After managing the building of nuclear power plants, high-rise office towers, and an airline terminal, Barry Jordan is now helping to build communities.
In Mount Vernon, New York, on the northern border of New York City, he's overseeing a $100-million school-construction project and a precedent-setting agreement that will train unemployed inner-city residents in the building trades.
In Oxon Hill, Maryland, just south of Washington, D.C., along the Potomac River, his consulting firm is working with the developer of the $500-million National Harbor project, setting up the program to ensure that local and minority contractors get work in the sprawling riverfront enterprise.
"Local residents help to pay for these projects, and they should also have the opportunity to participate in them," says Jordan, vice president of the consulting firm TAC Companies. "The only way to make sure that happens is to have someone working to make it happen."
The son of a building contractor, he grew up swinging a hammer in Henderson, North Carolina. After receiving a degree in civil engineering from M.I.T. in 1983, he worked for several major construction-management firms, learning the intricacies of coordinating massive projects. He helped manage construction at nuclear power plants in Seabrook, New Hampshire; Clinton, Illinois; and Clinch River, Tennessee. He worked on Mellon Bank's Pittsburgh office tower, and with Morse/Diesel, he helped put up the U.S. Airways terminal at LaGuardia Airport in New York.
But as he develops his consulting career, Jordan says he's found that he can do more than oversee. Jordan has served as the go-between to ensure that some of the investment flows to the local economy.
At the National Harbor project, which will transform 300 acres into a multi-use development with retail, office, and recreational uses, his program for local and minority contractors intends to award up to 35 percent of the project's work.
In New York, Jordan was hired by Mount Vernon as its representative in the project, which will rehabilitate fifteen schools and build two new ones. Of special concern was the labor agreement between the school district and more than twenty labor unions, which Jordan helped negotiate. The accord wrested concessions from the unions, which included the provision of at least twenty trade-union apprenticeships and a no-strike guarantee, in exchange for the requirement that even nonunion construction firms hire at least 88 percent of their workers through the union hiring halls.
"With Barry, we have another set of eyes," says Mount Vernon Superintendent of Schools Ronald Ross. "It's taken the micro-management away from the board of education."
Jordan's tact and communication skills are on display in biweekly board of education meetings that can turn chaotic when members squabble over contracts, personnel, and education policy. The unflappable Jordan, meanwhile, maintains his calm in these stormy sessions, presenting his reports in a low-key fashion that informs, but does not incite.
For Jordan, working in Mount Vernon has special meaning, in the wake of September 11. Until September 4, he had an office on the 87th floor of 1 World Trade Center with the May Davis Group, whose president, Owen May M.B.A. '83, Jordan had met at Duke.
Jordan had decided to move his family in early September because his consulting work was drying up in New York. He had applied in Mount Vernon in the spring, but the district had delayed its decision.
On September 6, the district voted to hire him. On the morning of September 11, Jordan took the early-morning train from Washington, arriving in New York at 8:15.
He was set to go to the World Trade Center to get a rental car, stop at the office, and go back to his apartment in Brooklyn. But someone told him of a rental car place near Penn Station. After getting that car at 8:30, he decided to go to Brooklyn instead of the office. Then the planes hit.
Since he now works in Mount Vernon, he does so with a much different perspective. When disputes break out at the school board, he rises above it all. "I'm here for a reason, I was spared," Jordan says. "I have a great affinity for this city. All the things I do here come from the heart. By them being there the way they were, it saved my life."
Wilson is a freelance writer in New York.