The Inland Pacific Chapter of Associated Builders & Contractors Inc. has seen its membership roster return to prerecession levels, says Suzanne Schmidt, the chapter’s recently installed president and CEO.
With construction volume also on the rebound, the next biggest challenge for members—and throughout the construction industry—will involve developing a sustainable workforce, Schmidt says.
She says the chapter here has 270 members, which is higher than its peak in 2008, before a two-year decline in membership attributed to the Great Recession. Most of the chapter members are small businesses with 25 to 30 employees.
She says she suspects at least some of that recent growth is due to the success of the chapter’s participation in a statewide occupational safety and injury claims management program called Retrospective Rating Plan.
“We saw an increase in membership in May, June, and July,” Schmidt says.
The chapter’s core membership also helped recruit businesses they work with, she says.
“It wasn’t so much from new companies forming,” Schmidt says of the rebound. “Most new members are established businesses.”
Schmidt was appointed the chapter president and CEO in June, although she has considerable experience working with ABC, starting in 2003.
Prior to her current position, she had been vice president of member benefits, overseeing the chapter’s health benefits program and administering its participation in the Retrospective Rating Plan.
The “Retro” program is one of the biggest benefits to members, she asserts.
The Washington state Department of Labor and Industries-initiated program focuses on preventing claims through implementing safety programs, as well as reducing claim costs through professional claims management.
The Retro group at the ABC Inland Pacific Chapter provides professional in-house claims management.
The chapter’s Retro services include safety consulting and training. It also tracks cost savings attributed to safety improvements and efficient claims handling.
Members who join the Retro group can expect to earn L&I premium rebates, Schmidt says.
“Earlier this year, we returned a 48.4 percent refund for our members,” she says, claiming ABC Inland Pacific Chapter received the largest refund of any group participating in the Retro program in the state.
The ABC Inland Pacific Chapter also participates in an Idaho workers’ comp program on behalf of members there.
The Idaho program includes risk management and claims services that often save members thousands of dollars in their Idaho workers’ compensation insurance costs, she says.
Schmidt succeeds Bryan Taylor, who had held the position for about 10 months following the departure last year of Kate McCaslin, ABC Inland Pacific Chapter’s longtime president and CEO. McCaslin now serves in a similar position at ABC’s Keystone Chapter, in Lancaster County, Pa.
Schmidt says Taylor, who had been president and chief operating officer at Coeur d’Alene-based Contractors Northwest Inc. before taking the helm at ABC Inland Pacific Chapter, wanted to return to the construction environment and is now an executive at Thorco Inc., of Coeur d’Alene.
Before he left, though, Taylor recommended that the ABC Inland Pacific Chapter board of directors appoint Schmidt to lead the chapter.
“I was already through the interview and vetting process,” says Schmidt, who had applied for the position before Taylor was appointed.
The ABC Inland Pacific Chapter has a staff of six employees and occupies a single-story office building at 1760 E. Trent, formerly occupied by Robert G. Goebel General Contractor Inc.
The chapter’s headquarters are next door to Walker Construction Inc., an affiliate of which owns the building.
“Walker Construction is an ABC member and our landlord,” Schmidt says.
The 6,300-square-foot building includes 1,600 square feet of training space.
ABC is active politically, representing members’ interests at all levels of government in the face of increasing rules and regulations, involving issues ranging from labor to the environment, Schmidt says.
The association’s merit shop philosophy encourages open competition and a free-enterprise approach that awards contracts based solely on merit, regardless of labor affiliation, she asserts.
“ABC is all about merit shops, free enterprise, and protecting the ability of small businesses to operate the way they need to be competitive,” Schmidt says.
About 90 percent of the chapter members are nonunion.
ABC Inland Pacific Chapter posts a job watch in a weekly online newsletter for its members. The chapter also maintains an online plan room and has the ability to print out project blueprints for its members.
Those services are more in demand when work is scarce, which hasn’t been the case so much lately, Schmidt says.
“I’m hearing from many members, including general contractors and subcontractors, that they have as much work as they can take on,” she says.
The biggest challenge for members is workforce development, Schmidt says.
“I really see the need now for trained people, not just people,” she says.
Schmidt says she’s a member of a Spokane-area task force that includes other construction industry representatives who share the belief that workforce development is an industrywide issue.
She says the industry is struggling against a misperception that a career in construction is at best a secondary option behind the primary goal of obtaining a four-year college degree.
“In fact, construction is rewarding and can be a very lucrative career in which you can avoid college costs and earn money while working your way up,” she says.
The Inland Pacific Chapters is one of 70 chapters of the national Associated Builders & Contractors, which claims 20,000 members representing more than 19,000 construction and industry-related companies.
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