It was bright lights, big ideas for attendees of COAA’s 2015 Fall Owners Leadership Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. Held November 4-5, 2015 at the all-inclusive Green Valley Ranch Resort, the event welcomed Owners, COAA members, and industry stakeholders from across North America for two full days of industry insights, education, and networking.

This year’s conference invited attendees to “Raise Your Owner IQ” and dig deeper into the familiar themes of collaboration and communications. It also gave guests an opportunity to gain a front row perspective on the ideas, innovations, and issues facing today’s Owners.

This year, we really wanted Owners to think and to continue the ‘collaboration’ theme that’s run through the past 3 to 4 conferences,” says Howie Ferguson, COAA Conference Committee Chair from the University of Florida’s Facilities Planning & Construction Department. “Part of that was introducing the idea of ‘Pecha Kucha’, which is a rapid-fire, ‘cut-to-the-chase’ approach which we thought might have some applicability to our day jobs.”

No doubt, the themes of effective communication and partnerships were woven throughout the conference’s slate of expert panels, educational sessions, case studies, and interactive events. These kicked off in full on Day One with concurrent sessions featuring an in-depth look at modern practices in project management and procurement, led by Kenn Sullivan, Director, Arizona State University, Capital & Facilities; and Information Exchange / Transition to Operations, helmed by Mike Kenig, Vice Chairman, Holder Construction Company.

Owners that have invested the money and resources to have some kind of facility management / operations systems have to have the information about their assets in those systems if they are going to get the return on that investment,” said Kenig, recalling key takeaways from his morning presentation. “Having a process to collect and validate that data – aka the ‘handoff process’ – is essential.”

Kenig’s presentation took attendees through the ins and outs of building information modelling (BIM) platforms and the importance of smooth hand-offs. It included a moderated discussion on improving transitions to construction and operations, and the lessons learned from those who have participated in COAA’s own Information Handoff Initiative.

The biggest challenge when performing information exchanges is making sure the Owner knows what information they want and what format they want the data in. In addition, Owners might say that many of their design and construction partners today do not have the capability to collect this information, but I imagine that this issue is disappearing quickly as more and more contractors develop the capability to manage the data collection,” he noted.

Looking back on his turn on the COAA stage, Kenig adds, “This topic seems to continue to be of interest to Owners because it really addresses the idea that we can have a transition from design and construction to operations that can be efficient and improve Owners ability to maximize the return they get on their capital investments from day one.”


There were no shortage of insights to be taken away from COAA’s stage. Just some of the highlights included a discussion on the intricacies of facility design with Crate and Barrel’s John Mobes and Cameron McAllister Group’s Clark Davis in Is Perfection Possible? Managing Uncertainty and Expectations in Building Design and Construction; a talk about accelerating AEC automation with Lord Aeck Sargent’s Tony Aeck in Design & Construction Smack-Down; and the presentation, You Design & Build It, But They Live In It: Secrets to User Engagement, delivered by Owners Nancy Bayly and Dwight Raby with Emory University, and Carl Bergmann with the University of Georgia.

Surely, the values of collaboration and team-building were echoed by many of the event’s presenters. They were sentiments shared by many, including COAA chapter leadership teams in Chapter Best Practices Forum; industry experts in Trust But Verify: Cost Accountability As a Component of Collaboration; and facility reps in Oregon Health and Sciences University (OHSU)’s Pushing the Limits to Find Collaborative Partners.

Some of the most memorable accounts of industry collaboration were told in Collaboration Stories – Powered by Pecha Kucha. This PK-style session (each story was told with 20 slides at 20 seconds per slide) starred a group of Owners who took turns discussing how collaboration transformed their specific projects. Among them was Nicholas S. Ross with Disney Imagineering, who’s case study took audiences through the recent development of a high-tech Disney attraction.

Collaboration is how we push our projects forward. As complexity has increased over the past several years, it has put an even greater emphasis on working together to solve problems more efficiently. Without fluid communication between all studios, we would not be able to successfully deliver the quality product our guests love,” Ross explained to COAA’s Owner’s Perspective. Speaking to his turn at the podium, he notes, “The Pecha Kucha format allowed several of us to quickly share a situation where collaboration helped us through a difficult challenge.”

Ross said he enjoyed the opportunity listen in on other collaboration stories throughout the conference, adding, “It was valuable to hear the experiences of other teams in the industry, and to learn how they solved problems that seem to be universal to all in attendance.”


The best way to lead is by example; and this fall’s conference was overflowing with leaders who were eager to impart lessons from their most recent projects. Examples included case study presentations on Stanford University’s innovative new energy system; California Institute of Technology’s green revolving fund; the University of Michigan’s work to standardize construction safety practices; and the groundbreaking Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center (ARTIC).

Additional highlights included a discussion of design and construction industry standards care with Lynda Boomer (Michigan State University) and Jay Smith (Christman Company); and a look at achieving consistently high value results, as exemplified by Ventura County Medical Centre’s development of a new hospital wing using LEAN methods.

Certainly, there were ample opportunities for conference goers to acquire on-the-ground perspectives and become part of the event. Cumming Construction Management’s Lisa Sachs and MIG’s Daniel Iacofano led an industry role playing exercise with How Can I Raise Your EQ?, and The Lean Construction Institute (LCI)’s Lean Parade of Trades® Simulation split participants into teams for an interactive demonstration of the impact workflow variability has on the performance of construction trades and their successors.


