Jon Keller’s official title at ENR is associate editor, surveys and rankings, and he collects and interprets much of the global construction sector data that pours into ENR. A resident of New York City, his typical day includes hours in front of a computer preparing data analyses or on the phone, with an occasional subway ride to ENR’s offices in the Empire State Building. He has not been among the magazine’s editors and writers who departs for project sites, particularly in remote or frozen parts of the world.
So when Keller headed to northern British Columbia to visit the $11.8-billion Site C Clean Energy Project, a 1-km-long hydroelectric dam on a rugged river, he was met there by ENR’s peripatetic editor-in-chief, Scott Blair, a veteran of many jobsite visits.
The result of their teamwork is this issue’s cover story—and a new perspective for Keller on ENR stories featuring first-hand accounts of remote jobsites. “The travel is exhausting,” he says. “But when you get there, it’s mostly about having conversations with people who know much more about something you are trying to learn about.”
One example is Javier Garcia Ruiz, project director for Peace River Hydro Partners, the Site C civil works contractor joint venture. “You can have those conversations over Zoom, but it’s impossible to get the same sense of scale and complexity without seeing it yourself,” Keller adds.
As a visitor, he says he is “one person looking at the work of thousands of people that will impact millions more.” Airline flights were added to a local carrier’s schedule to accommodate workers streaming to and from the dam site, with the project’s peak workforce reaching 6,000, says Blair.
A native of Lockport, N.Y., who attended the State University of New York at Fredonia, Keller had both data and freelance writing experience before joining ENR in 2020. He also had been a project manager, which he says helps him juggle a lot of ENR data management tasks. “I may be knee-deep into preparing the current list,” such as the Top 600 Contractors or Top 100 Design-Build Firms, “but I always need to be nudging the next list toward completion,” he says.
Keller’s work with firms on ENR’s top lists querying about their key projects led to Site C being included in ENR’s Rugged Construction series this year. Those project stories, which feature work in tough terrain and challenging weather, offer a look at how some extraordinarily challenging global construction projects are being executed. They have been among the most popular content on ENR.com.
This series follows others in ENR that focused on key industry issues, including one in four parts called Engineering Justice, which explored how infrastructure development has had a negative effect on communities over the decades. It earned last year a Neal award, a distinction in business journalism, as Best Series and was named second runner-up for the Grand Neal award among hundreds of submissions.
Of Keller’s performance on his field visit debut, Blair comments: “As a rookie, he did quite well.”