Building up an industry

Construction: Kent Thomas discusses his work with the nonprofit Building Congress & Exchange Foundation

April 12, 2004|By Elliott A. Wiley Jr. | Elliott A. Wiley Jr.,Special to Baltimoresun.com

Kent Thomas is the new president of the Building Congress & Exchange Foundation in Baltimore.

The nonprofit organization develops educational and public-awareness programs for the region's construction industry. Since its inception in 1998, the foundation has awarded $25,000 a year to construction-education programs in the Baltimore area. Thomas will serve a one-year term as president.

BCEF works under the auspices of KAWG&F, a public accounting firm based in Towson. Thomas is co-chairman of the firm's construction services practice group.

A graduate of James Madison University, Thomas is a certified public accountant who has worked for KAWG&F since 1984. He also is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, Maryland Association of Certified Public Accountants, Associated Builders and Contractors and Downtown Towson Rotary Club.

What is the Building Congress & Exchange Foundation?

There's two parts: There's an organization, or trade association, part -- which provides training, networking opportunities, and other resources for construction owners for the support of the industry as a whole. Then, there is the charitable foundation part. It promotes the construction industry within the greater Baltimore area, which includes a public awareness campaign on the construction industry, what we are about, and employment opportunities within the industry.

Is there a need for the foundation?

The Building Congress & Exchange Foundation is absolutely needed. Construction is a very vibrant industry. Other than the government, it's the second-largest employer in the United States. If not, it's a very large employer in the United States.

There are lots of opportunities within the construction industry, and we would like to make sure those opportunities are noticed.

How did you get involved with the foundation?

When I got out of college, I had no idea I would be working with construction companies; it just sort of happened that the first client that I worked on was a construction client. I liked it. I enjoyed working within the industry. [Construction workers] tend to be just salt-of-the-earth great people to work with -- good family owned businesses.

I just became an expert within the field -- going and getting the training and learning the tax laws, the accounting things -- and it just developed to where 90 percent of my work was in the construction industry.

It's been very, very good to me; it's been very good for my career, so I sort of wanted to get involved in an organization to give back to a group that has been very, very good to me.

You normally work with clients to help them make money. Now, you are -- in essence -- giving it away. How does your thinking change in a position like this?

You have to wear different hats in any job you do. I still have to focus on client work, tax returns, financial statements -- those sorts of things -- but those same skills do translate over into what we are doing here.

What are those skills, Mr. Thomas?

You need to make sure there are sound financial policies within a charitable organization. Are they accounting for their money properly? We have a bundle of dollars we are looking at, and we need to make sure those are invested soundly.

We need to make sure there are policies and procedures in place for how we give away money. And the same thing with a business, they should have policies and procedures for how they handle their finances.

So, it sort of translates over to make sure that a sound business is a sound business -- and we're no different; we're a business. We're just a business with a charitable purpose, rather than a business that's in the business to make money.

What are your goals for the foundation?

Our major push is to develop a "Planned Giving" campaign, where we're looking to our more seasoned and successful construction owners and to create a methodology where they can contribute to the organization in a long-term manor, either through remembering us in their wills or making estate gifts to us. We would use that within our endowment to develop scholarships and grants of a larger purpose and to just continue to grow our charitable purpose.

As a whole, KAWG&F serves multiple industries. How do you work with the firm to ensure construction needs are met?

We're broken down into segment groups, or niche groups, within our company -- so myself and another one of my other partners, who co-chairs our construction services group. So, we are just in charge of that group, and we are in charge of servicing that industry and my goal is to grow the revenues within our firm through the growth of our construction services group.

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