In addition to its panels and case studies, COAA’s fall conference tackled several key issues facing today’s Owners. Among these included today’s skilled talent crisis, which Don Whyte with the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) picked apart in his Day Three presentation, The Workforce Shortage: Owners Must Just into the Fray.

Whyte’s morning session provided audience members with ideas for rebuilding the nation’s talent pool through better talent engagement and employee participation.

It is critical for Owners to take the lead on driving training and education, and the most effective and long-lasting changes in the industry are those that are supported and encouraged by the Owner community,” Whyte emphasized after the event. “To overcome our industry’s workforce challenges, Owners should require contractors to invest in training as a key criterion in both the prequalification and final selection of contractors – just as safety, quality, and schedule are considered.”

Whyte added he was thankful or the opportunity to share his insights with the Owner community, noting, “NCCER is always excited to have the opportunity to discuss the construction industry’s workforce issues with influential organizations like COAA. Owners who are educated about the political workforce issues facing our industry are better positioned to drive positive change that benefits both our current and future workforces.”


Interactive sessions and engaging panels weren’t the only events on offer at COAA’s Fall Conference. Throughout the industry meeting, attendees enjoyed a host of networking opportunities, including catered breakfasts and lunches, open-bar receptions, and tours of local attractions.

As proud as we usually are of the presenters and content, it’s the space between that often really makes for a good conference – but the two go hand-in-hand,” reflected Howie. “Thoughtful attendees are inspired to think by good presenters, which creates an electricity that spills into the breaks, meals, and other ‘gap’ times. From meeting folks who may have a better handle on something than you to simply learning that most of our challenges are shared by other Owners, the benefits are many.”

It helped that the conference was held in one of the Las Vegas region’s premier event and entertainment spaces. Located a short drive from the Las Vegas strip, Station Casinos’ Green Valley Ranch Resort treated attendees to luxurious accommodations, onsite entertainment, fine dining, and over 50,000 square feet of casino floor gaming. More importantly for COAA, it also provided over 65,000 square feet of state-of-the art conference space.

We are very proud of the Green Valley Ranch,” says Barbara Coffee, Director of Economic Development / Redevelopment with the City of Henderson, who was on hand to open the conference. “It’s one of the Station Casinos’ top-of-the-line properties and its just minutes from McCarran International airport. Everything is right there.”

What’s more, Coffee says having the conference in Henderson leant a symbolic importance to COAA’s themes of growth, collaboration, and economic development. “Coming out of a recession period, we’re starting to gain a lot of new activity, which we haven’t seen in a long time. So to have the construction Owners out here to see what’s happening in our region is a good thing and we’re happy about that.”


The Owners’ Roundtable is a popular staple at COAA’s bi-annual conferences, and this year was no exception. Before attendees packed their bags for home, Owners were invited to ask questions of their peers and event presenters.

The open forum launched with a thank-you from COAA to everyone who made it to the conference, as well as a send-off to outgoing COAA president Kevin Lewis.

One thing I would encourage you all to do is get involved,” Kevin told the crowd, noting, “Personally, I look forward to continue helping develop a sustainable workforce, and look forward to being involved for many more years with COAA.”

With a final goodbye, the room was open for the Roundtable. Over the course of an hour, Owners offered their personal experiences and spoke candidly about their most pressing concerns. Topics ranged from maximizing the team selection process; best practices when working with principals; the feasibility of adopting the BIM model; and the importance of raising the industry’s reputation to attract the next generation of skilled trades workers.

[What’s good about the Owners’ Roundtable] is it’s a chance for Owners and others to raise – or maybe re-raise – topics, ideas, issues, challenges, questions, or anything else on their mind in an unstructured forum that allows everyone else to chime in,” said Howie.

As any Owner can attest, playing in this industry takes skill, smarts, the right team, and a little luck. Thanks to COAA’s Fall Conference, Owners left with more tools and insights to lead the game.


COAA’s 2015 Fall Conference included an Exhibitor Hall featuring representatives from all facets of the industry. This served as the backdrop of the conference’s breaks and evening receptions, during which attendees were encouraged to browse the exhibitors and learn more about their products and services.

COAAs thanks the following exhibitors who shared their innovations and expertise with conference attendees:

City of Henderson
Info Tech, Inc.
Lean Construction Institute
Mortenson Construction
Structural Group
The Whiting-Turner Contracting Company
Autodesk, Inc.
Viewpoint Construction Software
Faro Technologies


Several COAA members took the spotlight during the conference’s Project Leadership Awards luncheon. Held on Day Two, the presentation honored both COAA’s Gold and Silver Project Leadership Award winners, which included:

Gold Project Leadership Award: The Pennsylvania State University for the Health and Human Development Building.

Silver Project Leadership Award: Western Michigan University (WMU) for the Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine.

“The two projects selected represent excellence in innovative project management concepts, fully collaborative team development and execution, overcoming obstacles, adaptive re-use of existing buildings and inherent complexity, adherence to challenging schedules, and exceeding the end user’s expectations while respecting sustainable practices. We can all learn something from their efforts,” said COAA Awards Committee member, Dave Cozier, Mount Carmel Health.

Read more about Penn State’s Health and Human Development Building project in Owners Perspective Fall 2016 , and look for a profile on Western Michigan University’s award-winning Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine in an upcoming edition.