Booms and busts may come and go, but talent and drive lie at the heart of what makes the construction industry innovative and competitive. The region's emergence from the recession has left the Southwest construction market with a variety of candidates ready to become the leaders of the next generation, as evidenced by this year's ENR Southwest's Top 20 Under 40 honorees.
As is often the case when recognizing young leaders and top performers, many candidates on this year's list are adept at using cutting edge technologies.
For example, Julie Garcia of Kitchell was chosen by AutoDesk to be part of a beta team to test Quantity Takeoff software. It was her feedback, in part, that led AutoDesk to take it off the market and add Takeoff to Navisworks instead.
But many of this year's winners - such as Matthew Meaker, an attorney with Sacks Tierney, and Eric Simmons, a project manager with Helix Electric - are also highly adept at traditional functions. Meaker is known for his negotiating and courtroom skills, and Simmons excels at getting the most out of work teams.
ENR solicited nominations from, or on behalf of, people under 40 years of age who work within the construction industry in Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico.
Special thanks go to judge Arnold Canales of ARC Consulting, Chandler, Ariz., whose tireless work on this project was critical to the success of the competition.
The criteria used to evaluate the nominees included their professional achievements, involvement with the construction community, contributions to the Southwest's built environment and service to their respective communities.
Quality leadership sets project manager apart
33, Project Manager/Utility Group Leader
Though his professional career began in 2004, Andrew Baird has been working in the construction industry since he was a teenager. Now in his 30s, he is doing it on a much larger scale. As design manager on the Interstate-10/SR303 traffic interchange, he assisted in the management of a design team of more than 50 staff members from five different companies. As utility group leader, Baird has expanded the group in order to provide standalone utility design to local municipalities. Additionally, he oversees the construction management contracts assigned through his group, which has grown significantly over the last two years. One of his most notable projects was a residential site plan for which he surveyed and designed the site, enabling him to fully understand the footprint.
Transportation consultant impresses with expertise and foresight
39, Senior Project Manager
After receiving his civil engineering degree from the University of San Antonio, Paul Barricklow garnered an internship with the Texas A and M Transportation Institute and eventually earned a master's degree in business administration. He met the president of Lee Engineering at a Professional Traffic Operations Engineers testing session. That chance encounter not only inspired the firm to expand to New Mexico, but also to task Barricklow with leading the office. After starting with a single customer in 2007, he led Lee Engineering in contract starts in 2013 and accepted an invitation to become a principal in the firm last year.
Wesley Begay Jr.
Dedication to Navajo community pays off for construction manager
30, Development Manager
Navajo Housing Authority
Wesley Begay Jr. is highly valued by the Navajo Housing Authority; he has received three promotions since joining the organization. He began as a project representative, was promoted to development coordinator, then senior development coordinator. For the past four years, Begay has worked as construction department manager. The alumnus of Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, Ariz., has been responsible for the development and construction of more than $180 million in architectural and construction contracts over the past four years, with a majority of this work completed in the last 18 months. Begay also led the Navajo Housing Authority in revising their design-bid-build contracts in an effort to reduce risk and liabilities.
Young manager implements emerging technologies
34, Senior Estimator
The Penta Building Group
A native New Yorker who was drawn west by a scholarship from Arizona State University, Christopher Brooks joined Penta Building Group as a project engineer and became the youngest person ever to join the firm's management team in 2006 at the age of 26. Brooks has been involved in a wide array of Penta's biggest projects, including those on the Las Vegas Strip as well as health care projects on tribal land. In 2011, Brooks was appointed to a key role at Penta's Palm Springs office, where he leads all project opportunities in that region. He recently transitioned from operations to a senior role in the firm's Las Vegas preconstruction department. Brooks is also a proponent for implementing new emerging technologies as a means of streamlining processes and increasing productivity, including model-based estimating and the use of BIM to provide accurate budgets at a quicker pace.
Early adopter pushes for industry innovation and efficiency
34, Interior Designer
Since the beginning of her career, Ramona Burns has consistently pushed her peers to adapt new and more efficient techniques and make them the industry standard. She is NCIDQ certified, a registered interior designer in Nevada and LEED accredited, acquiring all of these designations before they were considered industry standards. Some of her most high-profile projects include SLS Las Vegas and the Zappos headquarters, both in Las Vegas.
"In a market that has become increasingly more budget and schedule conscious, Ramona has managed to uphold the priorities of the client and ensure that the design intent is not sacrificed," says Kristi Auxier, studio coordinator, Gensler, Las Vegas.
Beyond jobsite duties, Burns supports the Dress for Success foundation and contributed to the conversion of an existing conference room into a career center to support disadvantaged women seeking to reenter the work force.
Versatility and experience pay off for project director
38, Project Director
Kevin Connor is a versatile project director who has managed construction teams working for clients in the pharmaceutical, higher education and mission critical arenas. He also directly manages Skanska USA's mission critical group data center projects. A member of Drexel University's class of 2000, the civil engineering major worked his way through the ranks from project engineer to project director in a career that has spanned nearly two decades. In four years at his current position, Connor has managed more than $400 million of significant data center projects in the U.S. and Canada, including the $250-million Project Topaz in South Jordan, Utah, and two projects for Telus that total more than $125 million.
International experience breeds wide acclaim
35, Division Manager
Harshal Desai has earned degrees in engineering on two continents. Recognizing his design and leadership talents, Atkins has promoted Desai five times in the past 10 years. Most recently, he was named water resources national lead for the firm. He began his career working on regional flood control planning and design projects, such as the Oakey Meadows storm drain in downtown Las Vegas, which received the Project of the Year Award from APWA's Nevada Chapter. He then became the project manager for the Clark County Regional Flood Control District's flood control master plan update for the Las Vegas Valley, with an estimated construction cost of $7 billion.