For Lauren Atwell, construction is in his blood. Growing up in Albion, New York, Atwell was exposed to construction at a young age through his grandfather’s company, riding along to jobsites throughout Western New York before going to work for the company in the summers as a teen. The lure of the construction industry was cemented when the construction journal Engineering News-Record (ENR) profiled one of his grandfather’s projects.
“I remember seeing that article in ENR and just thinking how cool it was to see my grandfather’s work profiled,” Atwell recalls. “It was about a deep, master pump station project he was building in Rochester. I just kind of knew early on that I wanted to be involved with the construction industry.
“For me, I love the challenge of digging deep holes and pouring massive amounts of concrete. It is satisfying seeing the structure coming out of the ground.”
Since graduating from Clarkson University with a degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering, Atwell has spent nearly four decades in the construction industry. He is now putting his experience and leadership skills to use as the newly inducted Chairman of the National Utility Contractors Association (NUCA). Atwell, chief operating officer for Petticoat-Schmitt Civil Contractors Inc. in Jacksonville, Florida, officially took the reins of the association at its Annual Meeting in Naples, Florida, on Feb. 6.
Also elected to the leadership team at the Annual Meeting was Ryan Kinning of Pender, Nebraska, as Chairman-Elect. Tom Butler of Tampa, Florida, was elected as Vice-Chairman, Tony Privitera of Kansas City, Missouri, was elected as Treasurer, and Matt Mingus of Nashville, Tennessee, as Secretary.
Learning the Ropes
Since entering the construction field full time after his graduation from Clarkson, Atwell has worked for a handful of companies that have given him a broad range of experience. He has also had the opportunity to learn from seasoned professionals. One of his first jobs was at LeCesse Construction in Rochester, New York, where he worked closely with Francis Antonelli.
“Francis taught me a lot about the process of project management and negotiation skills, and he taught me how to be a good project manager,” Atwell says. “He was really strict about the process – following the right steps to build the job from procurement and scheduling to the planning process and documentation. He had the process down before these kinds of things were taught in schools.”
Atwell also credits Ed White Sr. at Meadors Construction as another positive influence on his professional career. “Ed was the individual who taught me about leadership skills and how to make money on a job,” Atwell says. “With the project management skills combined with leaderships skills I was able to work over more projects and more people.”
Currently, Atwell works for Petticoat-Schmitt Civil Contractors Inc., where he was brought on board by founder (and past NUCA chairman) Ryan Schmitt to start up the firm’s water and wastewater treatment plant group.
“It has been a lot of fun developing that business line at Petticoat-Schmitt,” Atwell recalls. “I was fortunate in that we had a number of people from Meadors – project managers, superintendents, foremen and carpenters – join us here at Petticoat-Schmitt, so we kind of hit the ground running.”
In Atwell’s time at Petticoat-Schmitt, the firm has grown from 40 employees to 240 employees. He says he has been able to grow his leadership skills while working with Schmitt. “Ryan has showed me what a visionary and servant leader is,” Atwell says. “We have an incredible culture here and that has been because of Ryan’s vision.”
The NUCA Connection
It was while he was with Meadors that Atwell became involved with NUCA for the first time. “Meadors was a NUCA member and Ed pushed me to get involved with the local chapter,” Atwell recalls. “Since then, NUCA has almost been a second family. I have built many great friends and relationships there, and have learned a lot from many great leaders involved in the organization.”
Atwell began volunteering for committees and eventually rose to president of the North Florida Chapter for a two-year term in 2007-08. He later served a stint as president for the state association, NUCA of Florida. It was at that time that he began attending national NUCA meetings, and joined the national executive committee in 2018, forging his path to the chairmanship.
As chairman, Atwell says one of his main goals is to advance the association’s strategic plan, which is broken out into five strategic goals: Advocacy, Education and Training, Member and Chapter Engagement, Organizational Growth and Productivity, and Workforce Development.
“The association put a lot of effort into creating the strategic plan, as well as specific smart goals to accomplish the plan,” he says. “We need to have our committee members walk out of meetings with specific action items and then hold ourselves accountable to help drive the strategic plan forward.”
Next, Atwell sees chapter engagement as an important step in advancing the goals of the organization. “I would like to see more chapters engaged on the national committees,” he says. “There are so many chapters that don’t have representation at the national level. If we are able to get more local representation at the national level, they will be able to take that knowledge and excitement back to their chapter and get the rest of the chapter more engaged. It can have a cascading effect on the whole association.”
Finally, Atwell would like to continue the efforts of membership growth of immediate past chairman Fred Chesney. “As contractors, we are all competitive,” Atwell muses. “Fred did a great job in growing the organization by 6 percent last year in an incredibly challenging year, so I would like to grow it by 10 percent!”
Of course, building and maintaining a successful construction business and being active in volunteer associations can be taxing on one’s schedule. Atwell cites the support of his wife of 29 years, Melanie, as providing the support needed for him to fulfill his professional duties. Lauren and Melanie have two sons, L.T., 26, and Colt, 22. While they didn’t catch the construction bug, they dig get the love of the outdoors of their father.
Atwell is an avid hunter and fisherman. In fact, in 2002, he bagged a Boone and Crockett world record buck in LaGrange, Georgia, officially scoring 204 6/8 inches. That accomplishment earned him appearances on various hunting programs. He says deer, bird and rabbit hunting are the three types of hunting he gets to do the most. On the water, he prefers salt water fishing along the Intercoastal Waterway, with occasional forays offshore.
Atwell’s term as Chairman of the Board will end one year from now at the next NUCA Annual Meeting.