For more than 20 years, NUCA of Pennsylvania executive director Brenda Reigle has been front and center advocating f or members at both the local and national levels. Her passion to do what is right for her members and the industry is always on display, and has not gone unnoticed by her peers.
At the 2021 NUCA Annual Convention & Exhibit in Naples, Florida, Reigle was honored with the We Dig America Award by NUCA CEO Doug Carlson. The We Dig America Award is presented to a non-NUCA member who has made a significant contribution to NUCA and the underground utility construction and excavation industry. The achievement must have national impact and the recipient must have national stature.
In the wake of the convention, Utility Contractor caught up with Reigle to get some insights into her dedicated career.
UC: Talk about your background and how you got involved with the construction industry.
I grew up in rural Central Pennsylvania surrounded by dairy farms where we helped our neighbors milk cows and bale hay until my early teens. I started my first job at 15-years-old and never stopped working regardless of the circumstances. I opened unisex hair salon business and then transition to a career in the state legislation. That was quite a transition. I was hired away from my salon ownership because of my computer knowledge. I had a RadioShack Tandy computer in my salon when a legislator came for his haircut appointment. He was amazed that a cosmetologist had a computer, let alone knew how to program it. I worked at the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and the Senate for 12 years, and when my Senator decided to run for Allegheny County Commissioner and won, I decided to leave the Senate. I picked up the local newspaper one day and saw an advertisement for an Executive Director for a utility construction trade association, and based on my past experience I thought I would be a good fit for me. I applied, interviewed and history tells the rest of the story.
UC: What is it about the construction industry that keeps you motivated?
The utility construction industry had no voice at the Legislature when I started in 1996. My members shared the reality of their experiences with me as I traveled throughout the state for regional meetings. It did not take long to learn that the Legislature was not concerned with construction issues that were not a crisis. No one was speaking about the dangerous situations encountered every day in the field. As we pushed for legislative funding and One Call laws, our reputation grew. The association’s voice was finally being heard and the members expressed their appreciation for someone standing up for the industry. Each success led to our motivation to become more proactive than reactive. Many issues that could have seriously affected our members were diverted before they could become an issue.
UC: What would you say are some of your biggest achievements professionally? Personally?
Professionally, nothing is really my accomplishment alone; it takes an army to win a battle! I have the best group of directors and volunteers who do their part to work an issue. Our biggest achievements were the passage of two funding bills totaling $1.2 million for infrastructure just as the economy was tanking in 2017. We also fought PENNDOT for six years to keep the ability to use the Hoe Pac for trench backfill compaction.
Personally, there is no doubt that my biggest achievement on a personal level is raising two children and graduating college. I also received a lot of personal satisfaction helping many 4-H youths have the opportunity to enjoy horses and grow into productive adults.
UC: What are the challenges you see facing the construction industry at large? What about utility contractors?
The biggest challenge is that the construction industry at large needs to build one solid coalition and stand together as a whole on funding issues. I believe COVID-19 may be the gamechanger as we learned how to share COVID-19 information. This newly formed relationship seems to be continuing as we unite on events, podcasts, webinars, and legislative efforts.
The biggest challenges I see for the utility contractors is the need to change the current One Call practices. Utility contractors cannot continue to have their crew and the public exposed to the high possibility of a dangerous utility hit. We have the technology for smarter designs and damage prevention through the use of Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE). The challenge will be at the state and local government levels. It will require a coalition of all the excavation trade associations to educate these officials on the cost and safety benefits.
UC: What does NUCA mean to you?
I have been honored to have mentored Executive Directors, Associates and Contractors members throughout the years. I learned something from John Hall in 1997 at my first convention, and I continued his welcome policy for those new to NUCA. I watched many of those I mentored grow into Committee positions, Board seats, Officer positions, or Executive Director Leadership positions. NUCA members are a true family of comradery, with all its intricate matrixes, yet it still ends in loyalty and long-lasting friendship I will always remember.
UC: So what are your thoughts on being named the We Dig America Award winner
I simply cannot express the feeling I felt when I flipped through the program looking for my next meeting room when I suddenly thought to myself, “did I see my picture in the program?” I flipped back a few pages and read the heading, “We Dig America Award – Brenda Reigle,” and a big action photo from the Damage Prevention Committee meeting held at last year’s convention.
This just could not be, I thought. An Executive Director never receives this award! After a few minutes, it was confirmed that I was indeed being honored by NUCA for my 24 years of service to the industry. I was still in shock but still felt so very humbled by the act that tears formed as I thanked numerous NUCA staff, directors, and members for such an honorary award. Today, the plaque sits in full view for every webinar and when I’m asked about the plaque in the background, I proudly pick it up and talk about how my NUCA colleagues recognized my legislative efforts on behalf of the utility construction industry. Then I add, but there is no greater honor then a room full of industry friends giving you two standing ovations as an expression of their appreciation! Truly awe-inspiring.