When Bob Sole last Thursday evening said, "It's a struggle out there for each and every one of us," the president of one of the fastest-growing organizations in the Victor Valley -- the new High Desert Contractors Association -- wasn't revealing a closely-held secret. He was preaching to the choir.

"The High Desert has changed by leaps and bounds," he said.
And it has.

According to Sole, who owns Express Blinds, Draperies and Shutters, numerous changes, including high gasoline costs, a-less-than-vibrant economy, and generally rising operational costs, make it tougher for contractors to thrive. In fact, when Sole, who has been active in the Hesperia Chamber of Commerce and several other local business-related organizations, asked which contractors had seen a noticeable bump in business, only a few raised their hands. Most of the more than 125 attendees wore faces of shared concern.
But perhaps the biggest challenge to a licensed contractor's livelihood is the rapidly increasing number of contractors operating without licenses.

Unlicensed contractors are not only operating without proper professional credentials, but often they don't have necessary worker's compensation insurance. Because unlicensed contractors are cutting corners, they often offer to perform jobs at cut rates. That takes away business from local contractors more professionally prepared to do the work, according to the Contractors State License Board.

And not only does the increase in unlicensed contracting hurt licensed contractors, it also exposes the consumer to fraud, unprofessional workmanship -- or worse. In the event a consumer receives shoddy work from an unlicensed contractor, they won't be able to receive assistance from the state board. That often leads to the consumer paying a qualified contractor to fix the initial job, which could double the cost.

Horror stories
Those who mistakenly hire an unlicensed contractor also expose themselves to losing more than hundreds or a few thousands of dollars in botched workmanship. For instance, said guest speaker Jeff Neely, a senior investigator for San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael A. Ramos' office, several county residents whose homes were damaged in the Old Fire of 2003 were ripped off by unlicensed contractors who failed to complete repair work to damaged houses.

"Our elderly are very exposed," Neely said. "They're very trusting. They come from a different generation."

According to featured speaker Maria Kennedy, Consumer Outreach Coordinator for the state board, one unlicensed contractor recently was arrested after bilking two elderly savings of their nest eggs -- more than $20,000 each.

Despite Sole's fervor to stop unlicensed contracting, he readily acknowledges that some, even a few he knows personally, haven't taken the time to obtain their licenses.

"We're not here to put you in jail -- yet," Sole said lightheartedly. "We're here to help you. We want a level playing field."

The formation of the group was applauded by the guest speakers.
"The High Desert Contractors Association will make a difference," Neely said.

"We are very, very pleased to work with you and see how eager everybody is to put the group together," said Kennedy.

"I think this group is going to turn into one of the most powerful networking groups in the High Desert," Sole added.

To learn more about the High Desert Contractors Association, call 956-HDCA (4322).