ENR Southwest’s Top 20 Under 40

These talented individuals propel their firms to succeed with leadership, diligence and integrity. They have the potential to play an important role in the industry for years to come.


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As part of the premier issue of ENR Southwest, a new regional edition of ENR, we are proud to introduce “Top 20 Under 40.” It highlights the exceptional players working in the Southwest’s A/E/C industry and will take its place alongside our rankings of contractors, designers and projects. Rather than focusing on firms, this list focuses on people, specifically our region’s up-and coming leaders. Chances are you’ve already worked with some of these individuals. If not, they are well worth getting to know. ENR Southwest solicited nominations from readers who were free to nominate themselves or other people who had made an impression on them. Nominees had to be under 40 and located in the three-state region of Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico. The final choices for the list were selected from over 40 nominees. A panel of industry representatives was assembled to review and score the nominees. These judges included Lew Laws, senior project manager with DPR Construction’s Phoenix office; Danielle Feroleto, president/owner, Small Giants LLC, Phoenix; Dawn Tibbetts, senior planner with D. Pennington & Associates Inc. and executive director of ACEC New Mexico, both Albuquerque; Tina Litteral, Hon. AIA, executive vice president, AIA Arizona, Phoenix; and Douglas R. Brown, AIA, LEED AP, principal architect, Architekton, Tempe, Ariz. These brief descriptions can’t do justice to the breadth of the accomplishments, work ethic and dedication of these 20 individuals. Take Mark Kranz: He grew up as one of eight children on a dairy farm in rural South Dakota, but by the age of 31, he was one of SmithGroup’s youngest principals across the firm’s 10 offices. Now he leads the design firm’s higher education and science and technology studios out of the firm’s Phoenix office. He also is active in a foundation providing scholarships and grants in honor of his brother, Marty. This is just one of the extraordinary people you will meet in the following pages.


Jason R. Carter

Became CEO at age 25 of fast-growing contracting company

39, Vice President /CEO

Promoted from controller to CEO of Whiteriver Construction at age 25, Carter was offered a partnership in thefast-growing company at age 27. Working in a rural area allows Carter to participate in unique projects, including two on the floor of the Grand Canyon, accessible only by helicopter or on foot.

AZ SBDC Success Award in January, 2011

Whiteriver Construction—Lakeside, AZ

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Jason Carter believes that if he had learned about the Northland Pioneer College SBDC a decade earlier, it might have gotten his company into Forbes magazine sooner.
“I wish I had known about the SBDC when we first started out,” said Carter, a partner in Whiteriver Construction with Corydon Michael Cooley, a member of the White Mountain Apache Tribe. “We learned the hard way for the first six years.”
The partners began working with the SBDC in 2000 to “learn about basic marketing principles, fine tuning the business plan and a lot about financial statements,” Carter said. The partners proved to be fast learners. Whiteriver Construction was ranked as one of the fastest- growing companies in the United States in 2008, 2009 and 2010 by Inc. magazine and was pro led in Forbes magazine earlier this year.
The partners first worked with Mark Engle and then with Tracy Mancuso, who came on board as Center Director in 2010. “We started doing market analyses to find out what we’ve accomplished and to establish the value of the company,” Carter said.
Engle had recommended the E200 series of classes offered by the SBA to Native American business owners. “It was very helpful,” Carter noted. The company went on to be featured in Forbes magazine and Carter was named one of the Top 20 individuals under the age of 40 in the construction and design business by ENR Southwest magazine.
Today, Whiteriver provides general contracting, construction management and design-build services for public and private clients in Arizona and New Mexico, including work for the National Park Service and for tribal entities.
Cooley founded the business in 1994 as a builder of chicken coops and barbed wire fencing. Carter joined as a manager and later became a partner. “One of our first projects was to repair a barbed wire fence around an Whiteriver Construction owners Corydon Mike Cooley and Jason Carter elementary school play area,” Carter explained. “Those first years were slow growth. In 1998 we decided to get bigger.” The company hired more people and doubled its revenue in 12 months.

