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What makes you so special?

It was a couple of months ago that the American Subcontractors Association of Wisconsin was renamed Specialty Contractors of Wisconsin.

Part of the reason for the change was because we dropped our affiliation with our national association. While we continue to support national policy initiatives that provide for fair relationships within the construction industry, our members told us that what was most important is what happened right here in Wisconsin. We decided to focus our efforts and in doing so, we also were able to reduce the cost of membership.

Frankly, we could have made a subtle change and used a clever construction industry acronym in the process, something like Subcontractors Association of Wisconsin (SAW).

But that didn’t tell the right story.

We picked Specialty Contractors of Wisconsin because it better reflected who we are as an organization. Yes, our members sign subcontracts, but that doesn’t necessarily make us subcontractors, at least not all of the time. Our members are just as likely to directly work for an owner as they are for a general contractor or construction manager.

Our members are specialty contractors not because they couldn’t manage all of the aspects of a construction project. Our members are specialty contractors because they chose to do one thing and to do it well. Their history is rooted in ownership dating back one, two, three, four and even five generations, when a talented and ambitious craftsperson decided to open a business. It’s not about what our members can’t do, it’s about what they can do and do very well.

When describing what we do, I often use a healthcare analogy. Our members are the brain surgeons, the heart surgeons and the oncologists. We know all of the basics, but we know a whole lot more about one aspect of the industry and so we make our living there. But unlike the healthcare industry, our members aren’t always held in higher regard for having chosen a specialty.

It’s time to look at the construction industry a little differently. A general contractor differs from a specialty contractor because they also made a business decision to do something and to do it well. What they do isn’t necessarily better, just like an electrical contractor isn’t necessarily better than a mechanical contactor. They’re different, and that’s the extent of it.

So we chose Specialty Contractors of Wisconsin to reflect a new view of the industry — a balanced view. Take a look at a typical construction project and you’ll find that specialty contractors are performing upwards of 80 percent of the volume of the project and account for the vast majority of the jobs — both on the jobsite and in the office — in our industry.

As an organization, we’re here to promote a new balance in the industry. We do that through improved breadth and depth of relationships. We do that through education, so that specialty contractors can make better, more informed business decisions. We do that through advocacy for reforms through negotiations and through the political process.

A subcontractor is someone who signs a subcontract. A specialty contractor is a highly-skilled company that contributes to our industry, sometimes as a subcontractor and sometimes as a prime contractor. It was time to adjust our thinking. And we think the change will do all of us good.

Jeffrey J. Beiriger is executive director of Specialty Contractors of Wisconsin. He can be contacted at jeff@assocmgmtservices.com or 414-331-2059.

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