As Chief Executive Officer with Associated General Contractors (AGC) of Metropolitan Washington DC – a chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America – Cherie Pleasant takes enormous pride in the work of her members. This is, she explains, an exciting place to be involved in construction. Based out of Arlington, Virginia, hers is one of the oldest chapters in the country, tracing its origins to 1929. It represents General Contractors, Specialty Contractors and Service and Supply Providers in the construction industry. Members are located in DC as well as in Maryland and Virginia. Like other chapters, this one is autonomous, yet it works in tandem with the national organization. What is unique here, says Pleasant, is that they are the only chapter that is a regional one. “We encompass the District of Columbia and several counties in northern Virginia and two counties in Maryland,” she explains. “There’s a lot of construction going on here. We do in the region of $18 to $20 billion and more of construction in the area annually.”
As for numbers, chapter membership stands at around 250. However, the average member is generally pretty large in terms of size. “An average-sized contractor here in our market does $150m of construction a year,” Pleasant says. “That is just a medium-sized one. We have ten that are doing over a billion dollars of construction in DC. One does $3bn in DC.” As with the other AGC chapters in the US, this one grew “organically” and is hugely responsive to local needs. Having said that, many of the issues here are common across the industry. Pleasant lists a couple of areas of concern: “Members,” she says, “are concerned about workforce and supply chain issues and escalation of material pricing.”
As for the projects they are involved in, there is a huge mix of work taking place here – everything from highway construction and utilities to work on hospitals and proton therapy labs – “cutting edge work that not every contactor could do.” Then of course, there are those iconic Washington DC buildings and museums to work on, like the Smithsonian, for example. This is clearly a source of enormous pride.
“Washington DC”, says Pleasant, is simply “a really unique city to build in.” It’s little wonder that she clearly loves her role – one she has occupied since 1995. There is that unique mix of course, but also the fact that she genuinely loves the industry. Pleasant displays an enthusiasm that is palpable along with massive admiration for her chapter members, the work that they do and the “can-do” attitude they exemplify in the face of whatever is put before them.
Pleasant explains: “There are always challenges and one thing I love about construction people is that they are used to challenges.” Thinking back to COVID-19, she recalls one interview she gave to The Washington Post. “I talked about how construction people are used to being over-regulated and dealing with challenges all the time,” she says. This was just another one they had to deal with. “We have the caliber of contactors who are able to turn on a dime and deal with what they need to deal with,” exclaims Pleasant. The message is clear: If ever there was an industry that is good at meeting challenges, it’s construction.
During the pandemic, “we were deemed essential from the beginning here. Mostly people were continuing as before.” Nonetheless, a lot of work went into providing information such as in connection with virtual or online applications for permits, for example. “We also rocked online training in 2020” adds Pleasant. This is all the more impressive when we consider how this AGC chapter has just three staff. Of course, Pleasant does give full credit to the AGC of America. During the pandemic, she says, they remained on top of the situation always, providing free webinars for members, for example. “Anything we needed, they were on top of getting it to us.” Now we are of course seeing a return to normal and there is a big group of people who are desperate to get out there again and be with their peers, Pleasant notes. “We have really gone back to in-person meeting a lot,” she adds. “Yet some companies still resist or are cautious for employees and don’t want to send them to places that they might get sick.”
Networking events will always be part and parcel of course – whatever way they are carried out – in real life or virtually. It’s a huge part of what they do. “We do a lot of meetings with owners, and we bring owners and contractors together to talk about problems, explore creative ideas and develop best practices,” Pleasant further explains. “One thing I love about my AGC chapter is that members are very willing to share. Even though there is competition, people know that – in the long run – if you are a good contractor you are going to get your share of business. Members also joint venture a lot together. It’s a nice atmosphere. I just think the caliber of the contractors we have here is so high that there is no petty stuff going on.”
This sensible, inclusive and collaborative approach pays dividends in many ways and clearly a lot of this comes from the top down. The same approach extends to interactions with bodies like DC City Council. “I wouldn’t say we lobby DC City Council,” says Pleasant. “I’d say we work with the city council on issues, where we try not to be so defensive. We try to say, ‘here’s how we can work together to make it better for the District of Colombia and the contractors’.”
Not surprisingly there are many hopes for the future in the DC chapter and lots of initiatives that are going from strength to strength. Pleasant wouldn’t have it any other way, of course. “I think when you stop being creative and thinking of things to improve on it’s time to quit” she declares.
For the coming year, Pleasant is looking forward to continuing to get back “to normal meetings and normal interaction with our owners.” In November 2021, the chapter held high profile “owner meetings” with twenty-six speakers in a day and with five panels. “We called it, ‘What do owners really want and what can you do about it?’,” Pleasant explains. This is an event they are planning to revisit, at time of writing. Meanwhile, they started a subcontractors’ council in 2019 and now the subcontractor membership is growing a lot. “This council plans their own events and their own interaction with the GCs. Ten to fifteen years ago we mainly only had GC members. As for new members, I have a new incentive with new board whereby it is their job to recruit two members each. They are doing really well with that.”
Last but not least, there are the chapter’s much-anticipated awards to come. “It’s always an amazing event,” says Pleasant. “We are now in our twenty-second year. The ceremony is a big affair. It’s always fun too. This year we are going to the US Institute of Peace on Constitution Avenue. It’s one of the most one of the most beautiful spaces I’ve been in… And built by one of my members.”