The Doers is a series of conversations with people who recognize Wyoming's challenges and are actively and creatively developing a culture of innovation, connectedness and opportunity to move both their companies and the state into a thriving future.
Wyoming Business Council: How did you get your start and find yourself in Wyoming?
Larry Fodor: I grew up in Arizona and earned my Construction Management degree from Northern Arizona University. I moved to Cheyenne with my wife at the time in 2005 and started working for Reiman Corp. as a project manager. In 2008, I started with Mechanical Systems, Inc., (MSI.)
WBC: How did you first start getting involved in the community and the construction industry, outside of the four walls of MSI?
LF: When I moved here, I started getting involved with the Wyoming Contractors Association. We wanted to improve the image of the construction industry and address labor-shortage issues. So, that evolved into helping lead a spinoff of that group called the Wyoming Young Contractors Association. It was a way to involve and engage the younger generation of contractors as a steppingstone to joining the Contractors Association. That group gathers for career fairs, to visit high schools, to work on community service projects, etc.
Starting that group was a big deal, and it has done a lot to build up the industry. It now has 30 to 40 members and a northern branch in Casper and Gillette. Just a few years ago, I got to turn over its leadership to the younger guys and girls. It’s great to see it continuing to thrive.
WBC: What was next for you?
LF: Not long after I turned over the Young Contractors group, I was asked to attend a Next Generation Sector Partnerships meeting on behalf of MSI. I liked how the program levels the playing field and gets everybody working toward the same goals, so I volunteered as an industry champion for the construction industry in Laramie County.
Often, in a competitive industry like ours, each company is working separately to address their own individual needs. But Next Gen finds common ground, such as workforce shortages, and aligns that with public-sector support to really make progress for the whole industry. It has provided a unique opportunity to take some of the controversy out of the conversations with schools, legislators, etc.
WBC: What kind of early progress has been made with your Next Gen group?
LF: One issue we all recognized as a priority right away was the construction industry’s bad reputation among many of the key administrators, principals and school counselors at Laramie County School District #1. That perception problem was a significant factor in our workforce shortage issues.
So, one of the first things we did was organize a bus tour for principals, counselors, etc. We took them around to nine different Laramie County construction companies where they got tours and learned about that company’s benefits, wages and career opportunities.
I’m telling you, those administrators and counselors just had their jaws drop. Some of them were shocked to learn that, after a 4-year paid apprenticeship, a 22-year-old electrician or plumber could be making more than they personally were earning with the bachelor’s degree they were still making payments on.
When we started revealing the reality of the industry to them – steady work, paid apprenticeships, impressive salary potential – they really started to come around. And now, only about a year later, all four high schools in LCSD1 have Construction Technology programs that offer dual credit with Laramie County Community College as well as the NCCER certification program. That’s a huge win we’re proud of.
The District also created a Career-Technical Education Coordinator position that acts as a liaison between the industry and the schools, and I was invited to sit in on the interviews for the hiring of that position.
WBC: What’s the next step?
LF: Our next project is developing a website that offers a one-stop spot for construction jobs in Laramie County. We got the idea from the Next Gen group for the hospitality industry in Laramie County, which created a similar site. We’ve already received grants from our community partners Microsoft and Mead Lumber, so it’s fully funded and we’re just in the process of rolling it out.
WBC: Are there really enough jobs available for all these students coming into the industry?
LF: Oh, absolutely. We really can’t fill jobs fast enough, and the area just continues to explode with growth. The Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) project alone is estimated to be bringing 2,000 to 3,000 families here, and there are huge residential developments going in on the south, north and east sides of town right now. We want to fill these construction jobs with as many local people as we can.
WBC: A lot of people just go to work, do their jobs and go home. What inspires you to be more involved on a bigger scale? Why spend the extra time and energy?
LF: I was inspired because I wanted to do more than talk about the changes we want to see. As I've gotten more plugged in, I've realized I'm not alone. There's many people doing the hard, behind-the-scenes work, and it doesn’t take much of a push to get people moving in the same direction.
I would absolutely encourage people to get involved. It gives you a sense of pride in where you live and what you do and creates stronger ties to your community, whether that’s professional or social.