Launch Slideshow

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Top Leaders

Top Leaders

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    Steven Hansen's greatest challenge is maintaining aging infrastructure. Incorporated in 1829, Liberty, Mo., juggles the need to meet demands of a growing population with system components that date back 100 years or more. Photo: Sara Cooke

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    Morton, Ill., superintendent of public works Bob Wraight credits his organization's efficiency to its horizontal structure. “The more levels there are between the top and the bottom, the more communication breakdowns there are,” he says. Photo: Marc Nix

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    Kurt Corey poses with Lily the Pacific Green Tree Frog, the mascot for SPLASH (Stormwater Pollution: Learn and Share), an educational outreach program in Eugene, Ore. Photo: Kurt Corey

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    As former commissioner of transportation and works for the Regional Municipality of York, Ontario, Kees Schipper served a community that grew by an average of 40,000 people per year. Photo: Gail Lemieux

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    In 2005, Larry Lux visited Australia to compare the country's emergency management programs to American programs. He attended Australian football games, and got up close and personal with kangaroos, dingos, wombats, and fairy penguins. Photo: Larry Lux

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Giving and guiding

Kurt Corey thrives on personal interaction.

A number of people have influenced Kurt Corey in his choices and professional career.

One of the first was his dad.

“Growing up on a Montana ranch made for meaningful work at an early age,” says Corey. “My dad put me out in the field driving a tractor all day at age 11.”

But it was toiling side by side with experienced engineers that sparked his interest in public works. While attending college, Corey served as an engineering technician, draftsman, and construction inspector in Helena, Mont.

“There were two key mentors whose confidence and encouragement inspired my decision to pursue a civil engineering curriculum,” says Corey. “Without them, I'm not sure I would have understood either the potential or the rewards of this career.”

As a generation of public works professionals begins to retire, Corey appreciates the potential that new engineers represent. “They enter the workplace with a command of a vast array of technologies that gives them more time to think about innovative solutions,” says Corey. “As a result, we're seeing things done better, cheaper, and faster than ever before.”

Community outreach programs and internships are the perfect way to encourage youth. “We should never underestimate the power of telling the public works story, even at the elementary school level,” says Corey. “You never know when something you say will leave a lasting impression.”

Kurt Corey, director of public works, Eugene, Ore.
  • Years in public works: 31
  • City stats: Eugene, home to the University of Oregon, has 147,000 residents. The public works department has 415 full-time employees and an annual operating budget of $60 million.
  • Education: Undergraduate degree in mathematics, Carroll College, Helena, Mont.; civil engineering degree, Oregon State University.
  • Worst job: As a general laborer in the oilfields of Wyoming the summer after college graduation. The job involved a 50-mile commute, a six-day work week, and 10-hour days.
  • Fun fact: If there were a public works genie, Corey would wish “for e-mail to be permanently and unalterably ‘un-invented' in order to return to more constructive interpersonal communications, recapture time, and redirect it toward more productive endeavors.”