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CCCT with Ralph Buckles Chief Estimator from Eno Enterprises

CCCT with Ralph Buckles Chief Estimator from Eno Enterprises

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CCCT with Ralph Buckles Chief Estimator from Eno Enterprises Video

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CCCT sat down with Ralph Buckles Chief Estimator from Eno Enterprises who has over 35 years of technical and management experience in Cost Estimating, Scheduling, Project Controls, Procurement Support, Quality Control (USACE CQM), inspection and Quality Assurance (DOE NQA-1). Also included is Field Surveillance of in-process construction activities, site inspections, maintenance of construction schedules, and construction management. Special emphasis on Lightrail installation, Telcom (design, build, commission), Environmental and Infrastructure, including water and wastewater(Hazardous and Non Hazardous) projects. Other areas of infrastructure include Site Civil work in brownfield reclamation, Underground Utility removal/ restoration, and various types of Decontamination and Demolition. Ralph Buckles’s technical and management Technical disciplines within the construction projects are centered around demolition, decontamination, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing. Levels of contamination range from Non Hazardous to Hazardous including Low Level Rad, Mixed Waste, and Materials of Explosive Concern. He has served as Project Controls Manager, Chief Estimator, Senior Manager, and Project Manager for a variety of infrastructure projects. The fieldwork includes the supervision of field personnel and Client Interface. Project control experience includes work in the Government (DOD and DOE), Pharmaceutical (Capital Projects), and Environmental Markets (remediation and new construction).

Specialties: All areas of Project Controls and Business Management including: • Cost Estimating (Multi-Discipline) Design/ Build Firm Fixed Price Lump sum Price • Planning and Scheduling • Forecasting and Financial Analysis • Margin Metrics • Trend and Change Management • Business Plan Development • Budget Preparation, Monitoring and Analysis • Claim Preparation, Negotiation, and Analysis • Risk Management detail, monitoring and mitigation • Proposal Preparation, Business Development • Mentoring and Career Development Counseling


Hey there, Commercial Construction Coffee Talk fans. Thanks for chiming in. My name’s David Course, and I’m your host. I’m also the publisher and editor of Commercial Construction and Renovation magazine. This is what it used to look like, pulling out the archives. This is actually January 3, 2006. Mr. Dan Whisk, Vice President of Construction, was featured in this great-looking issue about 24-hour fitness. It was 164 pages, and at that time, I was up on the mountains at the top of Vail in an inner tube, back in January of 2006.

One thing I want to mention is that Dan Whisk passed away this year. May he rest in peace. He was one of the best guys I ever knew, working at LA Fitness and finishing up at Herz, and I think he was at a grocery store. We’re going to miss Dan. Dan, if you’re up there, thanks for gracing the cover and coming to all my events. He was on my editorial board. I just pulled this out of the box, and I didn’t realize it until I saw it. Dan, we’ll miss you.

With that said, I hope everybody had a great Merry Christmas. Hanukkah’s over too now. We’re ringing in the New Year’s here over the weekend. You spent time with family and friends, hopefully avoiding politics and just having some fun. My son just came up here from Boeing. I haven’t seen him; he’s been here for about 10 days and will be going back, and we won’t see him for another month and a half or so. It’s good having the son back home, and mom’s happy he’s eating like a king. Hey, your kids leave the house, but even when they come back, they’re your kids, no matter if they’re 25 or 45. My wife’s on Cloud9 having the kid there.

Thanks for chiming in. Over the holidays, a lot of people took time off before Christmas, maybe after Christmas, maybe before New Year’s, maybe they took two weeks off. Myself, I’m just catching up so I can start my year off clean. I like to clean up my email box, get my office clean, and get ready to do it all over again. But 2023 has been a wild and crazy year, and I’m ready to close the books on it. Still sitting on the roller coaster, but I’m going to have to tighten my belt because I think 2024 is going to be a wild ride. I think there are some more loopy loops on the roller coaster that we’re all on, so tighten that belt.

