The National Association of Tower Erectors recently underwent a rebranding and tagline change to become “NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association.” Todd Schlekeway, whose title has changed from executive director to President and CEO, took time out to discuss the reasoning behind the rebrand and the future of the association and its membership.
AGL eDigest: Describe the process of coming up with a new name and tagline.
Schlekeway: From the start, our mantra was ‘honor the past and capture the future.’ That was the goal of the rebranding. We made the decision that we would launch the new look and tagline to coincide with the celebration of our 25th anniversary NATE UNITE conference and trade show that was held February 17-20 in Raleigh, North Carolina.
We are extremely proud of NATE and the impact that we have had over the last 25 years. We wanted to keep the NATE acronym, as we have a quarter century of excellence and equity built up in that name. With our new tagline, we believe it tells the story of the work our members are already doing in a more clear, concise fashion and to a larger, more diverse audience.
AGL eDigest: How does the new tagline better reflect your current membership?
Schlekeway: Our members continue to build and maintain macrotowers and install network equipment and technology at these sites. That is our bread and butter. But we also have a lot of contractor members that are also installing DAS systems at in-building venues such as airports, stadiums and shopping malls. We have members directly involved with the broadcast repack work, FirstNet deployments, utility collocations and fiber trenching, not to mention working in the emerging technology sector, such as unmanned aerial system (UAS) service provider companies.
AGL eDigest: How will your new name help you with your mission?
Schlekeway: We think it will help us better describe the versatile nature of work our member companies perform on a daily basis to enable connectivity; whether we are out talking to prospective member companies, media representatives, stakeholders from government agencies or lawmakers and staff on Capitol Hill. If there is a connection being made, whether it is wireless, wireline or broadcast signals, we think there is a good chance a NATE member helped make it happen. That is the story we want to tell.
Additionally, we believe this tagline will help us with our workforce development objectives as we seek to recruit a new pipeline of workers into the industry through strategic outreach to high school students and by establishing more programs at community colleges and technical institutes.
AGL eDigest: Will your mission change with the new name?
Schlekeway: First and foremost, safety is our hallmark. It remains our top priority. It is why we were founded 25 years ago, and it is still central to our mission statement. That won’t change.
The new-look NATE will, however, position us to continue to enhance our influence by continuing to invest in other priority areas such as workforce development, women’s leadership initiatives, legislative & regulatory advocacy and offering additional tangible membership benefits, to name a few.
AGL eDigest: How will your association serve the needs of communications infrastructure companies outside of macrotowers?
Schlekeway: The consensus standards that govern tower construction, maintenance and safety all have NATE’s imprint on them, but we also have a small cell and DAS committee that is starting the process of developing resources that are specific to 5G deployments such as working around electrical lines, right-of-way work, traffic management and bucket truck safety protocols. Additionally, NATE has a UAS Committee that continues to develop guidelines and resources that we ultimately believe can help get commercial drone operations to scale in our industry.
The new, expansive tagline allows us to keep pace with the evolving nature of the industry and develop more safety resources in activities taking place at grade level and below grade level, to supplement what we have created for tradition macrotowers above grade.
We are also serving the needs of communications infrastructure companies by supporting industry efforts to scale nationwide, portable technician certification initiatives through the National Wireless Safety Alliance (NWSA). Our legislative and regulatory advocacy also seeks to increase the number of deployment opportunities for our members, through access to additional industry spectrum and by efforts to streamline the regulatory environment.
AGL eDigest: Will the new tagline help you expand your membership?
Schlekeway: Our membership, which currently numbers 960 companies, has never been higher. Our next benchmark goal is to reach 1,000 members. We think the new tagline and rebranding will help us get there.
We all know where the industry is heading. We are early into the deployment of 5G. The convergence of fiber and wireless and edge computing are going to play a role in our growth.
For example, last year, I was walking the floor of an industry fiber conference and realized that our members already do much of that work on display at the event. I walked away saying to myself that some of those companies at that conference should be NATE members.
We want to have an impact on all sectors of this very diverse communications infrastructure ecosystem by bringing them under the NATE umbrella. We can assist these companies by leveraging our subject matter expertise, with our standards resources, our safety materials, through our legislative and regulatory advocacy and by offering tangible membership benefits.
The bottom line is, the industry is evolving and we are entering a very exciting 5G deployment cycle. Whether it is macrotowers, small cells, DAS, fiber or edge computing, there is a place for companies within NATE.