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Trendsetters: Environment, Engineering

Stephen R. Miller in front of Clear Lake.
[Photo: Jeffrey Camp]

Stephen R. Miller
MSCW, President, CEO, Orlando
Clear Lake today: “It looks as nasty as it did then.”
Casting: “Fishing is what got me on the water in the first place and got me in the career I’m in.”
No time for Huck Finn: “Fishing is sort of like golfing. I have equipment and like to think about it.”
Challenge for the profession: Convincing kids to major in engineering

Big Fish

A native of upstate New York, where his family had farmed for six generations, Steve Miller came to Orlando in 1964 as a teenager with his family to get his father, a disabled Marine veteran of World War II, out of the cold.

“It was a Huck Finn kind of a thing,” he says of his salad days. He would walk barefoot to Clear Lake to launch his johnboat and fish. But in 1968, drainage improvements and development pushed nutrients and turbid water into the lake.

The degradation inspired him to become an engineer with an interest in environmental matters. After graduating from Auburn University and working for others for a few years, he co-founded what’s now MSCW in 1977. “I thought if I ever got to 18 or 20 employees, I would be a huge success, he says. The 140-employee design firm came in 20th on CE News’ 2006 list of the 25 best civil engineering firms for which to work. MSCW includes civil engineers, economists, environmental scientists, community and urban planners, transportation planners and engineers and landscape architects. Consulting credits include Baldwin Park in Orlando and The Villages.

“We realize how important collaboration is to us,” says Miller, 58. “We’re at the table with all our pieces. We’re creating very unique solutions for our clients.”

Harvesting the Land

Loretta Cockrum
Foram Group
Founder, CEO, Miami
Fallback: Cockrum’s mother wanted her to have a skill, so she earned a dental hygiene degree.
In the develop-it, sell-it and forget-it world of Florida real estate, Brickell Financial Centre developer Loretta Cockrum is unusual. For 17 years, her Foram Group, more an investment manager than a developer, held the Miami land on which she’s now building the 40-story, Brickell office-hotel-condo complex. Also, she’s seeking gold-level Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification for it, the largest green commercial office project in Florida when it’s done in 2010, she says.

A Miami native, Cockrum, 69, turned to real estate in the 1970s in Atlanta to support her family as her husband was dying.

She found a niche managing property — initially the books and such — for farming families. Over time, their holdings in timber in Georgia and South Carolina made them wealthy, and they branched out. She’s adopted the harvest and plant cycle for commercial land. Foram tore down an apartment complex in Gainesville it owned for years to build The Bartram, which will be one of the first luxury green rental projects in the nation, she says.

Foram has more than $500 million in assets with buildings in Jacksonville, Boca Raton and Miami and farm, timberland, a 5,000-acre Colorado ranch and planned unit developments in Georgia and South Carolina.

Next year, she plans to start developing a Georgia property with a marina and 200 acres on I-95. But for now, she says, the Miami project “is very much a priority.”

Fast Lane

Jack Finn [Photo: Greg Matthews]

Jack Finn
HNTB Senior vice president, national director of toll services, Lake Mary
Where he spent his summer vacation: Lake Tahoe
Formerly: HNTB’s northeast division president
Extracurricular: Advisory board member, Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority, the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, the North Carolina Turnpike Authority, the Colorado Tolling Enterprise and the New Jersey Turnpike

Maybe it’s genetic. As the son of a highway engineer in New Jersey, Jack Finn saw lots of roadway construction. Now at 51, he’s head of the national toll way practice for HNTB, the same Kansas City-based firm for which his father worked.

Finn travels Florida and the nation, even to a White House transportation summit, as HNTB’s toll expert. Florida leads a “huge push” nationally for toll roads, he says, citing a Florida transportation department study finding that 91% of new expressways in Florida have been toll roads. North Carolina, which doesn’t have a single toll road, is moving toward them. Texas, California and Florida, the big three in tolls, are expanding.

HNTB is the primary engineer, known as the general engineering consultant, for the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority, the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority and 23 others nationally and has done work for more, including the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, Florida’s Turnpike and the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority. Toll authorities account for $150 million of the firm’s $750 million in annual revenue.

The heyday of toll way construction began in 1939, with the start of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the first modern toll road. It played out in the 1950s as interstate highway system funds couldn’t be used for toll roads. Florida’s Turnpike was completed in 1957.

But the inability of the federal gas tax to keep up with highway construction demand, electronic tolling, a citizen shift toward wanting users of particular highways to pay for their construction and the pluses of congestion pricing to ease traffic flow are bringing toll ways back.

Congestion pricing lanes have been tagged “Lexus Lanes,” a misnomer, Finn says. They actually make all traffic move faster and are used by a cross-section of society. “There’s a high satisfaction rate on every economic level. It’s a good option for the public,” Finn says.

The Highland Life

Jenifer Porter [Photo: Jeffrey Camp]

Jennifer Porter
LBFH Senior tea leader, Palm City

Those summer career-exploration opportunities for high school students really work. Aspiring architect Jennifer Porter went as a high school junior to the University of Florida for a summer class in the field. She found that architecture didn’t do it for her, and today, she’s an engineer. “When I heard about environmental engineering, I knew that was it,” she says.

Evidently she was right. Porter was the Florida Engineering Society’s Young Engineer of the Year for the Miami chapter in 2005. The 35-year-old works in water and wastewater engineering for LBFH, a Palm City unit of Newport, Calif.-based Boyle Engineering.

While not working the water or volunteering for the engineering society, she’s raising money as a Team in Training cyclist for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. She has a goal of raising at least $4,100 for her 100-mile ride in Tucson, Ariz., in November. She’s selling her cookbook of recipes from south Floridians to reach her goal. She also kayaks, camps, scuba dives and hikes and is a devotee of Scottish Highland dancing. Porter, whose mother is a native of Scotland, fell in love with it as a kid after moving to Dunedin in Pinellas County and danced competitively for 25 years, including at the national championship level. She taught in Miami, but with two children under 4 hasn’t resumed teaching.