Ohio Contractors Association
If you look on a map for Mineral Springs, Ohio, you might have trouble finding it. So while people living in the area long knew they could use a place for gathering and socializing, it seemed unlikely this need would be met. Who would organize and build it? Who’d pay for it?
In came the Ohio Contractors Association, or OCA, a trade association for heavy highway and utility construction companies in Ohio.
Informed of Mineral Springs’ need for a community gathering space by a local church, members of the OCA’s Columbus chapter donated time, tools and materials to build a basketball court near the church where youth could come together. While those contractors might otherwise have been at odds competing for the same jobs, they collaborated on this project, doing the grading and putting in the hoops; one contractor with equipment for painting lines added the finishing touches.
That’s the kind of community service work the nine OCA chapters do each year, say its senior staff and members of the nine chapters. And the extent of collaboration is among the reasons the OCA received the “AGC in the Community” award from the Associated General Contractors of America, or AGC, at the 98th Annual AGC Convention in Las Vegas, Nevada, this month.
AGC in the Community
The “AGC in the Community” award honors community service projects of AGC chapters and members, projects that include charitable giving through hands-on service and donations to charitable organizations.
The OCA encourages its chapters to engage in community work, but members say the chapters don’t need much prodding.
The OCA’s nine chapters—located in Akron-Canton, Columbus, Cleveland, Dayton, Toledo, Youngstown, eastern Ohio, north central Ohio and southwest Ohio—each have a volunteer executive committee that identifies needs in their area and tackles them with machinery, tradespeople, know-how, money and valuable time, with the aim of doing a project a year. Supplier members also chip in with material.
Projects range from walking paths to small bridges, the common denominator being that, though modest by construction standards, they’re too expensive or intimidating to non-builders. Their cost ranges from $1,000 to tens of thousands of dollars, and contractors donate dozens of hours to hundreds of hours to the tasks, not to mention heavy equipment.
“I think people are just kind of flabbergasted that there are these groups of companies that are making such a substantial investment that was almost beyond their wildest dream,” OCA President Chris Runyan says.
Community work that benefits contractors
The OCA encourages its chapters to engage in community work, but Runyan and members say the chapters don’t need much prodding. The community work gives competing companies a chance to work together for a common goal, and without the specter of timelines, members “are clearly enjoying themselves,” Runyan says.
Such was the case when the Dayton chapter refurbished a parking lot for an organization that supports people with learning disabilities—a project that included digging out broken asphalt, filling sunken areas, redoing the base, paving the lot and striping it. One member supplied the base stone and a competitor supplied the asphalt.
“We bid against each other all the time, but if we need help on one of our jobs, none of us hold a grudge. If equipment breaks down, we do work together to borrow back and forth,” says Mike Obert, community service chair of the Columbus chapter.
The projects help build morale internally, too. “The guys on the crew seem to be very happy to be doing it,” says Dennis Brunton, community service chair of the Southwest Ohio chapter. “There is always a positive attitude on community service projects; people just like to help.”
There’s also a public relations aspect. “A lot of times, the traveling public is only inconvenienced by orange barrels and things like that, and it’s a way to help people, and it also helps with some negative perceptions about the industry,” says Kevin Hollar, community service chair for the Toledo chapter.
Amy Volz, community service chair of the North Central Ohio chapter agrees with Hollar.
“A lot of times people tend to view construction companies as something that’s causing them an inconvenience in their daily lives,” she says. “This gives us an opportunity to interact with them and show them that our ultimate goal is to make their lives easier.”
Strength in numbers
The contributions OCA’s chapters make are significant.
In 2016, the Cleveland chapter replaced sidewalks and an entry way for Achievement Centers for Children in Westlake, Ohio. Thirteen companies contributed physical labor or supplies totaling approximately $25,000.
That same year, the Toledo chapter worked with Camp Courageous, a camp in Whitehouse, Ohio, for children and adults with disabilities. The chapter improved the camp’s existing roadway, added parking with recycled concrete and performed drainage work. Eight contractors and suppliers assisted, and rather than cut into the chapter’s budget for community work, they all donated their time or materials.
“When everyone works together, completing projects seems very easy,” says Jeremiah Johnson, community service chair of the Eastern Ohio chapter, which contributed 130 man-hours, $15,000 worth of aggregate, 90 hours of trucking service and 50 hours of heavy equipment usage to one of its recent projects.
In the Akron-Canton area, OCA’s local chapter aims for projects valued between $10,000 and $30,000.
“That’s a lot of money, but when you throw five, six different contractors or suppliers in the mix, it’s a much more manageable contribution for each company,” says Community Service Chair Jim Ruhlin Jr.
Occasionally, it’s a challenge for OCA chapters to find service projects because organizations don’t realize a heavy highway construction association would donate time or materials. Sometimes projects arise when organizations are stuck between a rock and a hard place, like when a food pantry in Cincinnati hired someone to repave its parking lot but ran out of money mid-construction. The Southwest Ohio chapter swooped in and completed the work.
“People are always very appreciative when you come and meet with them and they learn that they may have a pretty substantial project that they don’t have a way to get done and we’re telling them, well, we’ll just take care of it for you,” says Paul Lorenz, community service chair for the Dayton chapter.
“I like helping people out who are less fortunate but looking to make a positive change in their life. Sometimes people just need that little extra help to get or stay on the right path.” – Ruhlin
Collectively, the chapters raise more than $20,000 annually for scholarships given to local students pursuing careers in the industry. For instance, the Youngstown chapter provides scholarships ranging from $1,000 to $3,000 to Youngstown State University students pursuing construction industry degrees like civil engineering. The goal is to encourage young people to stay in the industry and in the area, and many scholarship- recipients go on to work at OCA-member companies.
Many chapters also make monetary donations to organizations such as United Way, the American Heart Association, Toys for Tots and The Salvation Army.
“We like helping members in the community,” Ruhlin says. “I like helping people out who are less fortunate but looking to make a positive change in their life. Sometimes people just need that little extra help to get or stay on the right path.”
Because OCA is an organization of path builders, it’s only fitting that its members contribute to community work that helps people smooth the bumps and roadblocks life occasionally presents.
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