“Small business makes America tick.”
It’s that belief and a desire to help small businesses tick louder that has brought Kate McCaslin to Lancaster County. For the last two years, she’s been president and CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors Keystone Chapter, and she traveled quite a distance to get here. Before coming to Lancaster, she was president of the Inland Pacific Chapter of ABC in Spokane, Washington, which is more than 2,400 miles from Lancaster County.
“Inland Pacific covers eastern Washington and western Idaho. I worked there for a total of about 18 years. I was there from 1982 to 1990. I also served as a county commissioner. When that ended, the job at Inland Pacific opened up again, and I said that I’d do it on an interim basis for three months. I would up being there for 10 years.”
Then the position in Lancaster County opened, and she applied. “I said that this will be my last grand adventure. I had been east before, but I had never been to Pennsylvania.” Getting here for the first time proved to be interesting. “When I flew into Dulles, I encountered snow, so my first interview was by Skype. Eventually I got here, and I feel very blessed to have been chosen for the job.”
Once she did arrive and settle in, she liked what she found. “People out West think that the East Coast is just big cities, so I’ve been pleasantly surprised. I love the small towns. I love history and old homes, and I love Central Market. I enjoy Gettysburg and Philadelphia, and taking the train to New York.”
She’s bought a home in Mount Joy, and she shares it with Gabe and Gabby, two rescue dogs. “Gabe is a Jack Russell Terrier, and Gabby is a Blue Heeler/Australian Shepherd mix. I walk four to five miles a day with the dogs. I’m Catholic, and I belong to Mary Mother of the Church in Mount Joy.”
Until her move to Lancaster in 2015, Kate had spent all of her life in the West. “I was born in Casper, Wyoming. My parents had a construction business, and we lived there until I was eight. Then we moved to Spokane. I have a construction background. We’d talk construction at the dinner table.
“I worked as a laborer for one summer. My parents taught me to go and work hard. I didn’t get any special treatment, and I didn’t know what a glass ceiling was.”
She’s always been very active physically, and Lancaster County has provided a great opportunity for one of her favorite activities, as well as several surprises. “Bicycling here is tougher than riding out West. The hills here are steep. In the West, they may be much longer, but here they’re very steep. And the humidity is the toughest part of living here. Spokane is arid, and it gets a lot of snow. When I arrived from Spokane, I got here at 1 a.m., and that day, I played golf. It was about 97 degrees and humid. Welcome to Pennsylvania.”
Running used to be a part of her life, but a foot problem has slowed her to a walk. “I did run one marathon—in Dour d‘Alene, Idaho. One of the beauties of running is that you can run anywhere. When I was in Rome, I took a running tour of the city. It lasted two and a half hours, and it was the best thing. I ran with a guide, and it was awesome. Washington, DC is my favorite city for running. I have a route from the Hyatt on Capitol Hill to the Mall and the Lincoln Memorial and back, and it’s exactly five miles.”
Back in Washington, she was an athlete in high school and in college. “In high school, I played basketball and tennis. At Washington State, I did a little rodeo. I’ve always had horses, but not now.”
She likes most parts of life in Lancaster County, but she does have some yearnings for parts of Washington. “One thing that I miss is the wine. And I was surprised to learn that you can’t buy wine in a grocery store. When I first got here, I went into Costco and when I couldn’t find the wine department, I asked someone who worked in the store. ‘You’re not from around here, are you?’ she said.”
She also misses family, of course. “My father turned 90 in April, so that part has been difficult.” Her favorite vacation every year does involve family. “My sister has a time share in Hawaii, and she invites me along every year.”
Meanwhile, back at the ABC office, people are feeling good, and an event that happened last November has contributed greatly to that upbeat attitude. “Under President Trump, there’s a renewed sense of optimism. Most people just don’t get what Obama did to small business in eight years. What he couldn’t do legislatively, he did with executive orders. It was depressing to business owners.”
Another factor that may help the economy is the possible return of some of the $2 trillion in American money parked offshore. “The United States has the highest corporate tax rate among industrialized nations. If some of that money comes back, people will be shocked, and happily so.”
Despite the optimism, one major concern is limiting her outlook for the construction business. “My biggest worry is whether we’ll have the qualified work force that we need. Good jobs are going unfilled, even though for many young people, learning a trade can be a better career choice than college. A young person who graduates from high school can start in an apprenticeship program and get paid while he (or she) learns. In four years, he can be a journeyman, making as much as $50,000, with no debt.”
One group that she’d like to attract more is women. “We’re trying to recruit more women. It’s still a man’s world.” At most, women make up 10% of the workforce in the building trades, although, ironically, the numbers are much different in leadership roles. “There are 70 ABC chapters, and more than half of the presidents are women.”
ABC serves its members through advocacy, training, education, communications, and business development. “We provide a variety of services to advance and promote free enterprise. We are a Merit Shop, and we want our members to win work and to compete safely, profitably, and ethically. We’re not anti-union, but we do believe that people have a right to choose.
“We have a huge education program in seven trades, ranging from carpentry to plumbing to electricity. We did a big expansion last year, and we now have a six-booth welding lab.
“My management philosophy is to lay out clear goals. As long as people are doing their jobs, I’m hands-off. I’m the head coach, and all the department heads are quarterbacks. The head coach has to know what you’re doing to move the ball down the field.
“Our outlook is very positive. Our contractors are booming.”