Employee Spotlight: Project Manager Ryan Harris

Employee Spotlight: Project Manager Ryan Harris Carl A. Nelson & Company Project Manager Ryan Harris is a third-generation employee of the company. CANCO photo

1 month, 2 weeks ago

Despite a family connection that spans nearly the entire 109-year history of Carl A. Nelson & Company, starting with his grandfather, continuing with his father and then all three older brothers (plus many uncles and cousins), it never was foreordained that Ryan Harris would join what has amounted to the family business.

In fact, when he set out in college as an accounting student, that was perfectly fine with his father, a longtime but by then former CANCO superintendent, Bob Harris, whose father-in-law, Clarence Alter, worked for Carl Nelson during the company’s early days.

But it didn’t take Ryan Harris long to realize accounting, and college at that time, weren’t for him. So, he came to work as a construction laborer, and in so doing, discovered a new career direction.

“It’s just fun building stuff,” said Harris, whose now 27 years with CANCO began with a year as a full-time construction worker; then continued part-time while going to school for a degree in industrial technology, emphasizing in construction management, from Western Illinois University. He came back full-time in 1998 as a field engineer, working all over the country and locally on projects for industrial, commercial and healthcare clients, among others.

He was promoted to project manager in 2001, where he ran projects from the office in Burlington. The move took some getting used to.

“I missed being out in the field and building stuff with my hands,” Harris said.

Since coming into the office, work travel usually has been only for a day or two at a time. In 2007, however, Harris found himself living on the road for a year — this time in Canada, where he was project manager on a design-build job for Royal Canin Canada Co., building a new production plant, corporate office and quality control lab in Guelph, Ontario.

Harris had been running projects for Royal Canin USA in Rolla, Missouri, for three years when CANCO was awarded a contract to build the new Canadian facility, which was a multi-phase project that ran from 2006 to 2014. Looking back, he counts that project as an especially enjoyable one because of the challenges and opportunities it posed, even though the plant itself was similar to other Royal Canin pet food facilities.

“That’s one of the neat things about construction,” Harris said. “You can build the same building on two different spots, and it doesn’t go the same.”

This facility was on a remote greenfield site, meaning building from the ground up, including all roads, utilities and on-site water and wastewater treatment. The empty site didn’t offer the constraints that go along with working in or around existing facilities. And it was a whole other country, with its own unique set of regulations to work within. While much of the pre-construction was done in Burlington, it was one of his first major projects where the bulk of the construction was under management rather than self-performed.

Today, Harris is running projects for industrial and healthcare clients, in general contractor, design-build and construction management roles. No matter the project, he said the commitment is the same:

“I try to make the customer feel important,” he said. “You’ve got to do a good job for them to keep them happy.” Citing one of the company’s core principles, he added, “Fairness and honesty, that’s been driven into me since I was a boy.”

For Harris, who became an employee-owner in 2008, work at CANCO has been a family affair in another way beyond generations of Harrises. On a job in southwest Indiana in 1998, where he lived for a year-and-a-half, Harris met the friend of his neighbor, a young nurse from Evansville, Indiana, named Misty. Two years later, they were married. The couple celebrated their 22nd anniversary this year. They live near Burlington, Iowa, with their three children, Brooke, 19; Emma, 14; and Noah, 12.

Away from the office and jobsite, Ryan Harris enjoys hunting, golfing and other outdoors pursuits, and time spent with his family.

— Craig T. Neises, director of marketing

Ryan with his wife, Misty, and their children (L-R), Brooke, Noah and Emma. Photo provided


Ryan, second left, is seen with his late father, Bob, a longtime CANCO superintendent, and brothers (L-R) Randy, Russ and Rick. Photo provided