This CPA Firm Wears Many Hats

January 28, 2005
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GRAND HAVEN — Walburg + Associates PC has developed into something of a niche CPA firm in that it specializes in the construction industry. It found its way there in part by evolution and in part by design.

Founder Curt Walburg’s father and two uncles were residential builders, so he grew up around construction and spent summers working job sites. 

Knowing Walburg’s background, the first CPA firm he worked for sent all its construction clients his way. When he opened his own firm in 1984 he didn’t have any construction clients at the outset, but his client base naturally began growing in that direction, he recalled. 

About five years ago, in an effort to come up with a unique selling proposition, he and his associates analyzed the firm and looked at what it was doing differently from other CPA firms.

“What it came down to was that we had quite a base of construction clients and felt we knew that niche and understood their needs. We decided that was the only type of client we’re going to market to in the future,” Walburg said. “When we get a referral, we will certainly take those clients on, but all we market to is the construction industry.”

At the time Walburg + Associates made that marketing decision, its client base was about 40 percent construction and 60 percent other types of businesses.

Today, more than 80 percent of the firm’s clients are in the construction business and include estimators, excavators, project managers, road and bridge builders, electricians, plumbers and HVAC specialists, general contractors, developers and residential home builders.

“We work with them all because they all have the same general characteristic in that contractors think and run their businesses a little bit different than a manufacturer or a dentist or anything else because of the contract nature of their work,” Walburg explained.

A lot of the firms are in the Grand Rapids vicinity, but the firm’s footprint includes all of West Michigan, as well as Traverse City, Greenville, Ionia and South Haven.

In the construction business, Walburg said people have a multitude of ways to report income for tax purposes, so it’s a very complex area for tax reporting.

Walburg said the field involves many exceptions and rules that may mean tax breaks, but a general CPA often wouldn’t know about them. In addition, he explained that many people in construction require bonding in order to get contracts, so the firm also must work with sureties to get bonding.

“All business owners want to pay the least possible tax,” he said, “but they have to show maximum worth for bonding. So there’s a natural tension there and we have to help a client walk the line between holding enough value to get the bonding they need without paying more tax than they should.

“That’s our expertise — helping a client determine their goals, not only for next year but a couple years out and, ultimately, for retirement. You have to start thinking about the end at the beginning, or at least halfway through. You have to think about a succession plan.”

In addition to accounting and financial management services, surety and bonding assistance, tax planning and business advisory services, Walburg + Associates helps clients select the most appropriate management information systems.

He said the CPAs at Walburg + Associates serve as “financial quarterbacks” for their clients in that they work directly with those clients’ banks, attorneys, insurance agents and retirement planners to develop the best package for the client.

“We help them manage all those relationships and get the most out of those relationships.”

Walburg noted that the insurance surety bond market has tightened up its criteria for issuing bonds, which has put contractors under a little closer scrutiny.

He said the firm is getting calls from people who say can’t get the bonding they used to, but they still want to go after the same projects.

“The surety market has tightened up because of 9/11,” Walburg explained.

“They end up losing a lot of money and therefore they’re trying to make sure they’re exposing themselves less. So there’s the natural pendulum effect of being more cautious with the contractors they offer bonds to. That, right now, is a particular hot button with contractors.”

The owners of construction companies have to be very entrepreneurial because it’s a very risky business, Walburg said. Some even say it’s like going to Las Vegas every day. 

“We try to help them manage the risk,” he said. “We set them up in proper business structures, multiple entities, etc., so we can take as much risk out of it as possible.”    

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