When Kara Habrock, vice president and general manager of L.G. Roloff Construction Co. Inc., recalls her journey to a career in utility construction, “divine intervention” always comes to mind. The newly-minted NUCA chairwoman grew up in construction but hadn’t always considered it her calling. However, some things just have their way of working out for the best.
“My father, Larry, started L.G. Roloff Construction in 1975,” she explains. “As a teenager, I was ‘asked’ by my parents to do many odd jobs — enough to convince me that I wasn’t interested in construction. Fortunately, several years later, I believe ‘divine intervention’ led me back to the company to help my dad with a few special projects, and I never looked back. I believe in ‘blooming where you’re planted,’ and I have grown very passionate about our company, our industry, the people in it and the very important work we do.”
Despite growing up around construction, Habrock initially didn’t follow her father’s path. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism — with an emphasis in marketing and political science — she took an entry-level marketing position with an information technology firm, Inacom Corp. During her seven-year tenure with the company, Habrock says she gained invaluable knowledge about marketing, sales support for franchise and directly owned business models, public speaking and presentations, hiring and managing staff, team dynamics and leadership.
“It was an incredibly busy and hectic time in my life, but it provided me with many lessons that I still use to this day — both in my business and in my leadership roles in various organizations like NUCA,” she says. “My position at Inacom required a lot of travel and that was fine until my first child arrived. I resigned [as director of business development for support services] in late 1998 when my daughter was a little over a year old. In early 1999, my dad asked me if I ‘knew anything about this Y2K thing and if I’d be willing to help him part-time.’ And as they say … the rest is history. One ‘fix this’ project led to another, and soon I was full time. In 2004, my husband Monty and I, along with our partners Bob Norris and Ron Siwa purchased the company from my dad.”
Although many members get their start in NUCA while working in the industry, Habrock’s first association experience came when she was just a teen — and completely unaware of the role NUCA would later play in her future.
“I attended my first NUCA Convention when I was 14! Being a contractor, my dad would never take a summer vacation, so the NUCA convention was usually he and my mom’s winter vacation, and I got to go along one year,” she says. “Many years later, I sporadically attended NUCA conventions — L.G. Roloff Construction was an independent NUCA member as there was no chapter in Nebraska — but we weren’t really involved in any NUCA activities other than attending the annual convention.”
Through her NUCA involvement and by attending conventions, Habrock certainly learned about the importance of industry advocacy — a lesson she’s truly grateful for.
“Our projects are out of sight, but we have to be visible,” she says. “We have to keep working to keep our industry on the minds of lawmakers and the general public. Before I got actively involved with NUCA, I was rather oblivious to much of this — focused on my own business and unaware of the knowledge, empowerment and momentum to be gained from being a part of an industry association. With NUCA participation, I have discovered the importance of spending some time working on my business, instead of working only directly in my business.”
Over time, Habrock steadily increased her involvement with NUCA. She was heavily involved with the establishment of her local chapter, NUCA of Nebraska, and served as its first president. Habrock also served several years as the chapter’s Industry and Government Relations chairperson. Shortly after NUCA of Nebraska was established, she was elected to NUCA National’s Board of Directors and she volunteered as the Government Relations Committee chairperson for the last five years.
“I was asked to be the convention chairperson in 2012 for the Fort Worth event,” says Habrock. “In 2013, I was elected as secretary and began my Executive Committee track which ultimately led to my becoming chairwoman in 2017.”
Getting to Know L.G. Roloff Construction
According to Habrock, L.G. Roloff Construction first got its start as an underground utility construction company performing sanitary sewer, storm sewer and water projects in Omaha and the surrounding areas. To this day, these types of projects are a large portion of its business. Today, the company is known for its knowledge and experience in handling large-diameter pipe installations and deep excavations.
“The City of Omaha is currently under an EPA-mandated CSO program and this is a large portion of our underground work,” says Habrock. “We also have a concrete paving division that performs street and road paving projects ranging from residential developments to major city streets. And, for the last few years, my partners and I have operated a vertical construction firm, Roloff Building Group, which is a commercial general contracting firm.”
Ready to Work
With the chairwoman’s gavel in hand, Habrock is ready to lead the association she’s proudly been a part of for 18 years. She says her primary goal is to make sure NUCA’s recently developed three-year strategic plan is followed and that the NUCA Board of Directors provides the necessary direction and support to the national office staff, committee leadership and chapter leadership, so the plan’s initiatives can progress, deadlines can be met and goals can be achieved.
Along with NUCA’s internal plans, Habrock points out two industry challenges the association and fellow utility construction professionals need to address. The first is increasing advocacy efforts for infrastructure spending and moving the topic to the front of the line for the public and less out of sight, out of mind.
“Although many lawmakers understand there is a problem, NUCA’s challenge now is to educate average Americans in hopes that they will apply pressure to those lawmakers,” says Habrock. “I don’t think Americans have any idea about the importance of underground infrastructure in terms of public health and safety, economic development and quality of life. We need to make sure Americans [not just NUCANS] let their local, state and federal representatives know that infrastructure should be a priority. We need to bring attention to the problem at the local level. Flint, Mich., brought significant attention to lead water pipes in cities all across the country. We should all be writing letters to our local papers, talking about infrastructure failures all over the United States. It has to be a grassroots effort!”
On top of helping the public see the importance of infrastructure, NUCA and the industry need to address the workforce shortage. Habrock says a big hurdle in workforce development is making people look beyond the dirt.
“People [particularly today’s high school students] can’t seem to get past ‘the dirt,’” she says. “We need to find a way to show people how interesting, vital and rewarding our work is — and that a career where you ‘get dirty’ is not something to be ashamed of. Rather, it is something to be proud of! Students also need to understand that the opportunities extend beyond the trench — there are opportunities in estimating, project management, safety management, risk management, etc.”
Pam Kleineke is managing editor of Utility Contractor.
When Habrock isn’t in the office, she enjoys spending time with her husband of 24 years, Monty, and their two daughters, Claire and Sophie. Claire, 19, is a freshman at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Sophie, 16, is a sophomore at Louisville High School. And while neither one thinks they are interested in the construction industry, Habrock says with a smile, “we’ll see about that.”
It’s family first for the Habrocks and their passion is spending time together. This often involves entertaining, watching sports and enjoying the company of extended family and friends.
“I’m a wannabe chef and food blogger, and Monty is the king of the grill. We have a cabin at a nearby lake and enjoy spending time on the water. We also love Nebraska Cornhusker football and Chicago Cubs baseball. Personally, I enjoy reading fiction and running.”
Habrock also lends her free time to her local school board and the board of directors for the Midlands Community Foundation, as well as the Cass County Economic Development Council.