The Go-to Group

 SWCA 02The Southwest Washington Contractors Association helps companies thrive.   

By Alan Dorich

The construction industry can be a difficult business, but for 70 years, the Southwest Washington Contractors Association (SWCA) has helped companies thrive. Based in Vancouver, Wash., the organization helps its members stay profitable and active.

Executive Director Darcy Altizer explains that three contractors founded SWCA in 1947. “[They] decided we needed a brick and mortar facility to keep the plans and help facilitate distribution among our community so they would have a fair bidding process,” she explains.

“Since then, we’ve expanded our menu of services for commercial and industrial contractors,” she says, noting that SWCA now has 365 members. “We have a four-tier level structure that helps support the objectives of a variety of members.”

SWCA’s many benefits include its plan center that allows contractors to bid and win more jobs. While the center used to be in a brick and mortar location, “Today, it’s all online,” Altizer says.

The association also offers business seminars, safety training certifications and a 401(k) program. “It eliminates the administrative burden for a small business to have a 401(k) retirement program,” she says. “We take care of that for our members from an HR point of view. It’s not more work added to their plate.”

Bridging the Gap

SWCA is seeing many trends in the Pacific Northwest, including an increased skilled labor shortage. “It’s really high right now,” Altizer says. “It’s really hard to find people to plug in to work the jobs, particularly in our region, Southwest Washington.”

This is despite the fact that the association’s county, Clark County, is the fastest growing in the state. “We have a ton of project development,” Altizer says. “There’s a lot of work and jobs, but we are challenged with finding enough employees to meet that need.”

Technology, she notes, helps SWCA’s members cope by keeping them efficient. For example, GPS helps them keep track of workers’ time by discovering how much time is spent traveling to and from project sites.

“A lot of our members also are starting to use drones, so they can have a visual up above on a project,” Altizer says, noting that this helps them save time by anticipating any land development challenges.

SWCA also has been able to offer assistance. “We help with connecting members and businesses,” she says, noting that the association has been able to nurture partnerships that make their work easier.

For example, if a contractor has a piece of work on a project that is not in their expertise, they can partner “with other contractors to take on that other piece of the job,” she says. “Our members amongst themselves also have member discounts.”

Finding a Place

Altizer sees strong growth for SWCA. “We’re working really hard at examining our resources provided to our members and making them as robust as possible,” she says. “[We want] to be that go-to organization for construction.”

She adds that SWCA has its Construction Executive Summit planned for next year in Vancouver. Its keynote speakers will include: Tiffany R. Couch, a principal at Acuity Forensics, a forensics accounting firm based in Vancouver, and Ron Frederiksen, chairman of RSV Building Solutions, a large general contractor also based in the city. 

The event, Altizer notes, will further help define the city as a center of construction. Vancouver, which is in the southern portion of Washington, is located across the Columbia River from Portland, Ore.

Although Clark County is very large with a population of 450,000, “We are not Seattle and we are not Portland,” she admits. “That’s a challenge for us, [being] between two huge metropolitan areas.

“We get lost in that shuffle, between Oregon and Seattle,” she says, noting that this challenge goes back to SWCA’s start in 1947. “The contractors [said], ‘We need a place for southwest Washington.’”

A Helping Hand

Southwest Washington Contractors Association (SWCA) has its SWCA Foundation, which operates with the goal of enhancing its region with education grants and community outreach projects. This includes a scholarship program that awards those pursuing educations in building and construction.

“The SWCA Foundation invests in future community leaders by offering financial assistance to students through funds raised by the generous donations of members,” SWCA says. “These awards are available to association members’ employees, their children and others who are enrolling in full-time secondary education. Students who utilize the SWCA Foundation Scholarship Program include those seeking technical training, leadership skills and a wide range of degrees from various colleges.”

 

 

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