Meg Nordale Chosen as 2021 Hard Hat Award Recipient
By Rindi White

he Hard Hat award is the highest honor the Associated General Contractors, or AGC, of Alaska bestows, generally given to AGC members (and a few non-members) who have made a concerted effort to boost the Alaska construction industry. Past recipients include elected officials such as US Representative Don Young and US Senator Ted Stevens, along with stalwarts within the construction industry such as Dennis Nottingham, cofounder of PND Engineers; Jerry Neeser, founder of Neeser Construction, Inc.; and longtime AGC of Alaska Executive Director Richard “Dick” Cattanach.

There aren’t a lot of women on that list—no surprise, as the construction industry is predominantly made up of men (national Bureau of Labor and Statistics figures peg the split at about 90/10). But that’s changing, with women gaining half a percent or so each year between 2018 and 2020. And the Hard Hat recipient list is changing as well. The Hard Hat Committee chose Meg Nordale, co-owner of GHEMM Company in Anchorage, as the 2021 recipient.

The 2020 Hard Hat Award recipient, C. John Eng, was also announced at the January 28 Conference Part II; the award committee had selected him as an awardee in 2020 but, when that conference was held only virtually, decided to delay honoring Eng with the award until the next “in-person” conference. Eng died in 2021 and his wife, Lynn Eng, accepted the award on his behalf. See story on p. 66 for more about Eng’s award.

Nordale says she had no idea she had been selected for the 2021 award until the announcer started listing off the accomplishments of the intended award recipient and stated that the awardee “brought her skills to GHEMM Company.”

Hard Hat award
She very nearly did not attend the President’s Welcome where the award was announced, but elected to stay overnight in Anchorage to attend a Saturday morning breakfast with past AGC of Alaska presidents—she was AGC of Alaska president in 2015.

“It was a total surprise, I had no idea,” she says. “It was totally unexpected and I’m so humbled to have been selected.”

Nordale says she sees the award as a recognition of the importance of women in the construction industry. After receiving the award, she says, several women involved in construction and related fields came up to congratulate her. To think that she has encouraged other women to have lifelong careers in the industry is an honor.

“I feel like it was a broader statement, not just a statement about me—I’m just a person doing my job—but that it was a broader statement about women in the industry. I feel a sense of satisfaction in knowing that my work has helped future women in the industry,” she says.

Nordale says she also sees it as recognition that she has done a good job of continuing on the path paved by her predecessors, both her parents and grandparents, who believed men and women should be equals both in the workplace and at home, and by the founders of GHEMM, who recognized her talent early on and fostered career-minded growth for all their employees.

“It validates hard work, and it validates the importance that it’s not just about staying in your own lane—Alaska construction is an industry that relies on partnerships. It’s an industry that relies on relationships,” she says. “[GHEMM founders believed] it is good to give back; it is good to care for more than yourself. It is good to care about your competitors as well as your colleagues.”

She adds, “I’m just really happy that the legacy of GHEMM company has continued on. I felt pride in that I was carrying on the legacy… I encourage other people to be involved in things that they have a passion for. You can’t be siloed in your own world.”

Stan Smith Volunteer of the Year Award — Kiersten Russell
Stan Smith Volunteer of the Year Award — Kiersten Russell
Kiersten Russell, a commercial loan officer with Northrim Bank, was chosen as this year’s Stan Smith Volunteer of the Year at the Associated General Contractors, or AGC, of Alaska Annual Conference Part II in January.

Russell says she was encouraged to become an AGC member after attending a Construction Leadership Council, or CLC, reception at an AGC annual convention a few years ago. She has since enjoyed volunteering at and attending several social functions and now serves as co-chair of the CLC.

“I love this industry so much. I love the people in it, and I love spending the time with them that I do,” she says.

Russell says in the more than three years she has been involved with AGC, she has learned a lot about the construction industry, making her more effective as a loan officer.

“Part of my skillset with AGC has been developing and learning the contractor’s business model. It’s been very helpful with that aspect,” she says.

But the networking aspect—being around people who genuinely love their job—is what makes volunteering with AGC fulfilling.

“It never feels like I’m volunteering; it’s always so much fun to attend and help with these events,” she says.

Marsh McLennan Agency Named as Associate of the Year
Marsh McLennan Agency Named as Associate of the Year
Marsh McLennan Agency, or MMA, a business insurance and employee health & benefits firm, was chosen as the Associate of the Year at the Associated General Contractors, or AGC, of Alaska Annual Conference Part II in January.

Dax Lauwers, a client executive in MMA’s Anchorage office, says the agency strives to always make themselves available to AGC members and to contractors. They often sponsor AGC events and frequently look for ways to keep members updated about changes in the industry and provide solutions for navigating the hardening insurance marketplace.

“Contractors and AGC members value in-person communication,” Lauwers says. Having that face-to-face time is invaluable.

Being honored as Associate of the Year is a recognition that MMA works as hard on behalf of the construction community as its members work every day. Receiving the award is an honor, Lauwers says.

“We’re here to support contractors. They haven’t been able to take their foot off the gas for the last few years. Neither have we. We want to continue to support them as they build Alaska.”

All photos by Carter Damaska, Alaska Business