When Rocky Jackson completed his construction management degree at Indiana State University, he wanted to work for a company that embraced new technologies.
Within weeks of his December 2008 graduation, the Terre Haute native landed a position that fit the bill –project engineer for White Construction. The Clinton-based company, whose president attended Indiana State and that employs dozens of ISU alumni, has emerged as a leader in the rapidly growing field of alternative energy.
“That’s what caught my eye – that they’re chasing things that other companies are not,” Jackson said.
After being involved in coal gasification projects in the 1990s and early 2000s, White Construction began erecting wind turbines in 2005. Since then, the family business has grown from a $20-$50 million per year operation to a more than $200 million per year business, said Alyson White-Hanson, a 2002 ISU graduate who is marketing director for her family’s business. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration with emphasis in marketing, finance and insurance.
“We go in and perform all the different aspects of a project – putting in roads, installing foundations and we actually erect the turbines ourselves. Other contractors may come in and sub-contract much of the work. Since we have all the construction experience, we’re able to provide that service. That’s what’s been our niche in this market,” White-Hanson said.
It is a niche that has helped keep jobs in Indiana. In addition to wind turbines, the company has expanded further into alternative energy with geo-thermal and solar energy. With such additions, the company has outgrown its offices near Clinton and is currently expanding those facilities. White’s core staff of employees has grown to about 200, including construction managers, project engineers, safety managers, human resources staff and accountants. About 30 of those employees are Indiana State alumni.
For White Construction, the move into alternative energy couldn’t have come at a better time.
“We’ve always worked for the energy industry and it’s changing rapidly. Seven years ago, we were building gas turbines in the Midwest when Enron collapsed and took that business away,” said company President Herman “Buddy” White. “I was fortunate enough to start looking at wind power at that time. It was very new in the Midwest. We built our first job in Illinois in 2005 and our second job was in Guantanamo Bay six months later.”
So far, the company has been involved in projects that generate more than 4,000 megawatts. Another 200 megawatts of power will be online when a project involving 117 wind turbines near Monticello, Ind. is completed this fall.
“This is part of the government’s stimulus plan. It’s all part of the future big picture” White said. “We were in the right place at the right time. I’d rather be lucky than good any day, but we were smart enough to know there was going to be a real future in wind energy and put a focus in that sector. Our reputation in the wind industry has extended further than North American as we have developers from Europe and even South America wanting us to start doing business in their countries. Although at the moment, we haven’t expanded farther than the U.S. and Canada.”
The company has also branched out into solar energy with installation of a 30-megawatt facility in Ontario, Canada.
Even the office expansion underway at White Construction’s headquarters embraces alternative energy. It incorporates a geo-thermal system for heating and air conditioning and other energy efficient initiatives.
“We thought it would be important to practice what we preach and build a LEED-certified building for our new corporate headquarters,” White said.
When White-Hanson began her studies at ISU, she originally set her sights on a career in medicine. She shifted gears after her mom told her she had “a good business eye” and urged to try some business classes.
“I started with the basic five or six business classes that everybody takes and I went, ‘Hey, I like this’,” she said. “Growing up in a family business, you kind of get the mind for business whether you realize it or not.”
White-Hanson was active in Alpha Sigma Alpha sorority while at Indiana State, an experience that helped her sharpen her business skills.
“I had that business mind and knew how to get things done so being a leader in that organization came naturally. I developed skills by being in a sorority that I have put to good use, such as how to run a meeting,” she said. “I’m also on the board directors of our business and I sit on various community boards and foundations so my experience at ISU taught me a lot of valuable skills.”
White Construction is helping train future industry leaders by providing Indiana State students with internship opportunities.
“We’re teaching people, who are going to school right now, exactly what we’re going to need from them. It’s great experience for them, and if we like them and like their work, we’re a nice option for them when they graduate,” White-Hansen said.
While an Indiana State student, Jackson held a three-year internship with Garmong Construction Services and a part-time job with Garmong, including a stint as a project engineer on the expansion of the Hux Cancer Center at Union Hospital. He credits that experience, the experiential learning focus of professors Joe Huber and Bo McNabb with giving him the skills necessary to achieve his next career goal of becoming a project manager.
“The experiences you take from your education at ISU give you something to stand on. In everyday activities, I use bits and pieces of that education I gained from ISU,” said Jackson.
Fresh from serving as project engineer for a wind turbine project near Roanoke, W.Va., Jackson is ready to ride the current wind and solar energy trend as long as it lasts and then move on with White Construction to the next innovation.
“Wind power is the starting point and should thrive for the next 10 or 15 years,” he said. “I believe that through technology, and the way it is growing and the way our company is pursuing it, we’re going to find more new ways to produce power with less energy. This is just the starting point in the trend toward alternative energy.”
Dave Taylor is director of media relations at Indiana State. Rachel Wedding McClelland also contributed to this story.