Sign In
  • August 26, 2022

    Don’t Forget Your Sunblock and Contract Clauses When Your Client Goes Outside Wisconsin for Their Next Project

    While much of the business world operates seamlessly across state borders, there are perils for contractors with projects in other states if they do not properly account for legal, statutory, and contract differences. Eric Meier discusses some of the key contract and legal considerations for construction companies moving into different markets.

    Eric J. Meier


    The National Football League continues to grow in popularity and the economics are staggering. For 2021-22, the Green Bay Packers reported a record $570 million in revenue. Part of the NFL’s growth is due to playing games abroad. This year, the Packers will travel to London to play the New York Giants.

    Much like the NFL’s model, many contractors have found growth opportunities in “abroad” (out-of-state) markets. Just as the Packers must adjust their internal clocks to account for an early morning Central time kickoff in London, construction companies must also account for different business requirements in other states.

    While there are many similarities in the work across state lines, here are some important contract, legal, and business considerations that should be part of the checklist for new out-of-state work.

    Liens: Are Preliminary Notices Required?

    Liens are a powerful tool to protect contractors, subcontractors and suppliers’ rights to payments, because they allow for a claim against a property to secure a debt. All liens have the common element of a legal right to have a debt satisfied by the forced sale of the property, but the process of establishing a lien varies greatly across the country.

    In assisting construction clients going to other states, it is important to evaluate whether preliminary notices are required. Certain states require preliminary notices with deadlines tied to the occurrence of events, such as the timing of first performing work, and the requirements are different depending on whether you are a prime contractor, subcontractor, or material supplier.

    Other lien considerations include whether work is in a state that prohibits advance waivers of lien rights and whether a state requires the use of specific forms.

    Eric Meier headshot Eric Meier, U.W. 2002, is a partner in Husch Blackwell’s Milwaukee office. He is a co-head of Husch Blackwell’s Construction practice and concentrates his practice on construction and business litigation, risk management, and planning.

    State and Local Business Requirements: Is Registration Required?

    Many states require businesses to be registered before performing any construction work. Often, eligibility to perform work is conditioned on this registration. States such as Alaska and Arizona require that the state registration number be included in any construction contract above a de minimis dollar value.

    Even if there is not a state-level licensing requirement, construction companies may still be subject to local municipality requirements. Illinois handles much of its construction licensing at the local level – e.g., City of Chicago licensing falls under the scope of the City’s Building Department.

    Interestingly, some states that require contractors to carry licenses will not grant lien rights to unlicensed contractors. Often the licensing requirements are broken down between general contractor’s licenses (for anyone entering into the prime contract on a construction project) and subcontractor’s licenses. License requirements depend on the type of work being performed (distinguishing between commercial and residential work) and the dollar amount of projects. For example, in Alabama, general contractors (and subcontractors) must obtain a commercial license for projects larger than $50,000.

    If your client is lucky, the state in which they are going to perform work has reciprocity for the license requirements. While this does not relieve all requirements, reciprocity often removes obligations such as additional education or tests.

    Payment Details Depend on Role and Type of Project

    Almost every state has a version of the Prompt Pay Act. The specific timing of payments and other details such as interest and prevailing party attorneys’ fees and costs are prescribed by statute. Details vary widely across states and whether the project is public versus private, and also between owner to prime and prime to subcontractor payments.

    Relatedly, there are rules and restrictions tied to retainage ranging from obligations in Texas for owners to retain 10% on private construction projects to New Mexico’s ban on retainage altogether. Other states, such as Arizona and New York, only comment that retainage must be “reasonable.”

    Prevailing Wages: Which Law Applies?

    Many states require construction companies who contract for public construction work (whether at the state, county, and municipal level) to pay workers the hourly wage and fringe benefits paid to the majority of workers in the applicable geographic area for similar work.

    Keep in mind that even if a state does not have a prevailing wage law on the books, there may still be state requirements for prevailing wage. For example, the 2017-19 state budget repealed Wisconsin’s prevailing wage law. As a result, prevailing wage rates applicable to state agencies are those tied to the Davis-Bacon Act.

    Conclusion: Evaluate and Manage Risks

    Construction companies following clients into other markets is exciting and usually a compliment for great work done in Wisconsin.

    While moving to new geographies can be financially lucrative, it carries risks that must be evaluated and managed. It is important to know where to look for obligations and then incorporate them into contracts and business practices.

    Doing this the right way can lead to the type of outcome that Packers fans hope for this fall in London.

    This article was originally published on the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Construction and Public Contract Law Section Blog. Visit the State Bar sections or the Construction and Public Contract Law Section webpages to learn more about the benefits of section membership.

    Need help? Want to update your email address?
    Contact Customer Service, (800) 728-7788

    The Construction & Public Contract Law Section Blog is published by the State Bar of Wisconsin; blog posts are written by section members. To contribute to this blog, contact Mark Schmidt and review Author Submission Guidelines. Learn more about the Construction & Public Contract Law Section or become a member.

    Disclaimer: Views presented in blog posts are those of the blog post authors, not necessarily those of the Section or the State Bar of Wisconsin. Due to the rapidly changing nature of law and our reliance on information provided by outside sources, the State Bar of Wisconsin makes no warranty or guarantee concerning the accuracy or completeness of this content.

    © 2023 State Bar of Wisconsin, P.O. Box 7158, Madison, WI 53707-7158.

    State Bar of Wisconsin Logo

Join the conversation! Log in to leave a comment.

News & Pubs Search

Format: MM/DD/YYYY