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January 18, 2011 8:22 am

EDITORIAL: Use local contractors for school projects

Written by Tessa Schweigert

In the past decade, more than a billion dollars was spent on school facilities in Wyoming. With a new high school, new Southside Elementary, a new Westside Elementary under construction and plans underway for middle school renovations, Powell has seen millions spent on demolition and construction in recent years.

Similar school projects are going on across the state, and Gov. Matt Mead wants to ensure Wyoming contractors receive a fair chance at those jobs.

“We want to make sure that we’re maximizing the benefit to our local companies. If we don’t use our Wyoming contractors, we’re going to lose our Wyoming contractors,” Mead said Friday in Cheyenne.

Mead said he will not support former Gov. Dave Freudenthal’s recommendation of $61.9 million for school facilities unless he sees an improved contractor preference law to govern the construction.

Currently, a loophole in the law allows out-of-state contractors to come into Wyoming and claim residency, even if the extent of their Wyoming office may be limited to a fax machine.

Contractors in the Cowboy State face fierce competition as the construction industry has idled during the national recession.

“From where we stand as an industry, we need transparency and a level playing field where people who are qualified do get the opportunity to bid work, and that has not happened on several occasions throughout the state in the last three years,” Jonathan Downing of the Wyoming Contractors Association told the Casper Star-Tribune.

Last week, legislators met with contractors to hear their concerns and suggestions, and now they will look at how to modify Wyoming’s law.

Wyoming has made a serious commitment to investing in education, providing millions of dollars to ensure quality school facilities exist throughout the state. It’s important to continue investing in schools, but lawmakers also would be wise to trace where that public money is going.

Too often in the past, money spent on Wyoming projects ended up in out-of-state pockets and benefited another state’s economy rather than our own.

The advantages of new school facilities shouldn’t be limited to the students and teachers who occupy the space — rather, dollars spent on school construction also should benefit Wyoming’s economy.

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