One of Whiteriver’s highest profile projects was completed at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, in Havasupai Village. A teacher housing complex took six months to complete.
“Every nail, 2 x 4 and worker had to be helicoptered to the bottom,” Carter said. The company was also hired to renovate the local jail. “I got to do a lot hiking that year,” Carter said. “I would hike down the Grand Canyon on Friday, spend the weekend on the project and then hike back out.”
“The most rewarding part of being a business owner is to be able to develop a plan and see it to fruition,” Carter said. “Leaving a legacy behind is also a great feeling.” Whiteriver counts the renovation of the Monument Valley Visitors Center as one of its legacy projects.
“It takes a lot of hard work to own your own business,” Carter stressed. “It takes long hours, dedication and you can’t think that you know it all. That’s where the SBDC comes in. Having a mentor helps. You have to listen to the advice of others who have been there before.”

February 2011: Whiteriver is featured in Forbes Magazine

Whiteriver Construction

From Chicken Coop Builder to Regional Construction Powerhouse.

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It’s one of the most remote communities in America, located at the bottom of the Grand Canyon on the Havasupai Reservation, 3,000 vertical feet from the top. The firm chosen to build teacher housing in the Village of Supai would face daunting construction challenges. Still, Whiteriver Construction was able to complete the project on time and within budget.

“Every person, every nail, every two-by-four had to be helicoptered in, because there is no road into Supai, just an eight-mile trail accessible only by foot or mule,” recalls Jason R. Carter, CEO and co-owner of the Lakeside, Arizona-based company. “In fact, we even helicoptered in two cement mixers for concrete. And we quarried our own sand, gravel and stone from the dry wash and side of the canyon.”

Challenging projects like this are all in a day’s work for Whiteriver Construction, which began in 1994 as a small builder of chicken coops and barbed wire fences and has since grown into one of the largest general contractors in the Southwest. The company was founded by Corydon “Mike” Cooley, a business- man with more than 40 years of experience in the region who wanted to bring economic opportunity and jobs to the area.

Known for its ability to work within clients’ budgetary constraints, quality workmanship, attention to detail, problem- solving ability and can-do attitude, Whiteriver Construction provides general contracting, construction management and design-build services for public and private clients in Arizona and New Mexico. Projects typically range from $250,000 to $12 million in size. Recent ones have included major renova- tions to the National Park Service Communication Center at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and an addition to the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park Visitor Center in Oljato- Monument Valley, Arizona.

Carter, a self-described perfectionist, recalls a series of renovations and repairs at the Theodore Roosevelt School in Fort Apache, Arizona. Built in 1932, the school is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and Carter and his team have always taken great pains to ensure that all their work is historically au- thentic. Brought in to rebuild a chimney, for example, they used perfectly matched stone fromthe original quarry. The firm recently completed a $3.5 million renovation to the school.

Whatever the project, whatever the challenge, Whiteriver Construction’s number one priority has always been “to serve our customers’ needs to the best of our ability,” Carter says. “Whether we’re building a barbed wire fence to keep cows out of a school playground or constructing a housing complex in one of the most remote places in America, doing the best job possible, with the best people possible, is what we’re all about.”

Enterprising Spirit Is a Cooley Family Hallmark

Have you ever wondered how the town of Show Low, Arizona, got its name? It dates back to 1876, when Corydon Eliphalet Cooley won a 100,000-acre ranch in a card game by “showing low” — a deuce of
clubs. Four years later, Cooley became Show Low’s first postmaster.

Though Whiteriver Construction founder Corydon “Mike” Cooley never knew his famous forebear, he shares his enterprising spirit. “Like my great-grandfather, I take pride in my ability to create something out of nothing,” he says.

Whiteriver Construction has been ranked as one of the fastest-growing companies in the U.S. by Inc. magazine in 2008, 2009 and 2010.