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VOL. 126 | NO. 130 | Wednesday, July 6, 2011

‘Ask ABC’ Answers Construction Questions

By Sarah Baker

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The largest commercial and industrial construction association in West Tennessee is leveraging its size, resources and expertise to provide reliable and timely construction-related information to its members and the community.

West Tennessee Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors has recently launched the Ask ABC campaign, which positions the association as the authority on construction in the region.

Individuals with questions can log on to the chapter’s website, www.wtcabc.org, and click the Ask ABC logo on the homepage. The questioner then completes a short form and submits the question to WTCABC, who will respond with an answer and supporting material within 48 hours. Information seekers can also Ask ABC by calling or by submitting their questions via Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

Mike Carpenter, WTCABC president and CEO, said the concept came about as a member benefit for the association’s 200 member companies during a rigid economic climate. The West Tennessee chapter is the first in the country, Carpenter said, at launching a “go-to source” campaign that helps involved parties navigate the industry on this scale.

“We regularly get calls from members asking various questions, but kind of usually as a last resort a lot of times – they’ve researched it on their own, they’ve looked for information and can’t seem to find what they’re looking for and then it occurs to them, ‘Oh, well, let me call ABC,’” Carpenter said. “What we wanted to do was to say to our membership, ‘Ask us first, let us save you the legwork and the time; we probably have the answer or can get quick access to the answer.’”

The Ask ABC campaign has two phases. The first phase will introduce the program to regional media outlets and to the 200 WTCABC member companies. The second phases will target governmental entities, schools, other associations and private business.

“We don’t have a database containing all the answers, but we have relationships with contractors, suppliers, economists, attorneys, government officials and experts in many fields related to construction,” Carpenter said. “There is no one more capable of providing the answers to construction questions.”

The association expects a wide range of commercial and industrial construction-related questions, including those related to economics, wages, material process, labor and employment law, green building, construction technology, weather, and government rules and regulations. The West Tennessee chapter won’t offer advice, but will strive to put out timely information and data in the hands of questioners so that they can make well informed decisions.

“Some of the questions are as simple as how many days does it rain in the month of January in Memphis,” Carpenter said. “I’ve had questions about where you can get a template to develop a quality program. It’s more than just economic data or statistics. It’s about business operations, human resources – those kinds of things that are different in construction than in other businesses.”

The arching idea is to provide resources to the West Tennessee chapter’s membership, which has taken a dip from 2006 levels, Carpenter said.

“We generally retain somewhere between 85 and 90 percent of our membership on an annual basis, whether the economy’s good or bad,” he said. “Then we recruit a certain percentage of new members, so we’re down slightly but still holding firm.”

Members are about 65 percent contractors and 35 percent suppliers or associates, all of which have some connection to the commercial construction industry. Its 200-plus member companies generate more than $1 billion in annual revenue and represent thousands of local jobs.

The national federation – comprised of about 25,000 member companies – provides up-to-date information from employment to material costs. That’s something the West Tennessee chapter would like to eventually provide, Carpenter said, but not in the immediate future.

“In the past, we have partnered with the Sparks Bureau of Economics at the University of Memphis and they have been a great source for us for local data,” he said. “We have always wanted to have somebody local who could talk about the local construction market.”

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