SWCA turns 60

View video of Tom Collins talking about SWCA's history in Clark County here! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VBQzwHb4b8E 

Larry Collins founded the Vancouver Contractors Association – known today as the Southwest Washington Contractors Association – with eight other general contractors in 1946.

SWCA had two main goals to make project plans available to area contractors, and to give contractors a support network and forum for discussion.

Plan center at the heart

SWCA’s hub is the plan center – SWCA purchases project plans from Longview to Salem and beyond. Contractors come to review the plans and bid on projects. 75-year-old Bob Gaudet, retired owner of R&L Sheet Metal, looks back.

“The plan center was pretty important,” said Gaudet. “We wouldn’t know about the plans otherwise.”

SWCA, a non-profit, offers access to plans at about half the cost of other Oregon-based, for-profit centers. Randy Graves, SWCA executive director, said that the plan center is expanding its coverage, extending north to Seattle and west to the coast. Graves estimates that the plan center usually has more than 100 plans at any one time.

SWCA puts their plans online. Although the process began in 2000, it has only taken off this year. Six months ago, only 25 percent were online, where now it is closer to 80 percent.

Foot traffic at the plan center has slowed down due to online plans. Whereas it used to be crowded – maybe seeing 50 to 60 people per day – now there may be only 10 to 14 per day, said Graves.

“It’s a big advantage to members who are further out, such as in Washougal or Kelso,” he said.

Jerry Schmaltz, president of Precision Rebar and Accessories Inc., remembers when, on bid day for a government contract, a contractor would have to drive all the way to Olympia, stake out a phone booth, call the plan center for the right numbers to plug into the bid, then “make a mad dash from the phone booth to the capitol” to put in the bid. Now, said Schmaltz, it’s done by computer and cell phone.

At your service

SWCA provides other services to its members. The association offers health insurance, certification classes and plan printing.

One popular program is the L&I retro trust, started in 1998 while Lance Barrett, CEO of Barrett and Co. PLLC, was SWCA president. The program allows members to self-insure for workers’ compensation. If their safety records are good, they get up to 50 percent of their payments back. Barrett said the program had returned up to $1.5 million each year to participants.

Other services, said Schmaltz, who served as SWCA president in 1980, include helping solve disputes between property owners and contractors and establishing standard construction practices.

SWCA, said Barrett, serves as a forum for contractors to discuss business issues and learn from each other’s mistakes and successes.

“It’s pretty powerful,” he said.

Starting in September, SWCA will hold First Friday breakfasts. The first speaker will be from Washington State University Vancouver, talking about construction projects on the Vancouver campus.

Just for fun

SWCA is definitely not all work. Tom Collins – grandson of Larry Collins, project manager and estimator for the Larry O. Collins construction company and SWCA president in 2002-2003 – described SWCA as a “highly social group,” going on fishing trips, dinners, trap shoots and golf tournaments. Gaudet recalls that the plan center used to serve cookies and coffee.

“Sometimes I’d stop by just for the cookies,” said Gaudet. “It was a fun place to go – good people to work with.”

Building a community

SWCA membership has grown from 180 members in 1998 to 250 members this year, and the mix has changed. In the old days, it was mostly general contractors and subcontractors. Now, said Schmaltz, there are more suppliers joining, with members representing a “broad spectrum of the construction industry.”

Jackson said SWCA’s overarching goal is to better the construction industry in Clark County and the community as a whole – and then give back to the community. To that end, SWCA plans on “adopting” a non-profit construction project each year. Graves said the first RFP would go out in January 2008.

“SWCA is a well-kept secret,” said Graves. “Our goal is to get our name out there as a positive part of the community.”



Longtime SWCA members provide a historical perspective on the changing construction landscape. Projects now routinely include:

•    Larger and more technical equipment

•    Increased labor costs

•    Increased scope and cost of projects

•    bull;New payroll positions, such as land use management,

run-off control and safety management

•    Longer, more costly permitting processes

•    More complicated contracts

•    bull;No construction “season” – now it’s 24 hours a day, six days a week, year-round.



The public is invited to help the Southwest Washington Contractors Association celebrate its 60th birthday with appetizers, fine wine and music and dancing by the Sandin Wilson band. Long-time SWCA member, Rehfeldt Construction Inc., is sponsoring the event.


When: 5:30 p.m. Sept. 8

Where: Bethany Vineyards, 115 N.E. 259th St. in Ridgefield

Cost: $50 per person

Contact: 360-694-7922, ww.swca.org



Location: 7017 N.E. Highway 99, Suite 214

Hours: 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday

Dues: $600 per year

Phone: 360-694-7922

Web: www.swca.org

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