Case Studies

Wyoming Contractors Association

Don't compete, partner up

During the depths of the Great Depression, contractors in Wyoming, like those in other parts of the country, competed fiercely for a limited supply of jobs. Their livelihoods depended on being awarded projects by the state highway department.

In this climate, it was tempting for contractors to view their peers as competitors, even nemeses, but not all contractors felt this way. In fact, a handful of them banded together in 1932 to create the trade association, the Wyoming Contractors Association (WCA).

Wyoming Contractors Association

The company that follows the brief history on the WCA is one of many companies that has partnered up through the association.

A brief history of WCA

When the association began, what surprised the founding members was that their most significant challenge was not each other. In fact, it was the state highway department, which didn’t have standards in place to determine which contractors were awarded projects. That meant contractors who had experience and worked hard to be reliable were grouped with all the other, less scrupulous contractors and subjected to the same unregulated bidding process.

Often, the contractors who did get state contracts didn’t complete the job, overspent or took far too long.

The WCA responded by creating committees to draft proposed standards for state contracts, codes and materials. At times, it even suggested legislation and worked with the state highway department to establish regulations. Ultimately, the WCA says its efforts ensured that jobs were awarded to capable contractors, not the slackers, and the organization played a large role in the professionalization of the industry in Wyoming.

As the organization grew, the founding members recognized that by cooperating—not competing—they could improve their collective interests. While the issues facing contractors in Wyoming have changed a lot since the Great Depression, the mission of the Wyoming Contractor’s Association remains the same today: to help its members address the challenges that they cannot overcome alone.

While a lack of government regulation was a challenge to the original founders of the WCA, today many contractors in Wyoming find governmental rules and regulations to be one of their obstacles. To prevent the government from imposing unrealistic demands on its contractors, the WCA maintains strong relationships with all state agencies, as well as key figures in the state legislature.

The association’s Executive Director, Katie Legerski, has a background serving members of the Wyoming congressional delegation and her relationships with legislators and state officials allow Legerski a voice at the table. By educating legislators and regulators, the WCA helps to make sure that contractors are treated fairly.

The WCA also helps its members speak directly to several of the state’s regulatory bodies. For instance, it has created a highway committee that meets regularly with the Wyoming Department of Transportation to discuss a range of issues. Through these meetings, the two parties are able compromise and solve potential issues before they become significant obstacles.

In addition to government regulations, workplace safety is one of the issues at the forefront of the minds of members of the WCA. The WCA educates contractors on having safety programs and encourages them to keep appraised of upcoming OSHA safety courses. The WCA also hosts its own seminars on safety at the WCA Regional Training Center.

While the Association does not oppose OSHA financial penalties for workplace safety violations, it believes these penalties are not effective. Instead, it encourages contractors to self-regulate by building a culture where safety records matter.

One of the ways it does this is through participating in the WCA and the AGC of America’s safety tabulation program, which requests that contractors voluntarily report their incidents. The WCA then honors those contractors with strong safety records at its annual meeting. Most contractors take great pride in receiving recognition through WCA and AGC of America.

The WCA also advocates for predictable infrastructure spending. The past decade, Congress has only approved short-term funding packages for federal infrastructure projects. That’s hurt contractors because it makes business uncertain—it is hard, for instance, for them to know how many employees to have on hand, or when to invest in new facilities or equipment.

The WCA has tried to mitigate the uncertainty of federal infrastructure spending by lobbying the state legislature to schedule routine investments in infrastructure.

According to Legerski, “WYDOT estimates that for every dollar not spent on timely infrastructure needs, $4 to $8 will be needed later.” The WCA works tirelessly to help state representatives see their long-term goal of balancing the state’s budget is consistent with regular spending on infrastructure projects.

Hiring and retaining qualified employees is one of their biggest challenges facing members of the WCA, and the association is committed to helping build a strong labor pool for its contractors. The association runs its own training program— the WCA Regional Training Center—which teaches intensive classes on a wide range of skills that are often overlooked in the mainstream educational system.

For instance, contractors can send their employees to take classes in carpentry, CDL driving, and heavy equipment. The WCA is also partnering with several entities and individuals to advocate for including more vocational training in the state’s k-12 school system.

Government regulation, workplace safety, funding for infrastructure projects, and workforce development all create challenges for contractors in Wyoming. By pooling their resources in the WCA, the state’s construction companies are able to address some of the industry’s shared challenges.

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