Community without history is like white sauce without butter; it looks right, but it lacks richness. Reaching back to 1947, the Southwest Washington Contractors Association (SWCA) was established on the principles of collaboration before collaboration was the catch phrase all the cool kids were using.
The organization was founded by C.J. Hearns (the SWCA’s first president), Larry O. Collins and A.R. Nieman – contractors who understood that pooling resources, providing equal access to trade tools and even cooperation between competitors, made them all more prosperous than going it alone.
“When we were established, we were the brick and mortar plan room for the area,” said Darcy Altizer, the SWCA’s current executive director. “We held the blueprints in Hazel Dell for construction projects. We would hold the blue prints and that would allow contractors who wanted to bid on a job a fair process. We still have a plan room, but it’s all online now.”
Today, the SWCA is 360 members strong and with that show of unity comes a healthy roster of benefits that promote individual and community success. According to Altizer, the organization provides the following over and above an online Plan Center:
- A top-rated safety and retro program, where members save an average of 50 percent off their L&I premiums;
- Business seminars, safety trainings and certifications;
- A multiple employer 401k plan that reduces startup costs and the administrative burden for any business and/or industry;
- Annual scholarships and community service events through the organization’s foundation;
- Networking opportunities.
Lisa Littleton, president of Twice the Light and vice president of SWCA, can attest to the advantages of power in numbers.
“In 2010, I joined four business associations to network and build my business, one of which was SWCA,” Littleton said. “As a small electrical contractor with 10 staff members, my company immediately took advantage of the benefit of the Plan Center for bidding, SWCA’s 401k plan and the Large Group Contractor’s Exchange Health Insurance Plan, saving my company several thousand dollars.”
Since its inception, SWCA has advocated business to business relationships in a variety of ways, some of which have evolved to take advantage of the electronic age that has unfolded on their watch. In addition to membership directories, Altizer shared that over 45 structured events and education forums are offered annually. At these gatherings, member experts are encouraged to facilitate and/or present safety trainings, certifications and business seminars.
To further support networking, branding and a pool of expertise, members contribute content to the SWCA newsletter, “Construction Connection,” and other local publications that speak to the construction industry.
Even the online Plan Center has layers that allow members to solicit bids from other association members for their own projects. This strategy promotes a healthier local economy by keeping construction dollars in the pockets of area businesses and employees who will, in turn, spend their earned resources at area restaurants, retail outlets and the like.
With all the energy and knowledge each member brings to the table, the SWCA is a breeding ground for new concepts and strategies. Brainstorming, problem solving and innovation occur through their member-driven committees and board of directors. This network of perspectives compounds with every additional business that joins.
But isn’t it a poor business strategy to rub elbows with the competition?
Not according to Tracey Malone, vice president of Halbert Construction Services. Although SWCA is made up of many facets of the commercial and industrial construction industry, even within a specific sector there are small, mid-size and large companies that focus on different sized projects. As members meet at networking events, they can share their area of expertise and refer each other out in the field.
“I have always found it helpful to know my competitors,” said Malone. “In fact, often I get job leads that may not be quite suitable for my company that I am able to recommend to other contractors and vice-versa. We are all working together in this community and having good, friendly relationships with your competitors is healthy. I use multiple plumbers, electricians, painters, etc. I know that some are right for certain jobs and some are right for other jobs.”
The mindset of banding together professionally seems to have a trickle-down effect on how SWCA members view their role in the community at large. In 2015, the association partnered with the City of Vancouver’s Parks and Recreation Department to conduct restorative work at Marine Park. Last year, members came together to renew the SafeChoice shelters through the YWCA.
Individual members also catch the vision and step out where they see a need. Littleton shared that Twice the Light has rewired lighting at the Rocksolid Teen Center; stained picnic tables at a City of Vancouver park; and staffed Dozer Days to benefit local children’s charities through the Nutter Foundation.
By promoting business to business success, SWCA has built an organization of the most qualified people in the construction industry and that focus has created individual profitability.
“There is great power in numbers and doing business with other locally-owned businesses speaks directly to one of the SWCA core values; build a stronger community,” Altizer said.