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When Luke Perry graduated from Penn State University with a degree in civil engineering 13 years ago, the last place he was going to go to work was his father Jim’s contracting company. Not because he didn’t want to—the plan was that someday he’d take over the business—but because he wasn’t allowed to. Not yet.

“That was a requirement,” Perry says. “The idea behind that is, you go and cut your teeth somewhere else, you bring back the good ideas you can, you get your experience and then you can come back to work for the family business. We’re a small company, but that’s the rule.”

Sooner rather than later, Perry found his way to Perry Contracting, joining the Cincinnati-based company as a project manager in 2013. Today, he’s vice president of Perry, which specializes in medical construction, but still new enough to the industry to be named ABC’s 2022 Young Professional of the Year, an honor he describes as “the pinnacle of my professional career so far.” And he knows exactly how he wants to use whatever platform it affords him.

“I’ve always been really excited about the opportunity to talk to kids in high school and invite them to explore the trades as a career,” Perry says. “My wife is a high-school teacher, and I hear her talk about how some people need a different avenue. It’s not college for everybody, and I think that we really need to change that mindset, because you can be quite successful with a career in the trades.”

A VERY PARTICULAR SET OF SKILLS

Perry’s own avenue took him right down the middle, between college and the trades. He grew up around construction and “spent a lot of weekends sweeping up construction sites when I was a kid,” he says. During high school, he spent summers “doing demolition and cleaning up and learning the ropes.” Throughout, he was deeply impressed watching his father single-parent him and his two siblings while growing the company he started in 1989. “It was inspiring to see the journey that he went through,” Perry says.

After high school, Perry knew he wanted to be part of the family business, but first decided to study civil engineering, “because that married well with the construction field I was intending to go into,” he says. With Perry Contracting off the table until he’d accumulated more professional experience, Perry came out of Penn State in 2009—during the Great Recession—looking for anyone in the industry who would hire him. He ended up with a large construction company based near Washington, D.C., and stayed with them for about five years before finally joining his father.

“I learned that I like working for a smaller company a lot better than working for a bigger company,” Perry says. “I remember that it was hard to get simple things done when I worked for this really big general contractor. It wasn’t easy to call somebody and get them onsite when you needed them; whereas, when you work for a smaller company, you have a little bit more freedom. It’s just easier to get things done.”

With Perry Contracting, he’s exactly where he wants to be—doing the work he wants to do. “Working in construction gives people a set of skills that many other folks don’t have,” Perry says. “If you’re a general contractor, you learn a little bit about plumbing, about electrical, about HVAC, and you become independent in your own right—in the sense that you can get stuff done. And that’s a cool skillset to have. That should be a source of pride for everybody in the trades.”

INDEPENDENCE AND ACCOMPLISHMENT

Getting people to that point is something Perry thinks about a lot, personally and professionally—as the son of a contractor and someone who eventually will take over the company. His father wants to start slowing down and transition the business to Perry, “and that means that my responsibilities are going to grow significantly and in short order,” he says. “So for the next year, my focus is really on getting my hands around the business and being able to just run it well.”

In part, that means figuring out where to find his workforce. Perry has been around construction his entire life, but he needs to reach people who, in many cases, have never been exposed to the industry, let alone thought about it as a viable career. “There’s definitely a labor shortage in the industry; that’s well-known,” Perry says. “For me, it’s about bringing people into the industry to show them it’s something they can be proud of. Being in the trades can give you a sense of independence and accomplishment, and the more people that understand that, the more people we’ll bring into the trades.”

Meanwhile, as not just the Young Professional of the Year but a young professional in construction, Perry is more than a little busy. In addition to helping run Perry Contracting, he serves as chair of the ABC Ohio Valley Chapter Board of Directors and formed the chapter’s Next Gen Leaders group. He and his wife have two children; in his free time, he enjoys fitness, competitive shooting and spending time outdoors.

Not that there’s a whole lot of free time. “Anybody with kids is going to tell you, it’s a million miles a minute,” Perry says with a laugh. “It’s a busy life, but it’s rewarding. It’s all worth it every day when I get to go home and see my kids, and it’s also worth it every day when I get to go to work and see my dad.” 

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