National Engineers Week alumni feature: John Jarrett, P.E., '84
Civil engineering alumnus, John Jarrett, P.E., ‘84.
A little over 40 years ago, a boy sat at a desk in Cross Lanes, West Virginia, with a simple task: write about what he wanted to be when he grew up. He didn’t hesitate. Putting pencil to paper, he wrote “a civil engineer.”
That boy from Cross Lanes was John Jarrett, P.E., ‘84, president of Jarrett Construction Services, Inc. Since then, he’s built a career spanning thirty years, earned his professional engineering licensure in two states and launched a successful construction company that has been renovating and building structures in West Virginia and the surrounding states for nearly two decades.
“My dad was a survey party chief, and a pretty good one from what I’ve been told. He had an eighth-grade education. When I was 11 or 12, I would go with him on weekends to small side jobs he was doing, like sewer and water lines throughout the Kanawha Valley,” he said.
When he began his college career, Jarrett thought he would go into architecture, and started out in architectural drafting at West Virginia State University. The pull to engineering was too strong, so Jarrett switched gears and enrolled in the civil engineering program at WVU Tech.
During his time in Montgomery, Jarrett was involved in intramural sports and Greek life on campus. He was also a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and competed with the organization’s concrete canoe team at ASCE’s regional competitions. He said his college experience was a mix of excitement and challenge.
“All of that rolled into one is the foundation of my career and my business. I wouldn’t trade my Tech education for anything,” he said.
Shortly after graduation, Jarrett took a job as a civil engineer working at the Naval Facilities Engineering Command in Washington, D.C. He worked there for four years, then moved into a position with a private contractor working on government projects in the D.C. area. As the Cold War wound down in the late eighties, so too did spending on military and government construction projects. Jarrett left the Beltway area and headed home to West Virginia in 1990.
For the last 17 years, he’s been running Jarrett Construction. The business started out with a heavy emphasis on the restoration of older buildings, but has since expanded to include the design and construction of commercial and light industrial facilities, office buildings, churches, schools and auto dealerships. The company maintains offices in Charleston and Morgantown, West Virginia, and services the state and the Mid-Atlantic region.
“The rush that gets me going is seeing the delight in our clients’ eyes when we turn their new building over to them. It was a thrill 17 years ago and it remains the same today. Helping our clients determine what they need, how they can afford it and then bringing it all together is still what charges me up the most,” he said.
Jarrett said his years at the helm has allowed him to oversee some fascinating projects.
One of Jarrett’s largest builds was the Charleston headquarters of Energy Corporation of America (ECA). Completed in 2014, the 60,000-square-foot facility cost more than $10 million to construct and is located in Charleston’s NorthGate Business Park. The building houses more than 100 ECA employees and features a modern glass exterior, motion-sensor lighting designed to conserve energy, wellness facilities and an interior quarter-mile walking track.
Jarrett said some projects have offered him experiences he never thought he’d have in the business, like when the company built a gathering space addition onto the Sacred Heart Co-Cathedral in Charleston. The cathedral was built in elaborate Romanesque style architecture in 1897. Its addition called for specially prepared building materials.
“That project required 300 tons of sandstone quarried from the side of a mountain in Pennsylvania. We went there and saw the boulders quarried and cut into huge slabs. Those slabs were sent to Cleveland to be cut into stones, then on to Rock Branch, West Virginia, to be sandblasted to give them an aged appearance. We brought them to Charleston to be used in the addition. That has always stood out in my mind as a wonderful, very memorable project,” he said.
For Jarrett, projects like the ECA building and the cathedral addition highlight the versatility of an engineering education. He said engineering students have a wide range of paths open to them outside of research and design that they may not consider when they’re in school.
“A typical workday for me includes meeting with clients, coordinating manpower and other resources for all our jobsites, planning for current and future projects, reviewing the firm’s financial performance and charting its course. It’s different than the typical day for most engineers,” he said.
“The fact that I have an engineering degree and professional engineering licensure allows me to communicate on the level of the many engineers I encounter in my business. I negotiate engineering contracts regularly, and since I understand their work, I can work with them closely to get into the finer details that make a project successful,” he said.
Jarrett said that, in addition to the technical understanding that comes with an engineering background, solid communications skills and flexibility are a must in the industry.
“Engineering teaches that there is a logical black and white solution to problems. However, field experience, on-the-job training and real life situations have taught me that there are intangibles that don’t always fit neatly into a mathematical equation. This is especially true when dealing with people, whether that may be mentoring a fresh new intern, reviewing a seasoned employee or describing project details to a client,” he said.
For new grads breaking into the civil engineering and construction industries, Jarrett said he sees a future packed with technological innovation and the ability to work from anywhere in the world.
“Technology is leading a revolution in the construction industry,” he said. “Our project managers and superintendents all use computers and construction-specific software. We have smart phones, lap tops and video conferencing. Our superintendents are taking iPads onto the job site, snapping pictures of problem areas. Our site contractors are using GPS to layout and grade roads and building pads. We can even estimate site work, building restoration and a variety of other items on a project anywhere in the country without having to leave our desk with the use of Google Earth.”
When he’s not on the job site, Jarrett is active in the business and philanthropic community. He’s still a member of ASCE. He’s also active with the West Virginia Society for Professional Engineers and the World Presidents’ Organization (WPO), which connects business leaders from throughout the world to share their experience and exchange ideas.
He serves as a board member of Mid Atlantic Technical and Engineering, the Tech Golden Bear Alumni Association and Poca Valley Bank, and as a volunteer director for the Capitol Market in Charleston. Jarrett is also active with AMBUCS, a charitable organization that helps people with mobility disabilities by offering therapeutic tricycles and scholarships for physical therapy students in the state.
In his free time, Jarrett is a family man. He married his high school sweetheart, Susan. The two are WVU football and basketball fans, and frequently travel to Morgantown to attend games. They have three children together; a daughter and two sons. Jarrett also stays busy doting on his granddaughter, who turns two this spring.
Jarrett’s oldest son is currently studying civil engineering at WVU. For students going into the field, he offers the same advice he gave to his own son.
“The future is bright, however, success will require hard work, dedication and perseverance. My advice would be to study hard and make good grades. All things being equal, when I’m interviewing recent graduates, the one with the best GPA will be selected,” he said.
“No matter what, don’t forget to have fun along the way. Whatever career it is you choose, make sure you enjoy it. I love what I do and can’t imagine what a bummer it would be getting out of bed dreading going to work every day,” he said.