When Springs residents voted in favor of increasing sales tax for road improvements, local construction companies reaped some of the benefits — and so did people looking for work in the field.
Funded by 2C, a new tax hike approved in 2015, and the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority, road construction is popping up all over Colorado Springs, but there’s more going on than traffic jams and detours.
For eight local companies, the 2C tax hike — expected to bring in $50 million annually — equals more revenue and more work. The city hired AA Construction Co., Blue Ridge Construction, CMS of Colorado Springs, DRX Enterprises, Even Preisser and Trax Construction to provide pre-overlay concrete work for the 2016 and 2017 2C projects. Martin Marietta Materials, an international construction firm with a local presence, and Schmidt Construction were awarded the paving contracts.
Nicole Spindler, interim procurement services manager for the city, said jobs are awarded to companies either through bids or requests for proposals. For the 2C projects, the city sent out RFPs.
“On RFPs, we ask for their technical approach, their management approach, past performance, price and in the 2C projects we asked for the location of their business,” Spindler said. “We asked if they’d done previous work with the city.”
A committee of at least five people independently examines the proposals and scores them.
“If it’s a streets project, we might have five people from the street department,” Spindler said. “If it’s a trails project, we might have somebody from the Friends of Ute Valley Park on the committee, kind of an outsider looking in. We don’t necessarily decide who gets the job just on price. We look at all criteria and score on who brings the best value. Sometimes you just go for best price like on curb and gutter work and other simpler projects. On 2C projects, we went for best value.”
The city advertises jobs on bidnetdirect.com and businesses nationwide can get email alerts from the site when a job is posted.
Most contracts go to local businesses, according to Spindler. Of the 390 contracts issued by the city in 2015, 250 [64 percent] went to local businesses, 95 went to in-state companies and 45 were out-of-state. In 2016, there were 433 city contracts, with 247 local [57 percent], 114 in-state and 72 out-of-state. Purchasing orders went to local companies 55 percent of the time in 2016 and 58 percent in 2015.
“If it’s an IT-type project where you can work remotely, we’ll get more interest from out of state,” Spindler said. “Construction, though, has to move people here to do the job and that involves higher costs.”
FRUGAL WITH FUNDS
In a recent press release, the city said 2C work is on time and under its budget of $49.1 million. Pre-overlay concrete work is 17.5 percent under budget, while the paving operations are 13.9 percent under budget. All funds left over from 2017 projects will be rolled into 2C construction for future years.
Spindler is one of the watchdogs on those contracts.
“In procurement, we’re always trying to take care of our citizens and their tax dollars,” she said. “We’re always trying to find a place to cut costs to protect taxpayer dollars. In RFPs, if we see something that doesn’t look right, we’ll ask them to change the price. RFPs can be negotiable, and probably are 75 percent of the time. Working for the city, we don’t have funds like a private company has so we’re always asking what can you do to help us get back to budget.”
HIRING IS DIFFICULT
Schmidt Construction, which has about 250 employees, hired maybe two dozen more due to 2C projects, said project manager Austin Maher. He expects to hire more in 2018 because of 2C — but said finding workers is not always easy.
“People in the younger generation aren’t as apt to take hard labor jobs like we have,” he said.
Sharilyn Travis, who oversees Blue Ridge Construction’s 30 employees, understands the difficulty, and has hired an extra crew of five workers for her role in turning tax dollars into drivable roads.
“There’s a shortage of workers, but that’s a problem for everyone in town,” Travis said. “That’s been the case since 2C because it brought so much work to Colorado Springs. We’re all competing for the same workers out there, and there aren’t new people coming into this business.”
Schmidt does about 25 percent of its business on city projects, Maher said. And more than 90 percent of Blue Ridge’s jobs during the past two decades have been with the city, said Tara Mahoney, Tara Mahoney, principal stockholder in Blue Ridge Construction.
“I think they’re fair, and we like the relationship,” she said. “All projects with the city have to be bonded — which is like insurance — so it’s good for both sides. They’re pretty strict and keep us to tight deadlines. We bill them monthly and the city’s required to pay within 10 days, so they’re good to do business with.”