BY DEBRA WOOD
A “TORNADO BABY,” 2013 AGC PRESIDENT Paul Diederich has spun a life devoted
to his family business and strengthening the construction industry through the AGC.
“It’s been a blessed life,” says Diederich, president of Industrial Builders in Fargo,
N.D. “And I think it was because there was some sort of destiny that caused me to be on
this planet. It has been enjoyable to think every day has been here for a purpose, and
I’m trying to make the most of it.”
Diederich began life on March 14, 1958, nine months after a tornado leveled his parents’
home. His granddad pulled his mom, Irene, and siblings from the rubble, while his
father, Warren, rushed home from a job in Bismarck, N.D. That storm also wiped out the
basement offi ce of Industrial Builders, the family business. His brother Donn and sister,
Laura, continue working at the fi rm. Another brother, Mike, has retired.
“Industrial Builders and AGC have been part of my life since I can remember,” says
Diederich, who remembers cleaning grease out of a Bay City Crane as a teen and driving
the company truck as soon as he received a license at age 14, only to have a fender bender
a few months later. “It’s the only accident I have had in a company vehicle,” he says.
Industrial Builders and the Diederich family have a long tradition of supporting AGC.
Company records from 1961 indicate the board recommended paying $3,000 to Warren
Diederich for expenses related to his attending an AGC annual conference while on “an
AGC vacation” and serving as president of AGC of North Dakota. Diederich remembers
staying home while his parents went to the meetings and them coming home talking
about the interesting people they met and learning things they would otherwise not
“I grew up with the idea the AGC was not only a good idea for a business but also for
personal development and building knowledge a contractor needs to know,” Diederich
Diederich has drawn on that early memory and made “Building Knowledge” the
theme of his presidency, based on his passion for education and all of the things he has
learned from AGC.
AN EARLY CONNECTION WITH AGC
Diederich fi rst formally volunteered with AGC of America while as a student in Arizona State University’s construction program. He wanted to venture further from home than where his parents went to college and experience more of the world. He felt ASU would help him learn the contracting business. He served on the Student Chapter Task Force for AGC of America’s Construction Education Committee and was chairman of the task force beginning in 1980.
After graduation, he also served on the Safety Committee, where he learned more about the then relatively new Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, and the U.S. Corps of Engineers Committee, which helped him better understand the federal agency’s quality expectations.
“AGC provided us the knowledge we needed to deal with the safety and Corps requirements at that time, and I brought that back to our company,” Diederich says.
By 1990, AGC had tapped Diederich to serve as chairman of its Education Committee, which held responsibility for supervisory training, higher and continuing education, and careers, interesting young people in the industry. With Diederich as chair, the committee conceived, developed and implemented the AGC project manager course.
While president of the AGC of North Dakota in 1995, Diederich also served as AGC of America Highway Bridge Committee chairman. In 2002, he became chair of the Highway Division.
Outgoing AGC president Joe Jarboe, senior vice president of Clark Construction Group LLC in Bethesda, Md., has worked on AGC executive committees with Diederich for years and praised his abilities.
“I’ve had a long-standing relationship with Paul and feel he will do a very good job,” Jarboe says. Paul comes from a long history of family involvement in AGC. His father was involved at the local and national level as well as his brother, Donn.”
Dating back years, Diederich says, he had his eyes set on the national presidency, “much to the chagrin of my parents,” who worried Industrial Builders would suffer. But Diederich says he has set the business up to thrive during his AGC-associated absences, thanks to other family members, the rest of the Industrial Builders’ team and electronic communications, which will allow him to stay in touch. Both parents are no longer alive to see the results, but they knew he was in line for the presidency before passing on, and he says they were happy for him.
“Paul has had a long and deep, rich history with AGC and is well prepared for his upcoming role as president, and I think he will do an excellent job,” Jarboe adds.
A BROAD THEME
Diederich’s theme “Building Knowledge” encompasses a broad range of possibilities beyond what many may think of as education. For instance, he hopes the association can increase elected officials’ and policymakers’ knowledge about the industry, the country’s infrastructure needs and the effect their decisions will have on the country.
“One of my top priorities is to see to it that the national legislature understands the need for continuous market funding for construction infrastructure investment,” he says. “That may seem self-centered, but for our members and for the country’s welfare, our elected leaders need to understand the value of investing in transportation infrastructure, water infrastructure and building infrastructure that supports ports, transit, power, sewer and education. It’s getting older and older, and the loss of those facilities will cost more to replace than repair.”