Before I start, I want to talk about this stuff. I just dropped the bottle; it’s called Magic Mind. I got an email, and they said they’d like me to be an ambassador for it, but they wanted me to try it first. I don’t endorse anything that I don’t try, whether it’s athletic equipment, vitamins, or anything else. Magic Mind basically helps you have clarity in your mind. If you think your mind is slipping as you get older, or if you drink too much caffeine and get the jitters, or if you take vitamins that give you a buzz, Magic Mind can be a solution.

I don’t drink coffee, smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, or do any of that stuff. I partied all over my life but haven’t drank in over 30 years. I do take vitamins in the morning, but sometimes they give me a nice buzz, but they wear off eventually during the day. They sent me this email and said to go to Sprouts, as they’re carrying it. So I bought a box of either four or six bottles and tried it for three days. Every morning, I get up early, drink some Magic Mind, and believe it or not, it really does keep you very focused. As a publisher, I have so many emails, and I do my to-do list the night before. I’m just trying to get through my day before you know it. I’ve been in these digital classes over the last 90 days, finishing my year up, launching my digital agency, and concentration is so important because time is money.

I drank Magic Mind, and it’s got 12 ingredients. One of the ingredients that I really like about it is called matcha, which is more powerful than green tea. I think it’s got 130 times the amount of ingredients that are in green tea, but it’s really easy on your stomach. You take it over a couple of days, and you’ll start feeling your mind is just more focused. I get up early in the morning, around 5, to get as much done as I can, and then go into my day and do my to-do list. But by taking Magic Mind, it’s awesome. I don’t believe anything until I try it. It’s
I got a chance to visit with my kids and some other extended family. I’m privileged to be here today, thank you so much for this opportunity. We welcome the opportunity. Ralph was friends with the gentleman who helped us launch our federal construction section in the magazine. We became friends over the years, and he’s a new advertiser in the magazine. He jumped on board, and we were talking. He said he’d like to be on the podcast, and I said sure, we can finish the year off before I change my background. So here we are on the 28th of December. You’ve got one more day in the weekend, another holiday weekend, and then we’ll get this on our next email blast.

Ralph, welcome to the show. We’re going to do it in three parts. You’re going to tell your story where you grew up, where you went to school, how you ended up where you are at Eno today. Then we’ll talk about the roller coaster that we’ve all been on over the last three and a half years, lessons learned, and anything new that you see in estimating, project management, etc. Then you’ll leave one positive thought or phrase and your contact info with our listeners. With that said, the floor is yours, tell us your story.

Thank you so much. I grew up in central Pennsylvania, out on the edge of the farm country, moved while in high school to a more metropolitan area, and from there I went to school at Lerno, which is a hands-on engineering school in East Texas. I picked up an electrical engineering tech degree, it’s a full BS degree. I had to learn how to weld, be in the machine shop, and I wound up going through college making my own way. My parents didn’t provide it, so I had to work. I was either working as a hazmat laborer or as an electrician. I still have my electrician’s tools and work in the renovations area for my own home and property, occasionally helping other people. That’s where I started, in the electrical and environmental remediation field.

As the markets moved around, I was able to drive my wife crazy with working three years in one place, then another, and another, because I learned what I could about each of the disciplines, one being electrical, another being environmental cleanups, industrial vacuuming, spill response, and things like that. Working seven days a week and drinking too much coffee led to chest pains in my 20s, which you’re not supposed to have. From there, I got into classical estimating. I got picked up by an engineering firm and put under the wing of a chief estimator, very grateful for that break into that. We first started on handwritten estimating sheets. I was working as an estimator, multi-disciplines, environmental and electrical, and then moved over to an adjacent firm and wound up being their chief estimator, competing against the firm I left.

That was in the Philadelphia marketplace, working the tri-state area up into New York, Long Island, primarily the industrial commercial marketplace, a little bit of super fun work for the feds but not much. Then the marketplace fell out, and I got laid off in the mid-90s from a very good chief estimating spot. I still had to feed my family, a family of four kids, wife, mother-in-law living with us, so I opened up my own firm, picked up work as a cost consultant, cost engineer, helping people write estimates. Then I got into the federal marketplace down in the DC, Baltimore Washington area. I got to work for people like ICF Kaiser and then went over to Beal and worked a job in the Aberdeen Proving Ground, working as a change management specialist, basically a glorified cost estimator looking at change orders.

