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Bill isn’t complete fix for in-state contractors

February 24, 2011 in News, Opinion

Casper Star Tribune Editorial

Legislation making it more difficult to qualify as a resident contractor in Wyoming has sailed through this session of the Legislature. The bill is an appropriate response to the fact that out-of-state contractors are taking advantage of loopholes in the current law to receive the state’s resident contractor preference, and undercutting firms that are actually part of our communities.

But that change in the law only addresses part of the issue of public entities picking out-of-state architects and contractors for construction projects that local contractors are perfectly capable of handling. Fixing the overall problem will require a bigger change in the mindset of our elected and appointed officials.

The state’s 5 percent preference for resident contractors applies only to competitive bidding when specific dollar amounts are included. The new legislation will help in those situations by requiring corporations to earn resident status by doing much more than opening an office in Wyoming.

But when public entities select contractors through the “construction manager at risk” process — an increasingly common approach — contractors are often selected based upon factors other than cost. In some cases, boards or committees interview potential general contractors and then decide which companies will even be allowed to submit dollar-amount bids. Other times, companies are chosen without any cost-based bidding.

Such was the case with the Natrona County School District and the Wyoming School Facilities Commission in the recent selection of architects and construction managers for tens of millions of dollars of renovations to Kelly Walsh and Natrona County high schools. Out-of-state architects were chosen for those projects, and the two firms picked to be construction managers at risk are basically out-of-state companies with offices in Wyoming. With no cost-based bidding involved, the companies were selected following interviews, presentations, experience and other criteria.

There’s no reason to question whether the selected companies are capable of doing the jobs. But there are also a number of in-state firms that can handle the work as well. And the decision-makers need to recognize that choosing local contractors does more to boost the economy, as the construction dollars circulate here many times, provide many local jobs and benefit the community’s tax base.

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