Utility Contractor

MAY-JUN 2018

As the official magazine of NUCA, Utility Contractor presents the latest information affecting every aspect of the utility construction industry, including technological advancements, safety issues, legislative developments and instructional advice.

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May/June 2018 | Utility Contractor 15 R eflecting on his career path to date, Ryan Kinning, vice president at Penro Construction Co., points to his involvement with NUCA as being instrumental in his professional and personal development. And, fortunately for NUCA, that involvement has helped expand the association's chapter footprint and member benefits. In recognition of Kinning's tireless efforts to strengthen and promote the association, he was named the 2017 Ditchdigger of the Year Award during NUCA's Convention, March 9, 2018, in San Antonio. Presented annually to a contractor member who has made a significant contribution to NUCA and the underground utility construction and excavation industry, the Ditchdigger of the Year is NUCA's most prestigious award. Kinning acknowledges that he isn't a typical candidate for an award like this considering that Penro is an 18-person company based in Pender, Nebraska – population of just over 1,000. The fact that Kinning was able to make a difference on the national stage comes down to one word: involvement. "You don't have to be from a $100 million company to make a difference," Kinning said. "By getting involved in committees and local chapters, you can make a difference in the industry. And you can make a difference right away. I encourage everyone to pick a committee that they are interested in and participate." A Leap of Faith Kinning is a second-generation contractor whose father, Arlis (Bud) Kinning Jr., was a founding partner in Penro Construction. The company was incorporated in 1971 by three original partners in northeastern Nebraska. Christiansen Construction Co. of Pender, Kinning of Rosalie, and Cliff Albin of Oakland, joined together to form an underground utility construction company. The three partners combined the names of their home towns to come up with the name "Penro." Albin sold his shares to the other two partners in the mid- 1970s, and Christiansen sold all of its shares to Kinning in 1986, making him the sole owner. Kinning would remain the sole owner until his son, Mark, started buying into the company in 1997. Upon Bud's retirement in January 2000, brothers Mark and Ryan purchased all stocks of Penro from their father and remain equal partners in the business today. Ryan grew up in the construction industry but wasn't always sure that construction would be his career path. "I was exposed to construction at an early age and I knew the opportunity was there, but it wasn't something that I was planning on," he said. "Then I started working for the company during the summers as I got older, and I found that I liked it a lot better than I thought I would and decided to make a career out of it." Ryan began his career as a laborer and served in several capacities in the field before returning to the office. The pivotal moment came in 2000, when Ryan and Mark bought out their father's shares to become company co-owners. "That was a leap of faith, and I jumped in head first," said Ryan, who was 23 years old at the time. The 2000s proved to be a challenging time for utility contractors in the area, as well as nationally. "After we bought the company in 2000, we were able to grow the business steadily, even though we faced a very difficult market," Ryan said. "There were times that there were 15 bidders for every job and the margins were very tight. You had to bid just about every job that came out to make sure you had work. Now we are starting to see better margins and contractors are able to be more selective on the jobs they bid." Penro's bread-and-butter is competitively bid municipal projects that involve pipe installation or replacement. "We build treatment plants, well houses, and lift stations but there has to be pipe on the job to get us interested." As he approaches his 20th anniversary as co-owner, and the business' 50th anniversary, Ryan says his outlook has evolved along with the company. "When I first started, I thought owning a construction business would be a good way to provide for my family," said Ryan, who has two children, Max and Corinne, with his wife, Holly. "But the more time you put into the company and the bigger it gets, your perspective changes. You are no longer providing for just your family, but you are helping your employees provide for theirs as well. There's a lot of responsibility with that and your decisions affect a lot of people. Construction gives you a chance to make a difference in the community also." Workforce development is key for the future of the industry. "Hiring employees is the No. 1 challenge we face," Ryan said. "It is especially difficult for us being in a rural area with a Ryan Kinning, Penro Construction By Jim Rush OF THE YEAR

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