Spokane Journal of Business

Spokane-area contractors hire former Vandervert workers

Strong construction demand said to generate jobs for those displaced

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Thanks largely to a strong economy, a couple of Spokane-area construction companies say they immediately hired several workers who lost their jobs when Spokane-based Vandervert Construction Inc. went out of business earlier this year.

Control of Vandervert Construction was placed under receivership on Feb. 2, launching efforts to liquidate the company’s assets and putting about 80 Vandervert employees out of work.

“It was unfortunate what happened,” says Barry Baker, president and CEO of Spokane-based Baker Construction & Development Inc. “There, but for the grace of God, go I. You sure hate to see anybody fail.”

With that said, however, the company’s closure enabled Baker’s 67-year-old company to hire a few former Vandervert workers to bring its current employee roster to 65.

“We’ve hired three or four employees from Vandervert so that’s the good news,” Baker says. He says the company was able to hire “a couple” of carpenters and supervisors each.

“They were field positions that certainly needed to be filled. The market is good right now,” he says.

Baker Construction currently is serving as the general contractor for the long-planned $22 million redevelopment project at the former Ridpath Hotel, at 515 W. Sprague, and the attached four-story east annex, known as the “Y” building.

In Spokane Valley, T.W. Clark Construction LLC owner Steve Sunleaf says that company was able to hire four former Vandervert Construction employees for positions that his company needed to fill immediately. Located at 1117 N. Evergreen, T.W. Clark now has 40 workers.

“We brought on two project managers, one superintendent, and a project engineer,” Sunleaf says. “I think we got some of their top-flight talent.”

Sunleaf, who served as 2017’s president of the Inland Northwest Associated General Contractors of America, says it’s no surprise that former Vandervert workers were able to get hired so fast.

Sunleaf says AGC member organizations across the U.S. are actively engaged in building their apprenticeship programs due to the construction industry’s aging workforce paired with a growing shortage of skilled workers.

“We have a major workforce development shortage in the industry, and it’s not just here, but across the country,” Sunleaf says.

The Inland Northwest AGC is an advocacy membership organization dedicated to providing support for commercial construction contractors. Founded in 1921, the AGC here is one of 95 chapters of the Associated General Contractors of America.

He says Vandervert Construction had many talented workers who were able to transition seamlessly to new construction companies without having to be retrained.

“You hate to see a long-time company with a history of a good reputation hobbled like that,” Sunleaf says. “But the upside is that the economy is strong, and there’s a lot of work in the pipeline keeping everyone busy.”

T.W. Clark currently is building the new Linwood Elementary School replacement project at 906 W. Weile, a $20.7 million Spokane Public Schools project. The 75,000-square-foot elementary school is being built on the existing playground.

T.W. Clark also has started construction of the $19 million new Riverbend Elementary School, at 17220 E. Mission, in Spokane Valley, for the Central Valley School District. The 64,800-square-foot structure is scheduled to be completed before the 2018-19 school year.

The construction company recently was awarded a contract to construct a $5.6 million addition to Cheney School District’s Windsor Elementary School, at 5504 W. Hallett. T.W. Clark also won the contract for a $6.1 million addition Sunset Elementary School, another Cheney School District project, which is located at 12824 W. 12th, in Airway Heights.

Sunleaf says construction on those two projects is scheduled to begin at the end of April and be completed in about 16 months.

“There’s a tremendous amount of work being bid—both government and private,” he says.

Though he couldn’t be reached for comment by the Journal before press time, Barry Davidson, who represents the law firm of Davidson Backman Medeiros PLLC, earlier had told the Journal, in a strong construction economy, the majority of Vandervert’s laid off employees had received job offers and were back to work before February ended.

One of Vandervert Construction’s creditors is Coeur d’Alene-based Innovative Electrical Solutions LLC. Innovative is owed $144,000, and Kayser says he had to lay off four employees who worked only on Vandervert properties. As of yet, Innovative hadn’t had any communication with Davidson.

Kayser says one of the workers he laid off relocated to Tri-Cities to find employment, another, the last time he checked, was still searching for work, and he’s lost track of the remaining two.

The company’s sudden closure also left owners of unfinished Vandervert projects having to quickly hire other construction companies to complete work.

Debbie Page owns and operates the Dollar Plus store at 2710 E. 57th on Spokane’s South Hill. Page’s husband, Russell Page, who owns and operates Russell C. Page Architects PS, of Spokane, designed the store that Vandervert Construction was hired to complete.

“We could tell it was going to take a lot longer (to finish) than they said it was,” Debbie Page said. Originally scheduled to open last October, the Dollar Plus store didn’t open until Feb. 19.

“We had to go and hire other people to fix some of the issues that often happen with new construction,” she says.

Spokane Superior Court records show that Vandervert owed 350 creditors—businesses, individuals, and government entities—in 13 states and one Canadian province a total of $18.1 million when the company ceased
operations.

On Feb. 14, after the company closed, Vandervert Construction said in a statement that it began facing financial troubles after securing contracts on substantial hotel projects in Washington and Oregon.

Vandervert Construction said in the statement, “In addition to the operating losses on the hotel projects, Vandervert Construction’s cash flow issues were compounded by nonpayment of third-party obligations that are owing to the company.”

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