Then as time progressed, I went from the bigs, like ICF Kaisers, over to minority contractors, which wound up being a series of Alaskan native corporations. They had the contracts but were missing infrastructure on estimating, scheduling, change management, cost tracking, and I got to help implement some of the skills and lessons learned from the big contractors back into the minority contractors. It’s been quite the run because you could only work four or five years at one firm, they ran out of contracts, and then you moved over to another one of the Alaskan native corporations. By doing the right things with the right people, you tend to get pulled along, or if you break into a marketplace, the manager might pull you back over. Across a 30 plus year marketplace work, I’ve worked for basically two different teams of staff, one in the environmental business and one in the heavy Baltimore Washington marketplace.

Since then, I’ve reinstituted my own firm and have been picking up work both in engineering firms and for contracting. The marketplace is getting wonderfully wild and crazy. I spent about three years working for the big pharma people, and they recruited me because I had experience in scheduling and estimating for projects of the $500 million magnitude. A couple of my contracts within the federal marketplace were five-year, $500 million contracts that we fully utilized all the contracting money on. These projects involved subcontractors and direct hire staff where we hired our own craft and bought our own equipment. Once the projects were done, that equipment and staff were ready to move on to other profitable operations. I’ve worked in various marketplaces within the government sector, coast to coast with the Department of Defense and Department of Energy. The months from June through October in the federal marketplace can make a young man gray-haired or no-haired quickly. For those who don’t know, the federal government’s budget ends on the end of September and starts on October 1st. If you’re in the federal sector doing business, you know that a lot of projects need to be completed before the end of the budget year, otherwise they might not get done. It’s a known fact that if you don’t spend the money, you might not get it back, but the government, being the largest contractor in the world, just wants it done.

My wife and I are federal contractors, and Ralph and I have gone through a couple of proposals together. Working with the government is a different world, but if you can get the business, it’s a numbers game and can be very fruitful. The feds will pay for change orders that are correctly documented and packaged. They might not be timely like commercial or residential work, but you do get paid, and the contracts are usually large.

You probably don’t want to use the same percentage markup on federal work that you do for your commercial or industrial work because you won’t get the job, but the magnitude of the work is tremendously different. In my credentials, I’ve had to spend time in the field, not just as a desk jockey. I sat out in the job trailer doing estimates while keeping an eye on quality control of the projects. I would walk the site every morning and afternoon, sometimes pulling samples. I come with a quality control management certification from the Corps of Engineers and the US Navy to do work on Department of Energy work in secure operations. I took on the opportunity to do quality assurance management, being the QA for the corporation as well as the chief estimator for the operation. I would go to the site, spend time with the team, walk the job site, put together the pricing, share it with them, and then put the bid in.

I’ve been credentialed on a bunch of different DOE sites, and it’s been a fun ride coast to coast. I’ve been to sites where I’ve been before, and it’s interesting when you return and recognize things like local restaurants or changes in the area. For example, I knew about a location that had changed from a drugstore to various other businesses and finally became a Chase bank. It’s a crazy story how many contractors have to tear down something they built and then rebuild something else.

I’ve had an absolute blast in this marketplace. As an estimator, I didn’t want to do PM work because I had a family and needed to be home periodically. Looking back on my career, I spent a good bit of time on the road but was home on weekends. Family comes first, and that’s the neat thing about this holiday season; you get time with family. I got time with all four of my kids between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

When we’re done with this video, my son is getting his truck lifted. We’re going to play master mechanics in the driveway, putting the other bumper on, and I might even take a video of it and put it up on TikTok.

Let’s talk about the last three and a half years. In January of 2020, everything was booming.

That’s enough to keep you stressed watching these videos. Like anything, they came back and fixed most of it, which is a good thing, but I’d rather know than not know. Estimating is crucial; without it, you can’t get a project done. In my opinion, you can still get it built, but are you going to get it built on budget? No. Every day, I get estimators who don’t read my website, offering their services. Estimators are like doctors; there’s a ton of them out there, but you pick your doctor to be with them for like 20-30 years because he knows everything about you. Treat estimators the same way. If you don’t pick the right one, your project won’t go as smoothly.

