Six years ago, the sound of construction came to a stop in the city of Bishop. With the U.S. economy slipping into recession, general contractors found themselves sitting on their hands as money stopped circulating. “There was not a lot of work and a lot of contractors were going out of business,” said Dan Stone, a co-founder of the Owens Valley Contractors and Vendors Association.
The OVCVA was created five years ago to attempt to redress the fallout in the business community. Stone sat down with Tom Sigler of Eastern Sierra Propane and Debbie Kruse of Sierra Sage Insurance, and hammered out a mission: “to generate business for our guys, and to provide them with training and add skill sets to what they needed for their businesses.”
The fledgling association started holding regular meetings to inform its members about things like licensing requirements, insurance and tax laws, and advertising opportunities. It created a website with members-only access to government bids. And it eventually landed its first and only fundraising project – title sponsorship of the annual Home Show at the Tri-County Fairgrounds.
This will be the third year the OVCVA is title sponsor of the event, which coincides with the semi-annual Choo Choo Swap Meet, the Gem and Mineral Show and the Altrusa Book Fair. The 19th Annual newly-titled Home, Garden and Recreation Show will take place May 2 and 3 at the Tri-County Fairgrounds.
“We have a small community of 3,000. We are exceeding that number” of expected visitors, said Stone of the event, which does not charge an admission or a parking fee. “We hope to have entertainment on Saturday and see a lot of families out there.”
The show is a great place to educate the public about what a licensed contractor is, said Stone. Before the association was created, “Our town was riddled with unlicensed contractors. But all OVCVA members are licensed, with the proper liability insurance and worker’s comp.”
As the U.S. economy continues to improve, so does the local economy, and the OVCVA is no doubt to thank in part. “Right now our contractors are very, very busy. Most of (new business) is private money now. There is not quite as much work from the government sector as before.” The local preference has helped business grow too, said Stone. “It’s keeping our guys busy.”
Stone stepped down from his post as president of the OVCVA in January, and Russ Aldridge of Aldridge Plumbing and Heating is serving as interim president. But Stone, 65, continues to shepherd the association through projects that benefit local business. Though he and Candy, his wife of almost 43 years, only moved to Bishop seven years ago, their influence in the community runs deep.
The son of “oil field trash,” Stone grew up in Texas, Kansas, Colorado and Oklahoma. He declared himself an emancipated minor and moved to Stockton, Calif. where he attended a community college as an electronics student before enlisting in the Marine Corps at 19. He was sent to Vietnam in 1969 as part of a tank battalion and put to work repairing radios in the field. “My job was to repair radios and put them in those tanks during the day time. At nighttime we were out in the jungle, with ambushes and getting shot at and shooting back, and carrying the radio.”
Thirty years later, Stone felt the impact of his dangerous year at war. “What I learned from the doc is, there are a whole bunch of guys like me that came back, put themselves to work, got married, raised families, started businesses and all that, and we were busy and it didn’t affect us as much as when things started slowing down.” PTSD. “When it came, it came like gangbusters.”
Stone had worked for an uncle in Stockton as a heavy equipment operator. After his military service he eventually started Stone Equipment Rental in Bakersfield, where he and Candy raised a family. Years of exposure to the Eastern Sierra doing contract work inspired their move to Bishop in 2006, but not too long after that, Stone was afflicted with back problems. He started the OVCVA the year he was forced to retire.
“Bishop reminded me of the little dusty towns I grew up in,” said Stone. “This has more character than those. It’s easy to know people here.”
Stone tells a story about the fairgrounds from his childhood in western Kansas. “I was maybe in the 6th grade and it had a big fairground – seemed like it was huge then – with a big rock wall around it. And the sheriff caught me and a couple of my buddies crawling over that rock wall to get into the fair. And he loaded us up in his car – scared the daylights out of us – and took us around to the front gate. He walked us in there, and the guy that was selling the candy and brochures and stuff – that guy gave us a job and paid us to do that, and we got to see the races going on at the time.
“He didn’t make us the bad guys or anything. We couldn’t afford to go in otherwise. I love the fairgrounds. I will never forget what that guy did for us.”
As soon as Dan and Candy moved to town, they hooked up with the fairgrounds as volunteers. “We just melded ourselves in the community.” Having achieved the rank of sergeant in the Marines, Stone’s propensity to lead surfaced when he realized that in Bishop, a lot of contractors were practicing some self-defeating behavior.
“A lot of the contractors didn’t trust each other,” said Stone. “There was no appreciation for what the other guy was doing. There was a level of distrust all the time. And that’s one of the things I thought we (the OVCVA) could work on. And we did.“
Stepping down, Stone says, “I want to see new management come in and make positive changes and grow it. We’ve legitimized the contractors. People that are unhappy or have a problem or something pick up the phone and call me any day of the week. And I get some really strange calls. Sometimes it might be a problem with a contractor – one of our members – and we talk about it. If it’s one of our members, I go to them and say ‘make her happy,’ and they’re glad to do it.”
Thankfully, Stone says business has been ramping up in the last year and a half. The OVCVA maintains a membership of roughly 50 businesses. Sigler bought out his partner and is expanding to Mammoth. “If you go over to High Country Lumber, those guys are doing very, very well. That’s a good indicator. If the little guys aren’t working, the big guys aren’t going to sell any hardware.
“If you can tie all those knots and string ‘em together, that’s what a community like this has to have.”