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Collapse of housing drives contractors to public works

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Engineering contractors who used to work for private developers are now shifting their focus to public works, but find themselves unfamiliar with the agencies, the people and the new bidding and business rules.

In this difficult economic climate, like all businesses, contractors are looking to cut costs and address declining revenues. They are re-evaluating everything -- operations, staff, systems, investments, even their very approach to business -- to get leaner, cleaner and more efficient. And in every aspect of business, they are asking, "What's the return on investment?" including membership in professional associations.

Debbie Day, executive director of the local trade association, Engineering & General Contractors Association, answers: "EGCA has extensive contacts in the public sector and offers introductions, training, assistance in problem resolution and an early look at upcoming projects in nearly two dozen public agencies from bigger jobs at Caltrans, SANDAG and the Water Authority to medium and small projects from the county, the region's cities and the numerous water districts -- including, most recently, some in Riverside County, where EGCA is making inroads."

EGCA Vice President Mike Shaw, president of Perry & Shaw, adds, "Knowing what bids are coming in the next few months helps contractors plan staffing and chose among potential bidding opportunities, potentially passing on bidding a less appropriate job today to have the resources to bid a potentially lucrative job tomorrow."

Construction is a 'people business'

EGCA co-sponsors an annual Owner's Night with the Construction Management Association (CMAA) to allow private sector members to meet and dine with over 30 public agency managers and staff, giving contractors a leg up in developing crucial new professional relationships.

EGCA has an ongoing dialog with more than a dozen public agencies, tackling such issues as traffic control plans, approved materials (like push-on vs. mechanical joint fittings), payment for stored materials, changes to rock bedding requirements, use of recycled asphalt pavement, reducing trucking distances for hauling recycled waste by approving more approved recycling locations, adopting common standards, etc.

Learning design-build and lean construction

EGCA partners with other associations like CMAA and the American Public Works Association (APWA) to produce valuable workshops and programs that educate and offer opportunities to network with potential business partners.

EGCA's public works liaison, Dan Fauchier of The ReAlignment Group, reports, "As new delivery systems are chosen by owners, EGCA is helping contractors learn, for example, how to move into design-build, how to pursue bidding, how to network with design firms who might become subs or partners."

For EGCA, CMAA and APWA, Fauchier recently chaired a panel comprised of representatives of the city of San Diego, County Water Authority, Regional Airport Authority, Regional Port Authority, Hatch Mott McDonald, Simon Wong Engineering, Arrieta Construction, El Cajon Grading & Engineering and Ortiz Construction, at which contractors learned the ins and outs of doing design-build work and met potential engineering partners and subcontractors in an atmosphere of inquiry.

The advent of lean construction principles -- based on The Toyota Way -- offers major reductions in waste. Working with SDSU professors, EGCA is helping contractors understand these proven processes and meet other companies that have already made the transition to lean construction.

In these ways, when San Diego's EGCA members calculate their return on investment to members, they report finding a "healthy bottom line."

Surviving the impact of new air regulations

As the California Air Resources Board diesel emissions regulations have evolved, the one contractor association out in front has been EGCA. Contractors have benefited from finding out that to avoid fines they must keep up with portable equipment registrations and on-road truck smoke testing. Contractors have benefited in making wiser equipment purchases and sales by being among the first to learn the ripple effects of the new off-road rules. The return on investment in this one area alone may have meant survival.

EGCA includes staff training opportunities and mentoring small, emerging individuals and firms. And EGCA provides the opportunity to give back, as with recent contributions to returning injured military in the Hospital Back Pack program.

A voice and a guardian

"EGCA stands as a voice and a guardian against the steady onslaught of forces around us," says EGCA President Gene Brokaw, president of Premier Pipeline. "Together we are stronger. Together we enjoy a camaraderie among the best of our peers. The return I get from EGCA far outweighs any investment of time and money."

"As a kid I learned that no matter how hungry you get, you don't ever want to eat your seed corn," says Brokaw with grin. "EGCA is my seed corn, and I'm keeping it and planting it every year."

Related Link: www.egca.org

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