NUCA Unveils Award Winners at Annual Meeting

NUCA Unveils Award Winners at Annual Meeting

From left, Ditchdigger of the Year Laren Atwell, chief operating officer of Petticoat-Schmitt Civil Contractors in Jacksonville, Florida; and Associate Member of the Year Rob Krzys of Benjamin Media.

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The National Utility Contractors Association recently unveiled the winners of three prestigious awards at its annual meeting at the MGM Grand Hotel located in Las Vegas, Nevada. These accolades include the Ditchdigger of the Year, Associate Member of the Year Award, and William H. Feather Safety Award.

Winning Ditchdigger of the Year was Laren Atwell, chief operating officer of Petticoat-Schmitt Civil Contractors in Jacksonville, Florida. The former NUCA chairman was awarded for his many years of service to the American underground utility industry and his years of support for NUCA’s membership programs. 

“Lauren has served as a mentor to many at NUCA and his company,” says NUCA CEO Doug Carlson. “Sharing what he has learned has helped many in our industry reach their goals. His steady voice as chairman and in his Florida chapter always sought to ensure our association’s decisions were well thought out and benefitted the industry and our membership. Lauren has enthusiastically merited this award and the recognition fitting a true champion of America’s infrastructure.”

Atwell has been part of the Petticoat-Schmitt Civil Contractors’ executive team since 2014. He has been part of the industry since he was a young man going to his grandfather’s job sites in western New York and learning the industry from the ground up.

Atwell has been an outspoken advocate for the utility construction industry and NUCA for many years. Under his leadership as NUCA chairman in 2021, the landmark infrastructure bill was lobbied for and ultimately signed into law. He personally testified before Congress on the vaccine mandate and its effect on the nation’s construction industry.

Atwell’s years of service to the industry include experience both on the national and chapter levels. He has served on the executive council of NUCA since 2018, first serving as secretary and presently serving as immediate past chairman. For over ten years, Atwell has held membership in NUCA of Florida, and he continues to serve as a trusted member of the Construction Management Advisory Board for the University of North Florida.

Most recently, Atwell served as the past chairman of NUCA National in 2021-2022.

This national Ditchdigger of the Year is given to a NUCA contractor member who has made a significant contribution to NUCA and the underground utility construction and excavation industry.

Associate Member of the Year

Rob Krzys of Benjamin Media was the NUCA Associate Member of the Year, honoring his work on behalf of the industry over the last three decades.

“Rob has kept the written record of NUCA strong and in member’s hands,” says NUCA CEO Doug Carlson. “Rob’s years of support for NUCA and our programs, especially Washington Summit, and his enthusiasm, deserves a great honor like this hard-earned national award.”

Krzys is the president and publisher of Benjamin Media Inc., headquartered in Brecksville, Ohio.

Krzys’s involvement with the utility construction industry began when he was in high school, working in 1987 for American Augers where his father held a senior position. He learned early in life about the importance of NUCA in the industry and retains his enthusiasm for the industry’s work to this day.

He embarked on a 30-year career with Benjamin Media after high school, and has been involved across every aspect of the business. Ten years ago, he was appointed president of BMI. He and BMI have helped shape NUCA’s Utility Contractor magazine, which BMI has published for almost 20 years.

Krzys has attended numerous NUCA conventions and the Washington Summit, and is currently involved with NUCA of Ohio as its treasurer. Last year, with BMI’s help and resources, Krzys published NUCA’s new “Trenchless Construction and New Installation Methods” manual. He has been a member of NUCA’s Trenchless Technology Committee
for many years.

The NUCA Associate Member of the Year Award is presented annually to an associate member who has made a significant contribution on the national level to the industry and the association. 

William H. Feather Safety Award

Cleary Construction of Tompkinsville, Kentucky, won the association’s prestigious William H. Feather Safety Award.

The company’s impressive record in 2022 of 327,933 work-hours worked with zero recordable accidents or injuries and zero fatalities brought Cleary to the final selection by NUCA’s safety experts.

“Cleary wants all employees to pride themselves on the safety culture of our company and know they are as safe as possible when working on our job sites,” wrote Cleary’s representative in the company’s NUCA
Safety Award application.

All new employees go through safety orientation and participate in several safety stand-down sessions and annual companywide safety training days. Cleary employs a third-party safety consultant and relies on NUCA’s safety resources and events to reinforce their company’s safety culture.

Cleary’s safety department and safety committee randomly inspects job sites to ensure their employees are always using the safest practices. The company also keeps a visual running record of days without incidents to motivate pride in employee participation and rewards their employees when safety milestones are achieved. These protocols, training and employee self-awareness all contributed to Cleary's award-winning safety record.

The William H. Feather Award was created by NUCA in 1978 to honor the contributions of the founding chairman of NUCA’s Safety Committee, William Feather. The award recognizes the superior safety commitments demonstrated by NUCA members in an industry where job sites can present hazards on a daily basis. It’s awarded based on the safety documentation submitted by interested member companies and judged by industry safety professionals.

Other NUCA members who won the association’s three lesser 2022 safety awards  include:

• 0 to 100,000 man-hours — Iowa Trenchless of Panora, Iowa
• 100,001 to 200,000 man-hours – J.F. Wilkerson Contracting Inc. of Morrisville, North Carolina
• 200,001 to 500,000 man-hours – A.J. Johns, Inc. of Jacksonville, Florida
• 500,000 to 1,000,000 man-hours – MAC Construction & Excavating, of New Albany, Indiana


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