Contractors should be ‘doctors with tool belts’

Local contractors association saw Bock as ‘bridge builder’

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter



Gary Bock

AGE: 53.

OCCUPATION: Executive Director, Southwest Washington Contractors Association.

EDUCATION: Bachelor of Arts degree in environmental science and regional planning from Washington State University, 1996; Leadership Clark County Class of 2011.

EXPERIENCE: Water quality monitoring and public outreach for the Clark County Stormwater Division; Executive Director of the nonprofit Vancouver Watershed Alliance; member of the Ridgefield Planning Commission.

ORGANIZER: Clark County Connects, an organized day of volunteer projects countywide; Vancouver Side Productions, a video blog and website of news and events north of the Columbia River, featuring local businesses, non-profits and residents.

Contractors in Clark County have someone new to help them succeed.

That someone is Gary Bock, who became the executive director of the Southwest Washington Contractors Association in December. And just two months into the job, it seems Bock is taking on the work with the same kind of gusto he brings to every assignment, whether it comes with a paycheck or not

Bock, 53, is a consummate volunteer who was hired for his endless supply of enthusiasm, passion for community service and background as an organizer. He’s the former executive director of the Vancouver Watershed Alliance, an organization dedicated to raising public awareness of water quality issues. Bock did that by organizing events to clean up and plant trees along the banks of Clark County’s streams and waterways.

The work, which drew hundreds of volunteers and business sponsors to every event, plus Bock’s can-do attitude won over the contractors group’s board of directors, said Kelly Walsh, a board member and attorney with Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt in Vancouver.

“We were definitely impressed with the work he had done,” said Walsh, who served on the search committee.

The contractors’ group mainly serves contractors and subcontractors that are focused on commercial construction of stores, offices and industrial space, along with companies that supply and provide services to the sector.

Walsh admitted Bock’s passion for the environment seems at odds with his appointment to head the contractors’ group, given the industry’s criticism of the state’s new stormwater rules. The more stringent clean water requirements, adopted by the Department of Ecology, call for new development land to drain as slowly as it would have prior to Euro-American settlement.

Commercial contractors and homebuilders alike have called the rules burdensome and cost prohibitive, although the Southwest Washington Contractors Association is not a lobbying group, Walsh notes.

That’s why Bock, with his background in water quality and public outreach, was seen as someone who could help contractors with the rigorous new guidelines.

“We saw him as a bridge builder,” Walsh said.

Bock also will be expected to boost membership for the nonprofit association, which gives its 200 members a chance to network and grow their businesses. He’ll also be in charge of the association’s Web-based plan center, which just expanded with the group’s December purchase of a second plan center from private owners in Olympia.

The $60,000 purchase will allow the association’s contractor members to view an even wider selection of building documents to bid on public works and large commercial projects.

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“It will be my job to establish relationships with the municipalities around Olympia so that they’ll post their plans to our plan center,” Bock said.

With contractors’ time equivalent to money, the Web-based service makes it possible for members to access project information wherever they may be, Bock said.

“Our website is built to address the complexities that live within a normal contractor’s life,” he said. “It’s a central repository that gives instant notification if there are changes in the plans.”

Bock admits that his hands-on exposure to construction is limited to organizational planning.

“I served on the Ridgefield Planning Commission,” he said. Bock served his hometown in the volunteer position for more than a decade.

The commission’s work writing development ordinances was focused on “making Ridgefield a more livable community,” said Bock, who earned his bachelor’s degree in environmental science and regional planning from Washington State University Vancouver.

Drawn to the N.W.

It was the Pacific Northwest’s mountains, greenery and waterways that drew Bock to Clark County about three decades ago. He had grown tired of urban sprawl in his childhood hometown of Covina, Calif., a once quaint community that was being swallowed up fast by neighboring suburbs. Bock said he was fed up with the noise and social issues that accompanied the growth.

“The overall attitude of people — the grouchiness and the long commutes — it just wasn’t working for me,” he said.

His distaste for the Southern California community fueled Bock’s desire to relocate to the Portland area, a less-populated and greener place that was familiar from family trips through the region as a child.

On those tours, “I would stare in wonder and think, ‘Man, I’ve got to get there,’” Bock said.

His chance arrived in the early 1980s when Bock took a transfer to the Pacific Northwest offered by his employer at the time, a burglar alarm company. He headed north and never looked back.

Bock received his bachelor’s degree in 1996, just as WSU was putting the finishing touches on its Salmon Creek campus.

“I took almost all of my classes at Bauer Hall,” Bock said of the Clark College site that housed WSU classes until the university opened its permanent Salmon Creek campus.

After college, he landed a job with Clark County’s stormwater division, monitoring water quality and overseeing public outreach. His combination of environmental studies and work for both the county and the Vancouver Watershed Alliance has made Bock a believer that citizens and the development community can find clean water solutions, which he feels are vital to the county’s future.

“Outreach is critical to all these issues,” Bock said. “It creates conversations, which in turn, creates solutions.”

Bock said he and the association’s one staff member also will oversee educational programs that bring construction industry speakers to address the association. Formed in 1946 as the Vancouver Contractors Association, it was designed for members to network and share information on local projects. That hasn’t changed, Bock said.

But just like the medical profession, the complexities of the construction business have evolved to require additional skills, including business management, engineering and design, he said.

“What we really want to do is enhance the visibility of contracting as a profession,” Bock said. “I’d like to have people think of contractors as doctors with tool belts.”

Gary Bock

Profile of Gary Bock, the new executive director of the Southwest Washington Contractors Association and former leader of the Vancouver Watershed Alliance.