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June 3, 2010

Construction Q&A: Elaine Ervin


Company: Moss Adams

Position: Partner

Elaine Ervin became an accountant "kind of by accident.

Jobs were scarce when she graduated from Michigan State in 1981, so she took what she could find: a position at a public accounting firm. "(It was) a little more fun than I thought it was going to be, a little bit more intellectually challenging, and it interested me."

Ervin settled in Seattle a few years later, joining a firm that specialized in construction accounting. She was intrigued with the construction industry and decided it was something she wanted to pursue.

At Moss Adams she rose from senior manager to chair of the Seattle construction and real estate group, responsible for maintaining client relationships and overseeing the audit department.

When the AGC approached Moss Adams to sponsor the Build Washington Awards, "I had to step back and think about what it is that we have in common with these construction companies," she said. Moss Adams doesn't build anything, after all.

"The one thing we came up with here at Moss Adams was our desire to give back to the community and reward construction companies that do in fact embrace that same kind of culture."

So the firm now sponsors the AGC-Moss Adams Service to the Community Award.

How long have you been at Moss Adams?

Fifteen years.

Why construction accounting?

When you walk job sites and see how (contractors) take the number of people that they have and take something from plans to a completed project, I find it completely fascinating. I think what they do is pretty inspiring. I guess I can live vicariously by doing their accounting.

Is it different from other types of accounting?

Absolutely. Because when you're auditing a construction company, a lot of their balance sheet and income statement is based on estimates. So you have to understand the background of what their estimators do, what they're doing in their bidding process, and then how they're executing on the jobs. So we do it a little bit different than other industries.

What do you like best about your work?

Working with my clients.

How has the recession affected them?

All you have to do is look around this city and see there aren't as many tower cranes up as there used to be. You can look at different pockets of the industry and there's certainly some work going on, but even then if you look at the public works sector, you're finding a lot of bidders on a very few jobs, and then you think of those profit margins going down.

What's in store for the next couple of years?

With the amount of office space or the number of condos available, or even excess apartments and stuff, there isn't the demand for building. I think 2010 and into 2011 it's going to be very tough for these companies.

What's new in your industry?

I think some of the transactional type of services that we've provided have become more and more important just because some of the laws and some of the tax regulations have become more complex. When you look at some of the value-added services, I think there's been greater demand for those because the companies are becoming more sophisticated.

Can you give some examples?

It could be IT consulting, helping implement systems or helping find systems. It could be valuations so companies can determine value of their company so that they can sell it or have a transition internally.

Do you file your own taxes?

You would ask that. I do actually use somebody else to prepare my taxes. How's that for sad?

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