As we finish up the year, I thought it was timely to have Ralph on to talk about these things. Is there anything cool that you see in the estimating world as we move into 2024? You stole my fire at the beginning, but you and I are seeing similar things as we go into 2024. I can’t tell you what the changes will be; sometimes I can look ahead and be somewhat accurate as to where the marketplaces are going. I’m just going to tell you to fasten your seat belt; it needs to be a three-point harness, not just a lap belt. Keep your teams nimble, keep them with their families as much as possible because this is going to be a rock and roll year. We’re going places where there’s going to be change, and you’re going to see a bucket of lemons and think it’s lemonade. That’s where my mindset is: how do we take a change condition and make it good for a win-win, not a win-lose. The client doesn’t lose; it’s win-win for both.

What’s your take on AI and cost estimating? I don’t like it for estimating because AI doesn’t know the marketplace, the detailing, or existing conditions. One example of early AI was piping software that gave complete isometric views with complete takeoffs on new construction, but the problem was matching the new construction to the old when they didn’t have as-built drawings. If you’re using AI, go gently. Most of my work has been design-bid-build and design-build work in areas with existing conditions. I’ve done a lot of renovations, big renovations, and existing conditions changing them for reuse, recycling properties. Clean them up and reuse them. I have a feeling there’s going to be a lot of those next year.

We all know about the commercial real estate market and the occupancy rate, and all the notes are coming into play. There’ll be some good deals out there for commercial real estate, but what are you going to do with those buildings? How are you going to repurpose them? You’re not going to tear them down. Through this past year, I went back on the road, and in some of the cities, people would say people don’t come into the city Monday or Fridays. If you’re going to catch someone, it’s going to be Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. In our world, like in renovation, that’s a good thing. You look at so and so closing 30 stores, but they’re opening 10 new ones. The biggest thing is even if they’re repurposing them or purchasing another chain, that means new signage, new paint, new color. In our world, it’s not a bad thing.

Repurposing is going to be a huge issue next year. There are just a ton of commercial real estate out there that people are not going to know what to do with. When I was in Denver, Colorado, right after the oil boom, all the buildings downtown were empty. But now they’re all full, and they’ve done a ton of construction down there. Just like in Pottstown, when you talk about the pharmaceutical side, the 422 bypass was all rolling fields, but now it’s all just built up with urban sprawl. My grandmother passed away about ten years ago. I had been home forever, flew into Allentown, went down Route 100, stayed overnight, went to the funeral, and then I flew out of Philly. I took the bypass, and I was blown away by all the pharmaceutical companies. This was a good 10-15 mile road that was just rolling cornfields and just beautiful countryside, and now it’s all built up. Not that that’s a bad thing, but it was just unbelievable where it was. The same thing in Denver, between Colorado Springs and Denver, there was really nothing on I25, but now they’ve got the train corridor is now a massive corridor of new construction. I always look at it like lemonade, not just lemons, and I always look at the glass half full. Next year, even though we might have a surplus of extra commercial real estate, there will be a lot of really good deals. If you’re thinking about upsizing, downsizing, or moving your offices, you’ll have ample opportunity. You just need to be in the right place at the right time, and you can find your answer out there. When Ralph said we’re going to need that extra harness, not just a lap belt, you’re going to need the harness next year. It will be a rough ride for some people, but stay positive and keep the faith. You can do it. Keep your mind clear, drink some Magic Mind, and read the Commercial Construction Magazine.

We have no fluff in there; I’m still a builder, so we build the magazine every month. The last issue was awesome. We’ve got so much content; it’s like putting a jigsaw puzzle together. I’m an estimator, a project manager, a builder when I put the magazine together. We like to keep our folios 50/50, get maximum exposure on social media, and figure out how to get that done. It’s been very exciting. I learn something new every day.

If you’re working on a project or think you have a project and need some estimating help or something doesn’t look right, reach out to Ralph at, and his phone number is 717-278-1143. He’ll help you. Like I said, I reached out even on my own little empty nester gig that I was doing. We’re building it ourselves, acting as the contractor, and it’ll be an experience. My wife will be the interior designer of the renovation, and I just want to do the sticks, the concrete, get it dry, and then she can do all the fun stuff.

