Local trades largely overlooked
By LPR Staff
While new construction sites are cropping up across Lockhart like weeds in the springtime, not all local residents are happy with the work being done.
“I don’t think it’s intentional, but I think sometimes folks just don’t think about the local contractors, because they aren’t sure the lo
cal contractors can handle the bigger jobs,” said Terry Wright, the owner of Garage Door Services of Lockhart. “And especially with the City, County and school jobs, I think there should be a mechanism to allow for the local trades to get a shot at that work.”
Although Wright admitted his company does have contracts for smaller installations and service jobs with local governmental entities, he did not have the opportunity to bid on larger jobs, such as the installation of several large bay doors in the new Career and Technology wing at Lockhart High School.
“The impact of that, on the larger scale, is that local businesses don’t have the opportunity to expand their base by getting a foot in the door with those larger companies, or get a shot at jobs elsewhere within their range,” Wright said. “I’m fortunate as a business owner, because my company is already [several states]. Some of the other local trades, though, they need those opportunities to survive and feed their families.”
A request to the City of Lockhart for information on permits pulled in connection with the new commercial construction along Highway 183 was not immediately answered, but Wright and others indicate that only a handful of local contractors have been engaged on those projects.
No one interviewed by this reporter for this story was able to name a local contractor working on the Lockhart ISD construction projects.
“I never saw a set of plans for the high school, or for Strawn,” said Tom Stephens of Tom’s Heating and Air. “I also didn’t know they were working on the HVAC systems at the elementary schools. I never saw plans on any of that, and I expect that I would be able to compete on those jobs.”
Indeed, Stephens said, if he was unable to perform a large-scale job on his own, he would be willing to team with other local HVAC contractors to pool resources and keep the jobs local.
“That’s the important thing,” Stephens said. “There are enough of us, and we have enough resources and experience that we can keep these jobs locally, and I think that people coming in to build here just don’t think about [local contractors] as much as they should.”
Anecdotally, sources report that Lockhart’s A&S Construction has earned contracts on several recent projects.
“They always want to use local concrete guys,” Wright said. “They want to have someone pouring those slabs that knows their way around the local codes and the local deliveries of concrete.”
The issue is not limited to skilled labor, others who spoke on the condition of anonymity said. In addition to creation of local jobs on construction projects, local contractors tend to purchase equipment and materials locally, which adds yet more revenue to local coffers.
“It’s a good thing that they’re creating tax base,” the source said. “But I can tell you that most of these projects are not shopping local, and we have to think about [local trades] when we’re telling people to ‘shop Lockhart.’”
As an example, the source noted Chapman’s Heating and Air was hired to install A/C units on the roof of the Dollar Tree store on Highway 183, but the general contractor bought those units from an outside source prior to the installation.
“It’s good that [Chapman] got that job,” the source said. “And it’s good that they thought to stay local with other parts of that job, but it puts more money into the local economy not only when they use local labor, but when they allow that labor to purchase their materials locally, as well. That seems pretty simple.”
Still, Wright encouraged a positive outlook moving forward on local construction projects.
“What we need to do is work together to figure out the answer,” he said. “Especially on the local government jobs. There has to be a way that we, as the local trades, can work with the city, the county and the school to figure out a way to give the local trades the opportunity to bid those jobs. That’s not to say that they should always get those jobs, but they should at least have the opportunity to try.”
Wright and Stephens both said they support local governmental bodies awarding contracts to the lowest bidder, but said local tradesman should be more involved in the bid process.
“Part of it is my fault, I know, because I didn’t chase those contracts,” Stephens said “But I live here and I pay property taxes here… a lot of contractors do. And if our tax dollars are going to pay for these projects, we should have the chance to bid on those projects, whether we are able to take the jobs or not.”
Indications from several sources suggest that the High Rustler Development apartment complex project will be seeking primarily local contractors, as did Fashion Glass & Mirror, and Fresenius Dialysis last year. However, it is unclear how many other upcoming projects intend to use local labor.
“The only thing we can really do, is what we can do,” Wright said. “We have to make sure that the folks coming in to build here know that we’re here, and know that we have talented, capable local trades that can handle these jobs… we just have to find a way to be given that chance.”