After building his career by delivering industrial projects across Arizona, Texas and Colorado, Paul Laufer found his way back home to the Pacific Northwest. Shortly after Sundt was awarded the Willamette Water Supply Program (WWSP) Water Treatment Plant — a significant investment in seismically-resilient water supply infrastructure — Laufer was brought on board as project executive. In this Q&A, he draws from his extensive résumé of water and wastewater plants to talk about the evolution of the water/wastewater market and how the Northwest is building critical infrastructure to support future generations.
How did you find your way to Sundt, and what drew you to the company?
I first became aware that Sundt was working in the Pacific Northwest during the construction of the Sellwood Bridge project in Portland, Oregon in 2014. Fast forward to 2021, a former colleague reached out to share what Sundt had going on currently in the Pacific Northwest, including the WWSP water treatment plant. As I learned more about the project and what the company had planned for the region, the rest is history. Knowing that Sundt delivers challenging industrial projects in the water/wastewater sector, is an employee-owned company inclusive of administrative personnel as well as craft labor and has a regional focus in the Pacific Northwest with our local office in Vancouver, Washington – it made the decision easy for me to join Sundt.
Can you tell us more about your experience in the water/wastewater sector?
Fifteen of my 22 years in construction have been focused on delivering water/wastewater projects. I’ve delivered under various procurement methods including traditional design-bid-build as well as alternative project delivery methods including CM/GC, GC/CM or CMAR, design-build, progressive design-build, and design-build-operate. Most of the projects I have delivered have utilized an alternative project delivery method, which I strongly prefer because it enables our team to work in a collaborative manner with our partners and project stakeholders. This collaboration helps to mitigate risk and allow stakeholders the ability to make more informed decisions on challenging project issues to ensure successful outcomes.
What are some unique considerations with water/wastewater treatment work?
Water is one of the most critical resources we rely upon in everyday life. With both treatment technologies and government water quality regulations continually changing, it makes for a dynamic market with new challenges to work through with our partners.
Treatment plant projects are technically complex and can be logistically challenging to deliver. Developing an early and thorough plan that addresses risks, schedule, cost, safety, and quality challenges is critical to delivering a project successfully. Leveraging alternative project delivery methods enables our team to have a seat at the table, early in the design phase, and begin comprehensive project delivery planning efforts in collaboration with project stakeholders. I am excited to see clients leveraging alternative project delivery methods to help mitigate risk associated with the delivery of challenging infrastructure projects.
In what ways do you think Sundt is uniquely positioned to tackle future challenges in the water/wastewater market?
The most significant challenge in this industry, present and future, is the limited craft labor workforce. Sundt is uniquely positioned to navigate this issue because of our comprehensive, established, nationwide craft recruiting team. We are an accredited training sponsor, and our Center for Craft Excellence is an accredited assessment center by the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER). That emphasis on training combined with our craft benefits package make Sundt a best-in-class critical infrastructure contractor. Our craft benefits program is ranked No. 1 in a Willis Towers Watson Survey against other construction companies, and the program includes employee ownership, paid holidays and bonus eligibility. Sundt’s craft benefits program is extremely competitive in the construction market and will help us recruit, train and retain craft now and into the future. Every employee is an owner in the company and treated as part of the team.
What were your major accomplishments in your first year at Sundt, and what does the future hold?
Something that was important to me early on was really making an effort to get to know other people in the Industrial Group and Sundt at large. Our first goal was helping to hire and build out the team at the WWSP Water Treatment Plant. We have a staff of over 50 at that job, with over half being local hires. It’s been a huge priority for us to focus our admin and craft hiring efforts here in the Northwest to stimulate economic growth and provide opportunities to the community while supporting our goals of growing in the region.
One other accomplishment I would like to mention is that Sundt will be leading two presentations and supporting two more presentations at the upcoming American Water Works Association Pacific Northwest Section Conference in May in Spokane, Washington. The two presentations we will lead are “CMGC Delivery Strategies in an Uncertain Cost Environment” and “Leveraging Innovations – Utilizing Technology to Add Value for Project Stakeholders.” We’re looking forward to sharing best practices, lessons learned, and how we add value in conjunction with project delivery to our partners in the regional water/wastewater community.
What’s the best part of your job?
Getting out and meeting with industry partners in the Northwest and working with an incredibly talented, best in class group of construction professionals every day.
See what Sundt is building in the Northwest.