Then & Now: Crafton Tull executive reflects on 30 years

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 797 views 

Editor’s Note: The following story appeared in the Nov. 20 issue of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. “Then & Now” is a profile of a past member of the Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 class.

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Jerry Kelso, executive vice president of infrastructure for Rogers-based Crafton Tull, has worked for the engineering firm for 30 years.

“I’ve probably reached the pinnacle of where I’m going to be in my career,” he said.

Kelso, 54, started at Crafton Tull after graduating from the University of Arkansas in 1993 with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering.

“I’ve enjoyed the culture here with Crafton Tull,” he said. “I enjoy doing what I’m doing as far as engineering work.”

While he still handles development work, he said he spends most of his time managing the profit centers at the company’s offices throughout Arkansas and Oklahoma. He allocates about 70% of his time to managing the firm’s infrastructure operations and 30% to overseeing projects.

When the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal named him to the Forty Under 40 class in 2002, Kelso was vice president for Crafton Tull. He ran the civil engineering department in Rogers and was responsible for projects in Northwest Arkansas.

In 2006, the Jacksonville native left Rogers to establish the firm’s Little Rock office. He was in a role like the Rogers one but leading the civil engineering department in Little Rock. About eight years ago, he was promoted to his existing job. He leads the infrastructure division throughout the company.

Kelso still works at the Little Rock office and oversees about two-thirds of Crafton Tull’s 300 employees. He manages all of the offices where infrastructure services are provided, which is nearly all of them.

His experience at Crafton Tull has included the civil design of nearly 15,000 apartment units, primarily for Lindsey & Associates. The apartment projects span multiple states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri. Other critical projects during his career include the Shadow Valley development in Rogers and the $90 million CARTI Cancer Center in Little Rock. Completed in fall 2015, the 170,000-square-foot treatment center sits on more than 37 acres.

As a civil engineer, his work has comprised “everything 5 feet outside that building footprint,” he said. “We’ll bring everything within 5 feet of the building, and the architect picks it up from there.”

Some of the most significant changes that have impacted his work over the past two decades include overcoming regulatory challenges as part of the permitting process and technology advancements, such as design software and drones. The challenges and advancements have offsetting effects.

“We can produce a lot more work now than we probably could’ve several years ago just because of that technology that’s there,” he said. Surveys can be completed via drone. Existing topography images can be used in software to design the project. The design can be provided to contractors and put into their heavy machinery, like earthmovers, which operate on GPS.

“It’s a more clean deliverable, from start to finish, even through construction,” he said. “That’s pretty significant from when I first started.”

Over the next three to five years, his goal will be to ensure “the company’s stability in that we have the leadership in place to take over when I retire.” He said retirement will be in about 10 years.

Kelso is president-elect of the Arkansas division board for the American Council of Engineering Companies. He will start his one-year term as the board president in July. In 2015, he was an Arkansas Academy of Engineering inductee. In 2013, he was an American Society of Civil Engineers Engineer of the Year.

He and his wife, Julie, reside in west Little Rock. They have four children, two girls ­— 17 and 20 — and two boys — 20 and 24.

“I tell everybody we’re one boy and one girl away from a Brady Bunch,” he joked.

Kelso enjoys fishing and deer hunting and spending summers at the lake house at Greers Ferry and boating. He added that his wife’s passion is to travel. Last year, they took a trip to Europe.

“She takes me to all places of the world,” he said.