A New President at PDC
KEVIN SMITH/PDC ENGINEERS
Matt Emerson first came to Alaska in 1986 with the mission of helping his brother remodel his home in Goldstream Valley, just outside of Fairbanks. With a laugh, Matt added that the other reason for his trip to Alaska was to bring back his brother’s dog, which had stayed with him in Colorado while his brother had spent time in Barrow. Once the remodel was complete, he decided to make Fairbanks his home, noting he enjoyed the small-town feel—different from his original, more populated home of New Jersey. However, if you’d told him at the time that in just a few years he’d be accepting a position as the president of an engineering firm with multiple offices around his adopted state, he might have scoffed.
Back then Matt was a carpenter/plumber, switching hats depending on what each job required, something he had done since he was a teenager. Soon after deciding to stay, he earned his journeyman’s license and quickly turned into a seasoned Interior Alaskan. Boasting about his first home in Fairbanks, he said it was a 20-ft. by 20-ft. cabin with a monthly rent of only $300 (self-plumbed, go figure). Reflecting on this stint in his life, he described a time near the end of the ‘80s when the temperature had dropped to -40°F for about a week (some days even dipping past -50°F), leading to 14- to 16-hour working days of remedying frozen homes. Times like this, combined with aching knees and the constant exposure to harsh plumbing chemicals, made him eager for a change.
He enrolled at the University of Alaska Fairbanks at the age of 28, and other than a brief sidetrack into music (playing the guitar and DEFINITELY not singing, he said), the rest was history. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and promptly accepted a position with Loftus Engineering Associates in Fairbanks.
Loftus eventually merged with FPE/Roen Engineering, and the joint owners at the time, deciding any further combinations of names might prove a bit too verbose, instead chose a new name: P for plan, D for design, and C for construct. PDC Engineers was born.
Soon after the merger, Matt took a short hiatus from Alaska to obtain his master’s degree at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. Upon his return, he settled in Anchorage to start a PDC structural department there. Although Matt can claim to be one of the employees from the inception of PDC, he admits the catchy new name was the brainchild of planning by his predecessors, one of whom was Royce Conlon.
Royce has been with PDC for 27 years, serving the past six of those years as president. Two years ago, her retirement plans spurred the question of company leadership succession. In short order the decision was made that Matt (at that time, the company’s principal structural engineer) would take over the helm when Royce was ready to pass on the responsibility.
That time came this past April.
“This is an exciting transition for PDC,” said Royce. “I’m a firm believer that for companies to continue to grow, changes in leadership are healthy and necessary. Matt has been involved in this process since the beginning, and he is well positioned to carry the company forward.”
“Royce has been nothing but gracious in preparing me for this role over the last two years, and I look forward to continuing to work with her,” Matt said, referring to her new more financially focused role within the company. Commenting on how the transition took place, Matt said others have told him that what he and Royce have accomplished should be the model for more leadership transitions. He hopes all future management changes at PDC progress as thoughtfully and thoroughly as his movement to the president’s seat has.
On his thoughts of what sets PDC apart, Matt said, “I’d like to think our multidiscipline approach makes it easier on clients—everything from contracting, to working through design, to construction administration. Whoever our clients speak with, they can rest assured we’ll be communicating with all the appropriate parties involved.” Noting PDC’s ESOP (employee stock ownership program) status, Matt said, “Everyone here has some skin in the game and is committed to our success, which translates into jobs well done.”
Expounding on PDC’s recent reorganization into the four distinct market sectors of facilities, transportation, utilities, and land development services, Matt said, “We’ve been well coordinated in the past, providing a one-stop shop for engineering services, but now, switching over to our new market sector model of operations, we’re even better positioned and focused to meet our clients’ needs.”
How does he describe PDC’s strategy for the future? Summed up in one word—innovation. Acronyms like BIM (building information modeling) and VR (virtual reality) swirl around PDC’s offices like drones, which are a hot topic in themselves. Matt said plainly he wants to do everything possible to continue to encourage the spirit of innovation at PDC and support its employee-owners’ ambitions.
Circling back to what he likes best about his work and who he works with, he explained his fondness for challenges and noted the integrity of those around him. “Other than that,” he said with a big smile, “we’re just a great group of people to work with.”
In This Issue
Out of the Mine and into the Smelter
Mining has long been a key fixture of Alaska’s economy. On a small scale, people flock to the 49th state to tour different operations. Kennecott Mine was once a booming copper mining site and is now a National Historic Landmark, attracting tourists eager to visit the ghost town and get a feel of the Gold Rush era it once dominated.