Jessica Whitten, business manager at Schlecht Construction, recently completed her 20th year with the company.
Whitten was hired as a receptionist at Schlecht in 1990 and was then promoted to office manager and again to business manager. Her job duties include office administration, private and government contract administration, marketing, and human resources.
“I tell my friends that I enjoy going to work, and it’s the truth,” Whitten said. “Larry Schlecht (the company’s president) is an amazing leader who treats his employees like family. He’s tough, he’s honest, and he’s a visionary in the construction field. Our company never stops looking for new opportunities.”
Whitten said the construction industry has changed dramatically during the past two decades and that companies must be creative and efficient in order to survive. Previously, Schlecht was so busy with construction projects for private businesses that it didn’t need to bid on government projects. That isn’t the case today.
“The key to success at Schlecht has been the willingness to venture into new areas when necessary,” she said. “We opened a Vancouver branch in 2000 when Cowlitz County construction was slowing down. We’ve developed a niche in the design/build construction market. We’ve obtained HUBZone certification (Historically Underutilized Small Business Zone Company and Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business status. Most recently, we formed a joint venture with Bergerson Construction of Astoria, which allows us to bid on U.S. Coast Guard contracts.”
The changes have transformed Whitten’s job description, with the focus now on learning about federal government construction opportunities and requirements.
“I’ve attended seminars as far away as Washington DC to better understand how to do business with the federal government,” she said. “The paperwork is intense and some days it seems like everything else on my desk is ignored.”
Whitten is a past-president of the Lower Columbia Contractors Association and currently serves on the Board of Directors. She is also the treasurer for Kelso Rotary Club.