- Associated Press - Friday, December 19, 2014

PENDLETON, Ore. (AP) - In their office and on their website, the owners of Wenaha Group display a set of guiding principles for their construction management company.

The 12 phrases include desired qualities like “the strength of diversity,” ”the value of community” and “the satisfaction of hard work.”

While some companies might treat these tenets as a piece of inspirational window dressing, Wenaha President Rob Quaempts and Vice-President Dave Fishel maintain those values are central to their company’s identity, even as they take on multi-million dollar school projects in Pendleton and beyond.

Shortly after the group was founded in 2010, Wenaha was contracted to manage several projects that collectively cost $10 million.

Although completing the projects would have been a huge boon to the fledgling businesses, Quaempts and Fishel backed out of the deal after they realized the client was asking them to do many things contrary to their values.

“It’s not just about the client selecting us,” Quaempts said. “It’s about us selecting the client.”

After successfully managing a number of different projects, both locally and across the Northwest, Wenaha has been able to build a large portfolio while sticking to their guns.

Quaempts said Wenaha has carved out a niche spearheading modernization efforts in rural areas, including the $55 million Pendleton School District capital improvement project and a $97 million renovation of A.C. Davis High School in Yakima.

As project managers, Fishel said Wenaha helps their clients with a variety of tasks like public outreach, coordinating contractors and subcontractors and making sure the construction work aligns with the architectural designs.

While Wenaha has grown substantially over the past four years, it wasn’t too long ago that they were involved in entirely different sectors.

Before founding Wenaha, Quaempts was the public works director for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, where he’s an enrolled member.

After spending years in the contracting industry, Fishel ran his own consulting business prior to joining Wenaha, where he successfully managed projects under the Hermiston School District’s $69.9 million capital improvement bond.

Quaempts and Fishel started to work together extensively when the latter was hired to consult on the construction of the CTUIR’s Nixyaawii Governance Center.

The two men enjoyed working with each other so much they went into business together following the center’s completion.

After the newly minted business partners used the dissolution of their first major deal as a learning experience, Wenaha broke through in 2012.

The company landed contracts to manage projects for the Grand Coulee Dam School District in Washington, the Jefferson County School District and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Reservation. The projects associated with those entities totaled $69 million.

With each project being located in areas with significant American Indian populations, Quaempts used his experience with the CTUIR to facilitate the hiring of Native American construction workers.

“Given our experience in Indian country, we were able bring our skills to the table that a lot of people couldn’t,” Fishel said. “We helped bridge the two communities and helped make sure a lot of the local Native Americans were hired for the project and set it up for success.”

Last summer, Wenaha received their certification as a minority-owned business with the U.S. Small Business Administration.

The certification gives Wenaha access to training workshops, one-on-one counseling and federal government contracting opportunities.

According to the administration website, certified minority owned businesses are eligible for “sole source contracts.” These are contracts where a government agency negotiates certain bids with only one business.

Additionally, minority owned business can combine their resources together into one bid, making them more attractive for competitive government contracts.

In an area that often relies on business from Eastern Washington and Portland for support, Wenaha is expanding from Pendleton outward.

Wenaha has offices in the Tri-Cities and Portland, where the company employs three full-time project managers.

While initially concerned about businesses rejecting their principles, Quaempts said urban organizations, like TriMet, embrace their rural sensibilities.

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Information from: East Oregonian, https://www.eastoregonian.info


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