The Arkansas chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. is focused on growing membership and influencing legislation, and its leadership reports a longstanding interest in Northwest Arkansas that has only strengthened as the region’s commercial development has come roaring back.
ABC is a non-union trade association based in Washington, D.C. It offers industry-related education resources and networking opportunities to its members, while also looking to influence legislation and regulations through lobbying efforts, donations through the ABC PAC and multiplatform campaigns through its issue-advocacy arm, the Free Enterprise Alliance. The alliance’s primary campaign is “‘Halt the Assault’ on America’s free enterprise system.”
Members of ABC include contractors, subcontractors and materials suppliers, in addition to attorneys, CPAs, insurance agents and other service providers who work with construction companies.
Ninety-four, or 40 percent, of the chapter’s 237 member offices are located in Northwest Arkansas. The total number of member offices counts multiple branches of companies as individual offices.
“NWA has always been important to ABC, just because it’s just such a growth area,” said chapter president, Bill Roachell. He is based in North Little Rock, along with two other full-time employees at the Arkansas chapter base, but they travel frequently to Northwest Arkansas.
“NWA is booming again, and that’s exciting for ABC,” he said. “The work is coming back up here, and thankfully a lot of our ABC members are getting a lot of that work.
“If you drive up Interstate 49, and especially from Fayetteville up through Rogers, you see a lot of our members’ signs out,” Roachell said.
On one end, ABC touts itself as a source of information and support for its members. The Arkansas chapter offers Occupational Safety and Health Administration training and hosts regular “Lunch & Learn” meetings, which usually include a presentation and a question-and-answer session on a given topic — like, for example, the effects of updated overtime laws.
The Arkansas chapter keeps a dialogue with members regarding their educational needs through regional councils. In addition to NWA, the western, central and northeast parts of the state each have a council.
The councils work to recruit new members.
“We’ve got good members on our council who are membership-driven,” Roachell said. “They see how exciting it is when we get a new member, whenever they recruit a new member. It kind of creates a competition within the council.”
Roachell said membership has grown every year for the last three years, and the chapter has a 90 percent retention rate.
Many of its members are smaller companies. “The reason so many small- to medium-sized contractors are members of ABC is because they may not have the money to have a fully staffed HR department, a safety manger, an IT department, so what we try to do at the association is fill that niche,” Roachell said. “If they need a safety program, then we have access to be able to help them do that. If there’s an HR question they have, we have members that can help them do that.”
Council member Carter McLeod, chief financial officer of Wil-Shar Steel in Rogers, believes in the organization’s efforts.
“Everything we do is for the betterment of our members,” he said.
On the government relations side, Roachell is a registered lobbyist at the Arkansas Capitol.
“Bill represents us and makes sure we’re taken care of, and he keeps us informed on everything that’s going on,” said Chris Collins, area sales manager for Rogers & Hunt Materials LLC in Springdale. Collins has been involved with ABC for about 10 years and has served on the council, including as chairman.
Many of ABC’s political stances are related to limited government intervention in the construction industry.
Priority issues for the organization, according to its website, include strong opposition to project labor agreements, in addition to President Barack Obama’s policies on business, energy and health care. The ABC also calls for immigration, OSHA and tax reform.
The ABC PAC contributed $1.5 million to Republican candidates and causes in 2014, according to the Federal Election Commission.
So far this year, the PAC has contributed to Boozman for Arkansas ($5,000) and Womack for Congress Committee ($2,500), in addition to $15,000 each to the Republican National Convention and the National Republican Congressional and National Republic Senatorial committees.
Aside from the politics and information exchange, many members enjoy the networking element.
Coleman Farrar, senior vice president at Arkansas Automatic Sprinkler, has been a member of ABC since 2003 and is a past chairman.
“Through ABC, I met people in the construction industry that I would not have met otherwise and have many friendships with people from ABC,” he said.