ENR California's Legacy Award: Jerry Overaa Keeps California Working
As one of the founders of the Construction Employer’s Association, Overaa strives to resolve conflicts and prevent work stoppages
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Jerry Overaa joining his family’s construction business as a full-time employee. In that time, Overaa has helped the fourth-generation, design-build general contractor grow into a major player in Northern California, with hundreds of iconic projects built and an annual increase in volume from $10 million in 1974 to $232 million in 2014.
Today, as CEO of Richmond, Calif.-based Overaa Construction, he leads a thriving company while creating a powerful legacy for the California construction landscape.
“Jerry has made tremendous contributions to the building industry in California,” says Michael Walton, secretary of the Construction Employer’s Association (CEA). “He is one of my mentors and one of the few people that gave CEA an opportunity to go into business.”
Overaa helped found the CEA in the early 1980s. At that time, “there was a lot of construction conflict, work stoppages and strikes,” Overaa says. To find a better way to resolve the conflicts, he helped “create a collaborative association with a labor component.”
The CEA now comprises nearly 100 unionized contractors that perform an estimated $10 billion in building construction in Northern California each year. It is the only organization whose sole purpose is to protect and promote the interests of the unionized commercial building construction industry in Northern California, according to the association.
Besides serving as a past president and current CEA board member, Overaa also serves as chairman of the CEA Construction Management University Grant Program, which has provided $1.92 million in grants to universities for students pursuing degrees in construction.
“It’s important to help young people coming up and to give back to those who educate about construction because [construction] isn’t always viewed as the sexiest occupation. But to the people who do it, there is a camaraderie and teamwork,” says Overaa, who has served on various advisory boards and given guest lectures at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Stanford University.
It was at Stanford that Overaa received a master’s degree in civil engineering, which helped launch his construction career. He says when he began at Stanford, he briefly considered a job in aeronautical engineering, but “drifted back to the family business” after the school exposed him to major projects like building dams and the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) rail system.
“All of a sudden, construction became very exciting,” he says. “I didn’t know it was that big of a scale, so that lit the fire for me.”
Soon after joining the family firm, Overaa discovered a passion for concrete and carved out a niche in parking structure construction in the 1970s, building one of the first design-build parking structures for a shopping mall in Concord, Calif. He went on to build 65 parking structures in Northern California for clients such as BART, Stanford University, Kaiser Hospitals and many private developers.
Today, Overaa Construction is one of the Bay Area’s largest construction employers, with crews performing approximately 450,000 man-hours of concrete work each year.
Overaa credits much of the success and longevity of Overaa Construction to persistence and caring about people. “We wanted successful projects, but it was more important to make sure we had continuity because we became a family,” he says.
That philosophy has rubbed off on other members of the Overaa team.
“Jerry is a leader in a company full of people who love to build,” says Colby Powell, Overaa Construction vice president. “They have passion for what they are doing, and this passion starts at the top. It is Jerry’s passion for the work that spreads throughout Overaa and to others in the industry that he touches.”