By AVCON's Founder and Vice President, Jim Kriss
It seems to be amazing how many elements of our lives are intertwined with the notion of occurrences happening at just the right time. From every element of our lives, things just happen at just the right time. Being from the “baby-boom” generation, it is widely held that we were born during the most optimal 100-year interval in history: electricity, automobiles, airplanes (the airplanes were a bonus that led to several “opportunities” that came about at just the right time), refrigeration, radio, TV, Rock ‘n Roll, FM, stereo, Wi-Fi, internet… and the list goes on. Additionally, I was raised in a small town out in the country where daily adventures were all around us. From Lake Ontario to the Pine Hill Airport, the entire area was my playground. All the rural community activities surrounded me, including a seven-year stint as a drummer in a rock and roll band. This was really when I first grasped the concept of being around - at just the right time.
Thus, began the origin of AVCON. All throughout my youth, from my earliest memories, there are pictures in my head of farm tractors, trucks, yellow caterpillar equipment, dirt piles, airplanes, and the like. As part of my regular appearances around the small town of Albion, New York, I also scored a ride on the New York Central Switch Engine (#8108) while it was operating in the town, including a chance to blow the horn (an opportunity that most engineers dream about but never experience). After high school, I followed my parents to Ohio University in Athens, Ohio to attend Engineering School. About three and a half years later, out came a new civil engineer graduate. As I recall, having been married the summer before graduation, it was time to get to work and make a living. I believed that getting out of college happened - at just the right time.
During a multi-year stint in my hometown (Albion, NY), I worked with a general contractor with plenty of yellow Cat equipment. I started as a truck driver and became well educated on many aspects of the construction business, particularly in heavy civil and roadway construction, including an airport project here and there. I also had the opportunity to learn to operate heavy equipment and provide meaningful engineering support to the construction firm. However, after six years, I realized that I could not qualify for a professional engineer’s license without working directly under a licensed PE. When this and some other frustrations indicated a change in career direction, an airport engineering opportunity came up in neighboring Rochester – at just the right time.
Although my first real airport assignment to rehabilitate restrooms at the Rochester-Monroe County International Airport was a bit, let’s say, underwhelming, it gave me an exposure to the airport community and truly cemented my love for the airport consulting arena. After several years of services, including multiple paving and lighting projects across the airfield, a downturn in federal funding cast me back into a general civil engineering role. Although I was able to participate in a billion-dollar sewer makeover program for Monroe County, one of the largest projects of its kind in the country, the calling of airports was still there. As I began to look around, I discovered an ad and applied for an airport engineer position directly for the airport in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I went down for an interview and found the senior engineer to be a fellow New Yorker. We hit it off, and they liked my construction background. A new opportunity and a new adventure had emerged – at just the right time.
After more than 30 years in and around Western New York, I headed off to a new part of America with real cowboys and Indians. I packed my going away gift, a cowboy hat, and a U-Haul trailer and drove half-way across the country to the middle of America. Life at the airport even further cemented my relationship with the airport industry, now being in place on the airport staff. Every day, I was able to go to work at the airport and even get paid for the privilege. The experiment was, in my recollection, a rousing success. Even with temperatures well over 100-degrees at 11:00 at night, we became acclimated to life in Oklahoma. As we recall, there was only one tornado warning that affected our home area, so we huddled together in our powder room with flashlights and pillows.
After three years on staff, I was elevated to a deputy director position with a bit more exposure to the workings of the political spectrum, first in Tulsa, but then soon to be all across the engineering arena. Following a “dust up” with the Mayor (Oklahoma phrase), one of the consulting firms with whom I had become familiar made me an offer to move to Orlando, Florida to support a growing aviation design practice and expanding office to support Orlando International Airport (MCO), among other clients. Interestingly, many of the New Yorkers made Florida their winter getaway, so this did not seem at all foreign to me. After some back and forth family discussions, we set sail on our next career move, this time to the Sunshine State of Florida, leaving Tulsa – at just the right time.
After packing our belongings, we set out on a “two-day” trip to Orlando through the “Land of Opportunity”, New Orleans, and Mobile, finally arriving in Florida. However, we soon found that Florida was quite elongated and in fact it was another day drive from Pensacola to Orlando. We arrived in time for me to start work on the following Monday, October 7, 1985. The new work environment was right in downtown Orlando and was a fairly old office location. Our office leader was a visionary in airport consulting, and I recall one day in response to his query telling him I wanted his job. This proved to be a bit of a prognostication. With my new stablemates, I immediately set out on my first project at Orlando International Airport.
Over the next two and one-half years, the work in Orlando continued without abatement and I quickly began to rise in the ranks while the upper management team began to be syphoned off to major several high profile projects, including new airports at Denver and Hong Kong. During this same timeframe, I was fortunate to remain in good graces with the airport staff, finally serving as client/project manager on several projects. As the resources of the firm continued to be pillaged, again and again I found myself dealing at the highest levels with the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority (Authority). After a couple of frank discussions with airport senior staff, I received a spark of encouragement that I consider starting my own firm to carry on my obligations to the airport.
This small spark of encouragement led to a few family meetings to discuss the revolutionary idea of starting my own firm. After a few months of discussion and encouragement, the time was right to consider this move, and with a small family loan to ensure my survivability until the end of the year, we drafted up a work plan to start the firm while sitting outside around our swimming pool. The name was crafted as AVCON, INC., an acronym for AViation CONsultants, a name concocted on a napkin flying from Tallahassee to Orlando. The corporation was formed in May, and the first day of operation was June 2, 1988. While we had some real interest from a couple of other work colleagues, I took the first step, and formed the company. My first day, June 2, 1988 was my last (vacation day) at the previous firm, and off I went on the AVCON adventure - at just the right time.