The RCA was founded in 1990, and its membership comprises 90 retail general contractors from around the country. The group aims to improve business practices within the retail construction industry by promoting education, ethics and overall excellence in the industry. The group also serves as a forum to share information and ideas, as well as voice concerns.

"Contractors suffer from well-earned bad press, and yet people view contractors as a commodity. We're trying to differentiate our group as people who do competent, quality work and have integrity," says Michael Ratner, RCA president and a principal of Maspeth, N.Y.-based Richter + Ratner Contracting Corp. "We would like the industry to be aware of the fact that there are competent people they can do business with and rely on."

The RCA pre-qualifies its members, then promotes the quality of the group as a whole to developers, architects and owners. "The qualifying of companies in the organization is very important," Ratner says. Prospective members are required to meet criteria that range from having appropriate state licenses to submitting letters of reference.

The association has addressed key industry issues such as education and safety. Despite the importance of skilled and knowledgeable supervisory personnel, the construction industry spends a smaller percentage of its gross volume on training than any other major industry in the United States. It also allocates far less time to supervisory training than to craft training.

RCA hopes to correct the disparity by encouraging participation in its Supervisory Training Program, which was created in 1996.

The RCA also has launched a college scholarship program, which awards multiple scholarships to America's top construction management students at universities throughout the United States. This year, the RCA has pledged 12 scholarships to different universities across the country. The group is working closely with the Associated Schools of Construction to make those selections.

"We're trying to encourage more education, especially at the managerial level," Ratner says.

In addition, the group stresses the importance of industry safety. The RCA has sold more than 450 manuals and posters to its member companies to be posted and used at all job sites. "Safety is not only an economic thing to do - it's a human thing to do," Ratner says.

The RCA is pursuing new programs to address other industry issues. "We're constantly looking at new things," Ratner says. The association created a forum to disseminate information and discuss issues such as building codes, operations and the tight labor market.

"It's a great place to network and get a sense that the people you compete against are not necessarily ogres but people who are trying to do things right," Ratner says.