilanti. I was working at an area restaurant and I never met more generous, kind, fun-loving people in my life than the plumbing and pipe fitters. Welcome back for year 23.


Mon, Aug 13, 2012 : 3:10 p.m.

Even Deja Vu has Welcome UA on their marque. Just saying.

Linda Diane Feldt

Mon, Aug 13, 2012 : 2:22 p.m.

And all of these groups are here because Michigan is union friendly. The National Training Institute used to meet in Tennessee. They came here because they wanted to invest in a union friendly environment. The University of Michigan's use of union labor is a common topic of conversation with these union visitors. We just got a huge payback for backing union labor, as well as the value of using skilled trades. Which is what these training sessions are all about - achieving additional skills. I talked to dozens of the NTI visitors when they were here earlier, and they were unanimous in praising the University of Michigan, the visitors bureau, the restaurant staff, and everyone they had met for making them feel welcome. They can tell we're happy to have them here. It is a win-win for everyone. They love Ann Arbor, and you know they're sharing that excitement with even more people when they get back home.


Tue, Aug 14, 2012 : 3:24 p.m.

I would say a good majority of that payback is lost when unions charge 10 times a normal rate for doing half the work in twice the time. I'm sure there are exceptions, and philosophically the need for unions is real, but unions have the same proclivity to take advantage that the hiring body does. I have experienced multiple scenarios in which I lost incredible amounts of money (having booths at trade shows and conventions, for example) because I had to pay $400 or $600 for 3 guys to run an extension cord from a wall socket to my booth and put duct tape over it. As I say, I'm sure there are exceptions, but I have seen only the bad part of unions in my personal experience, and it has happened multiple times.


Mon, Aug 13, 2012 : 3:28 p.m.

I'll take union craftsmenship everytime. Especially in the Buiding Trades.

Jeffersonian Liberal

Mon, Aug 13, 2012 : 2:36 p.m.

Of course the goonions love our state Linda, our politicians feed at the union troughs. Municipalities and state institutions that are forced to pay inflated wages for projects that could be completed for far less money and completed in shorter time. And don't believe the BS about quality, I'll put the workmanship of non union workers up against the union anytime. But hey, if your ok with our tax dollars being thrown away on over budget projects that take twice as long and usually have to be redone enjoy.


Mon, Aug 13, 2012 : 1:37 p.m.

Doesn't anyone ever question where the Ann Arbor Convention Bureau gets its numbers? $5m for 2,200 visitors means they are spending on average around $2,300. I travel a decent amount for work and rarely spend more than $1,500 and some of that expense is the conference registration and transportation, neither of which go to the coffers of the city I am visiting. As to food, I usually have one nice/expensive meal in the city but don't do that every night - just like when I'm at home. At least the count of the number of visitors is probably accurate compared to the guesstimates of the throngs that visited Ann Arbor for Art Fare.


Tue, Aug 14, 2012 : 3:04 a.m.

The 110,000 fans attending the Winter Classic are suppose to bring $15 million to local coffers. So how do 2 percent of the 110,000 fans bring in 33 percent of the estimated revenue.


Mon, Aug 13, 2012 : 5:57 p.m.

The number being used for this number is the following: -not only are there participations but also over 300 instructors who come to teach classes who stay and eat - these participants are not going to McDonalds three times a day they are going to local businesses and spending good money. -The UA has started a new program with the UM, UM gets a large service fee and also can send their own instructors. -some of the instructors are from WCC who teach, the UA pays their wages this week - the UA pays for extra work for so many WCC employees to work extra during these two weeks to make this a great experience for all. - not only are there participants, but vendors, and young students who come to learn the trades. This is just an explanation for SOME of the 5 million. The UA brings money to the community and the educational systems around the Ann Arbor, why would you question their effect on the community when it is so great. The conference also paved the way for two more conferences to come to town and bring a ton more money to the community.

Laurie Burg

Mon, Aug 13, 2012 : 4:52 p.m.

They are also paying for the use of facilities at WCC. It's not just the hotel and food. Perhaps if you counted everything they use, your numbers might approach reality.


Mon, Aug 13, 2012 : 4:15 p.m.

I wonder the same thing. 2,200 hotel rooms at $90 per night is $198,000 x 5 nights = $990,000. IRS allowable per diem is $56.00 per day in Ann Arbor (about $616k total). Throw in another $150 per person for miscellaneous. I can get the total to $1.94million.


Mon, Aug 13, 2012 : 1:29 p.m.

I wonder if the UA believe in "Build Baby Build"!

Chip Reed

Mon, Aug 13, 2012 : 1:18 p.m.

Remind me why we needed another convention center, when WCC and EMU have perfectly good facilities...

My life

Tue, Aug 14, 2012 : 2:01 p.m.

WCC and EMU do have good facilities. Colleges and Universities put their own schedule (sports, special events, etc.) first, as they should the students and their programing comes first. Most conventions book a few years out and most college event dates are not firm years out. Other business can sometimes fit around the gaps, but sometimes conferences can't work with the dates or the space as it's not configured like a convention center and doesn't always meet their needs.


Mon, Aug 13, 2012 : 12:49 p.m.

Note to A2 citizens: Might not want to book your wedding on the UA weekend - the hotels all tell you you're out of luck for holding rooms for your guests. Made that mistake last year!