June 15, 2020
By Mark Flatten

Tuan Nguyen is looking to grow his California business into the state of Arizona. The state’s new universal recognition law for licensed professionals was a big part of his plan.

Nguyen is a San Diego-based construction and commercial electrical contractor with 25 years in the building trades. He has a reputation in California as someone who can get the job done right and on time. His specialty now is electrical and solar installations, and he’s done work on large projects ranging from schools to retail centers.

A past client had suggested Nguyen expand his business into Arizona—an idea he liked except for one hitch: To do work here, Nguyen would need an Arizona contractor’s license, and that would likely mean slogging through a long and cumbersome process.

Then in August 2019, the state’s universal licensing law took effect. Intended to cut through the normal bureaucratic red tape associated with getting a professional license, the law says that a person licensed for at least a year in another state without any disciplinary action qualifies for an equivalent Arizona license.

To Nguyen, that made all the difference, and he started the process of getting his Arizona license under the new law last September. He passed a test on Arizona laws and codes, which he said was rigorous but understandable. At one point his application to the state Registrar of Contractors got stuck in the mail, but once that was cleared up, getting a license here went smoothly, he said.

“I was concerned how long the process was going to take,” Nguyen said. “Once you (submit) the paperwork correctly, it’s been smooth, hands off.

“I don’t see any issues with it. I don’t know how you could feel it’s a hindrance. Throughout the process I haven’t seen anything where you are like ‘Whoa this is getting ridiculous.’ I never got to that point.”

Nguyen started at the bottom of the construction industry 25 years ago and worked his way up. After the building bust that came with the 2008 financial crisis, he switched his expertise to electrical contracting, particularly on renewable energy. For the last 10 years he’s specialized in solar installations, a booming trade in California that is growing ever more popular in Arizona.

Nguyen said he is still assessing the business prospects in Arizona. If he does open a branch here, it would likely be in the Tucson area and would employ a crew of eight to 10 workers. The Registrar of Contractors licenses businesses rather than individual workers as other state licensing boards do.

Nguyen was interviewed before the COVID-19 pandemic essentially froze the nation’s economy.

Assuming things return to normal, Nguyen sees the Arizona licensing law as a way to attract skilled professionals who might otherwise be discouraged by slow, costly, and cumbersome licensing laws. In the past, many states have allowed people in the construction trades to move around more freely through reciprocity agreements. But many states have begun backing away from those arrangements, Nguyen said. Arizona’s universal licensing law seems to be a better approach that will benefit both workers and the state’s economy, he said.

“I think there would be more opportunity out there if they would continue to do this,” he said. “Some of the states out there have rescinded the reciprocity, and you have to go through a lot of hurdles to get your testing. In Arizona it’s going rapidly. I’d like to see it continue to grow.”

Click here to read more of the story in 1,000+ Arizonans Get Freedom to Work under State’s New Universal Recognition Law.

Mark Flatten is the National Investigative Journalist at the Goldwater Institute.

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