New executive director brings high energy to SWCA post

What he lacks in construction experience, Randy Graves makes up for in development success

As the new executive director of the Southwest Washington Contractors Association, Randy Graves isn’t spending much time at the office.

Graves, 46, has been busy meeting business leaders around the county, as well as SWCA members.

"He’s very self-confident and at the same time a very energetic individual," said Mark Schlecht, a project manager with Schlecht Construction and a member of the selection committee that chose Graves. "He made quite an impression on the recruitment team and set the bar high for all other candidates."

Graves will be expected, in part, to boost membership through event planning. SWCA is a nonprofit that gives its 240 members a chance to network and grow their businesses. The association also runs a plan center through its Web site and at its office, where members can view building documents for public works and large commercial projects. The center acts as a "clearing house," Schlecht said, and gives subconsultants a chance to find work to bid on.

Graves’ exposure to the construction and design community is limited to his college days. He spent seven years during and after college, working on a portable rock crusher and as a purchasing agent for Oregon-based Morse Bros., which recently changed its name to Knife River.

But it was his 20-plus years with the Boys and Girls Clubs of East Linn County, Southwest Washington and Portland metropolitan area that caught the selection committee’s attention.

"The position of executive director (at SWCA) carries a lot of similar characteristics as the Boys and Girls Clubs or a chamber of commerce," said Schlecht. "You’re working for a board and you’re carrying out the will of the board."

Graves said he always had a knack for event planning and fundraising. "I realized early that I wanted to work for nonprofits, helping raise funds," he said. "Going out and meeting people and asking questions – that’s where my strengths are."

SWCA sponsors monthly events, such as the Spring Salmon Derby, the Summer Bash at Bethany Vineyard and the SWCA Trap Shoot. Each event allows members to network and drum-up new business. Schlecht said that as the events improve in quality, the attendance increases. The attendance at the salmon derby earlier this month was double that of last year.

Graves said he has extensive experience in event planning and leading fundraisers. In addition to serving as executive director for the Boys and Girls Clubs, Graves was development coordinator for the APEX Foundation, where he led the effort to raise $1.2 million for the Kelso Babe Ruth Baseball Stadium. Most recently, he was director of development for the Firm Foundation Christian School in Battle Ground.

With so much fundraising experience, Graves should be able to boost membership and improve member services, Schlecht said, adding that growth in commercial construction in Southwest Washington has been strong in the last year and a half.

"Our aspirations for Randy are pretty high, and he knows that," he said. "We provide the tools, and he’s bringing the energy."

Graves predicted the transition will be smooth. "I’ve worked with kids groups all my life," he said. "Now the people I work with will have bigger shoes and more expensive toys."