Nevada Contractors Insurance, based in Las Vegas, recently expanded its reach into New Mexico, offering workers' compensation coverage to New Mexico contractors under NCI's wholly owned subsidiary Builders Insurance Co., the workers' comp arm of the company.

The firm was started in November 1995 with 12 plumbers and a general contractor who were "fed up" with the workers' comp bureaucracy in Nevada. They became a self-insured group -- the group was liable for any claims generated by the group. Should a member go out of business, the surviving members could be assessed additional funds to pay future claims.

In March 2000, the group merged with Nevada Contractors Insurance Co., Nevada's first "captive" insurance company -- a company that is owned by those it insures. NCI now offers a full range of insurance for its contractor owners, including property and casualty and general liability.

The expansion into New Mexico is a big step for the firm; general liability coverage may be added late next year, said Tom Wheeler, vice president of NCI. There are about 12-15 new members in New Mexico; he hopes to have 50-75 members by the end of the year.

The firm is looking at expanding into other states, but they must match certain criteria, he explained.

"First, we're looking for states with urban cities, but not urban sprawl," he told PM. "We want more centralization so we can set up our safety and claims programs easily and efficiently."

NCI is looking at states in its region, such as Colorado, Arizona, Utah and even California.

"The second thing we look for is reasonable insurance laws and premium rates," he said. "In some states, the premium rates are extremely low. That makes it very hard for us to be profitable."