Launch Slideshow

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View from the top

View from the top

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Precedent setter

In 1990 David Miller set a standard for Branson, Mo, when he was hired as the first city engineer. He's been working hard ever since to improve and further develop the community through public works.

His title makes him responsible for all infrastructure construction in the city, including wastewater, streets and transportation, and parks and recreation, managing an annual department budget of $10 million to $15 million. One of his biggest projects, which he refers to as the "Rec-Plex," was completed in April 2004. The large-scale recreational facility includes two full-size basketball courts and soccer fields, a game room, an indoor track, and a swimming pool complex.

Miller believes his greatest accomplishment has been Branson Landing, the $420 million public-private redevelopment for which three quarters of the city's downtown area was demolished and rehabilitated with entirely new infrastructure, transforming it into an award-winning "world-class lifestyle/entertainment district" recognized by organizations like the American Council of Engineering Companies. The renovation has helped attract even more visitors to the well-known tourist spot, allowing the city to exceed its financial projections.

Miller's counsel for younger professionals?

"Think creatively. Do not ever discourage yourself from trying something new and unique just because you are unfamiliar with the system or idea. Proactively investigate all possibilities."

Public-sector proponent

After more than 40 years, Earl Newman still loves his job.

For the last 28 years the traffic engineer and assistant director of public works for Springfield, Mo., has concentrated on local transportation systems. Currently, he's focusing on how the systems can make the city less dependent on oil. Achievements like overseeing the city's Transportation Management System, a joint project between the city and state DOT that maintains more than 200 traffic signals, and creating the interface for the 911 dispatch center afforded him recognition as an APWA Top Ten Leader.

After graduating from the University of Missouri in 1967 with a bachelor's degree in civil engineering, Newman went to work as a highway designer for engineering consulting firm HNTB. Over the years he jumped back and forth between HNTB and the public sector and, given the chance, says he "would have stayed in the public sector after my first crossover from consulting," because the greatest opportunities to apply his background of traffic and transportation engineering occurred in the public arena.

With the advances in technology made since he began and the caliber of engineers entering the field, whom he believes are "very bright and have much more knowledge of real-world applications" than members of his generation, Newman is optimistic about the future of the nation's infrastructure.

"It'll be in good hands," he says.

Ceiling crasher

Linda Petelka is an accomplishment in and of herself.

When she first began in public works she was still in college at the University of Detroit, worked as a co-op student for the Department of Architecture, and was one of very few women in the profession in Michigan. But she didn't allow her minority status to hinder her performance. She worked in the United States for 10 years before migrating to Canada in 1984.

Today, as acting director of business and technical services for the Halton region of southern Ontario in Canada, she's been instrumental in the area's renovation. She developed the Meter-Permit Revenue Reconciliation initiative, which uses new reporting and auditing mechanisms to track meter installations more effectively, resulting in an additional $5 million in earned revenue. She also oversaw a seven-year project to renew 154 pounds of water main pipe, using open-cut technology with PVC (polyvinyl chloride pipe) to replace cast-iron pipes 6 or 8 inches in diameter, and lining methods including cement mortar and epoxy lining.

Her belief in the significance of her role keeps her going: "I like working for the communities we serve. We're providing work for humanity."

She only wishes that she'd taken the time to get a professional engineering degree. Canada is very credential-focused, which was not the case when she started her career in the United States.