Grapevine, Texas, in July? Why? CII! The Construction Industry Institute drew close to 500 owners, contractors and academics to Texas on the baking hot week of July 19. The group is devoted to doing much-neglected basic research about the business challenges facing the industry. Fortunately, we were literally “inside” the Gaylord Texan mega-hotel. There wasn’t much exposure to the natural elements--and that was a good thing.

Rich in Research: For the research side of this story, please stay tuned for a related story coming soon to the web and the ENR print edition. There is a particularly interesting study about the difference between commodity and value-added services from contractors and which services produce net a value-added impact on the project in the end. The Grapevine meeting was a member’s only event, but this and other research will be presented again at CII’s public Construction Project Improvement Conference at the University of Texas in Austin on Sept. 11 to 13. For more information or to download research studies, visit Current CII Chairman Dennis Schroeder, president of the BE&K Engineering Co., Birmingham, Ala., is really upbeat about the group’s new Executive Leadership course at the UT McCombs School of Business Jan. 8-27, 2006. More about that on their website, too.

Not-So-Chance Encounters: Steve Hanks, president and CEO of Washington Group International, met Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in person for the first time after both listened to the opening keynote by Ross Perot about leadership. Washington Group has done $1 billion worth of work in Iraq. Hanks says he feels it is appropriate that the Corps is transitioning its work there to Iraqi contractors as they are able to pick it up. He added that Washington Group is subcontracting much of its current work there to Iraqi companies. (True fact: Steve Hanks is a distant cousin of actor Tom Hanks.)

Leaving a Legacy: Hanks and Strock each gave keynotes discussing what turned out to be quite similar views on leadership development. Stock said, “Your real mission is the leaders you leave behind.” WGI spends in excess of $50 million a year on leadership development and training. Hanks says he gets the comment, “You spend all this money on training and then employees will leave...But the alternative is that we don’t train, and they will stay.”


High-Energy Market: The major theme of the CII meeting is research, and the conference theme was leadership. But a sub-theme developed about how the energy market is picking up. Rex Tillerson, president of ExxonMobil Corp., said that current energy demand is the equivalent of 225 million barrels of oil a day. He said ExxonMobil is forecasting that it will grow 50% by 2030, which would be even higher if it were not for improvements in energy efficiency. Tillerson estimated $200 billion a year in capital spending by oil and gas companies around the world. Contractors working in the energy market have already noticed increasing activity. Paul Redmon, president of Houston-based Mustang Engineering, said offshore work is booming, with technological advances making it possible to tap deeper waters and new fields off the coast of West Africa. Ernie Wright, chief operating officer of The Industrial Company, Steamboat Springs, Colorado, mentioned active markets in coal, liquefied natural gas and peaking power jobs.

Aramco Wants You: On a related note, Aramco Services Co., one of the owner members of CII, reports it is trying to attract more U.S. bidders for the enormous amount of work it has coming up in Saudi Arabia and globally in the next few years. Abdulaziz Al-Omran, manager of technical services, in the Houston, Texas, office of Aramco Services Co., said his company held a meeting recently with contractor members of CII to encourage them to bid. Contractors who attended acknowledge they had shied away from Aramco work because of tough terms and conditions in its contracts. Al-Omran reports that times have changed, however, and the company is now committed to CII best practices.

ACE’s Wild: Charlie Thornton, structural engineer extraordinaire and guru of the ACE Mentor Program, reported at the meeting that ACE now serves 4,000 mostly inner-city high school students with 2,000 mentors representing 1,000 companies. It brings together mentors from all sectors of the construction industry—owners, architects, engineers, contractors, specialty contractors and suppliers—who work in teams to give students an introduction to all the different possible construction industry careers. The students learn through hands-on projects in 15 after-school sessions. To get involved, visit