The association builds the knowledge of people contractors work with, such as crafting steel-erection standards and crane operator certifi cation standards. It also educates insurers about potential risks that will require additional coverage and helps to inform engineers about constructable specifications.
AGC also will continue to build members’ knowledge about better business practices, depreciation, contracts, risk allocation, safe work practices and other issues. Diederich wants to make sure workers have the knowledge to stay safe and go home uninjured at the end of the day. “I hope to focus on continuing to enhance the membership benefits of AGC and to try to get fi rms to join again,” Diederich says. “I want to provide our members with opportunities to interact with each other and to interact with contract owners and other parties, like architects and engineers, and to once again make it so belonging to AGC brings the benefit of many voices singing in a unified manner.”
Diederich also plans to continue his life’s work developing awareness of career opportunities in the construction industry. That will include reaching out to people from cradle to grave, supporting programs to foster young people’s interest and setting up a national industry recruiting website.
“I’m confi dent we are in the beginnings of a recovery for construction and need people to come into the industry,” Diederich says. “This wonderful industry, which can be fraught with difficulties, has so many rewards. We will be able to fill those jobs as they become available across the industry.”
A FAMILY CONNECTION
Although Diederich went to Arizona not knowing if he would return to Industrial Builders, he never adjusted to the hot, arid climate, and the draw of the family business remained strong. In addition,
North Dakota was home, and there’s no place like home.
Diederich married Ellen Jean, a nationally recognized artist. He said AGC has given her the opportunity to travel to destinations she can paint and incorporate into her art. The couple honeymooned in Jamaica and then headed out to an AGC convention in San Francisco.
The couple have two children — Monica, 24, a pilates instructor in Marina Del Ray, Calif., and Brittany, 20, a student at North Dakota State University, studying business and construction management.
“Imagine what that might mean, a third generation,” Diederch says.
Brittany also works at Industrial Builders, starting as a “groundman” on the rotomill crews, then working in the yard and currently with the accounting staff.
A PASSION FOR BUSINESS
During summer breaks from college, Diederich returned to Fargo and worked in the family business, running signing crews, and then after graduation became a project estimator. At that time, company representatives had to drive to the various state capitals in order to bid on jobs.
In 1987, he became a vice president, in 1989 executive vice president and in 1993 president.
Industrial Builders works in North and South Dakota and Minnesota as a general contractor about 60 percent to 70 percent of the time and as a subcontractor 30 percent to 40 percent of the time. Public owners comprise about 50 percent to 55 percent of its jobs and private companies the balance. Heavy highway construction represents about half of the company’s projects. It builds retention ponds and treatment plants for industrial facilities. It also offers crane services for erection work and heavy moving services to move manufacturing equipment for industrial clients. It builds bridges, tunnels and dams; and remodels office spaces. It also performs millwright work, fixing vessels and conveyors, primarily for the food processing industry.
“Industrial Builders specializes in diversity,” he says. “We do a lot of work for the railroads.”
The company remains an innovator in the industry. It was one of the fi rst companies to use accelerated bridge construction when building a 380-ft bridge across 14 railroad track lines in Aberdeen, S.D. The company constructed the bridge on one end, then moved the entire structure inplace within an 18-hour window.
Industrial Builders also constructed the Fargodome, a 20,000-seat, multipurpose indoor arena.
“It was an interesting job,” Diederich recalls, adding that whenever he goes to the facility, he says, I built the dome. “It’s fun to go back there.”
Through the years, since its founding in 1953, Industrial Builders has experienced the cyclical nature of the construction business, and Diederich believes a rebound is under way, citing the slight upturn in the housing market, which can lead to opportunities in other sectors. In addition, energy development has created pockets of prosperity in certain locations, such as North Dakota and Texas.
“I think it will be a better year in 2013 than 2012 for construction,” Diederich says.
Diederich has seen AGC adjust to the changing marketplace, from facilitating on-site bidding at state departments of transportation to leading the way in establishing fair contracts and preparing its members in incorporating building information technology as owners increasingly demanded it.
Throughout the years, Diederich has made a difference and few, if any, enemies. He has enjoyed the ride and stayed away from tornadoes.
“I love my career, I love Industrial Builders, and I love the AGC,” Diederich says.