We have a nice crew, can’t wait to get going on that. Looking forward to finishing up with my commercial loan and getting my party permit, my clearing permit, my building permit, which will take probably six weeks. Looking to break ground by the end of February, rock and rolling. We were just watching a framing video and thinking, who’s our framer again? If you pick the right people, it’s like having the right tools. With the house, I understand what has to go into it. I build my magazine every month; it’s the same kind of thing. If you find the right subs and the right people to get things done, do your background checks, make sure they have referrals, you don’t have to babysit, but you still have to be there to watch.

It’ll be exciting for us. I’m going to do a videography of the thing. It’ll be fun. The funnest part is going to watch all the trees go down, donate all the wood to a local guy. Watching them fill and put the concrete in, get the sticks and Frame Up, get the roof, get it dry, and then it’s all downhill from there. That’s just the big stuff when you look at it. Hopefully, it’ll be done in less than a year. I’m thinking 12 months, but it could be less if everything goes smoothly. By this time next year, I’ll be talking about how we just moved into our house.

If anybody wants to get in touch with me, I’m at We look at everything. It’s like playing the lottery; if you don’t send me something, I can’t look at it. It’s tough getting in the magazine, but we post stuff all day long. We get a couple million people a month that hit the site. Send us something, let us judge the book by its cover. We see the URL, you can share it, it’s good for our SEO, and it’s a win-win. It could be an anniversary, a new product announcement, a retirement, a golf charity tournament, anything. The more you send, the more we’ll post for you.

Ralph, if there was one positive thought or phrase as we close out 2023 and go into 2024, what would it be that you want to leave our listeners with on Commercial Construction Coffee Talk? Stay positive, no fear, just stay positive, and teamwork. That’s the best way I can put it. Hey, I’m all about a positive mindset.

I’ve been in digital classes for the last year, and I think I just got an MBA in online marketing. It’s been an amazing ride, time well spent. I’ve spent a lot of time on Zoom, watched a lot of videos, and it’s been an incredible journey. If I was going to leave a positive thought or phrase going into 2024, it would be to finish what you start. I tell people, if you’re going to do something, you’ve got to follow through. I told my digital specialist that I want her to give me a New Year’s resolution, something that’s an obtainable goal, something she can do every day.

My tribe master said you’ve got to treat your business like a pet. If you’re not feeding your pet every day, it’s going to perish eventually. So if you’re not feeding your business and growing it, you’re not really moving forward. If you’re making the same amount every month, you’re not growing. But if you’re feeding your business every day, something that’s making you scale your business and make more sales or better returns on your investment, that’s what it’s all about. So, treat your business like a pet and feed it the best food every day. If you start on January 1 and look back on December 31st, you’re going to have an amazing thing, thinking, “Wow, that actually was very cool.” Remember, feed your pet and stay positive, put the blinders on and go forward.

Thank you, Mr. Buckles, for being on the show and for the help on my estimating. Goodbye from Denver, Pennsylvania. And from Sugar Hill just below the Buford Dam on Lake Lanier, about 25 miles north of Atlanta, it’s been a pleasure having you all on Commercial Construction Coffee Talk. A couple of things before I sign off: if you’re on a construction site, be safe, get home every night, have dinner with your family, and be able to do it the next day. Stay hydrated; dehydration is the worst, especially on a construction site. It leads to mistakes, so stay hydrated whether it’s winter or summer.

And like Ralph said, just stay positive. Also, hit that like button so the algorithms on Google can help find this episode. I look forward to seeing you, Ralph, at an event in Philly I’m doing in July. And for everyone out there, enjoy the rest of the weekend. Don’t work, watch some football, and then we’re all going to get in and do it all over again. Before you know it, it’ll be December 31st, 2024. We will see you all next time in 2024 with our first episode. Thanks, Mr. Ralph, you’re the best. Alright, see you, bye. [Music] Bye.


#estimating #projectmanagement #federalcontracting #industrialdesign #construction #designbuild #engineering #renovation #teamwork


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