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30 for 30: Engineering Our First Thirty Years
30 for 30: Engineering Our First Thirty Years

On June 29, 1987 Primera Engineers opened its doors looking to establish itself as a premier minority-owned engineering firm, focused on putting its people first. 30 years later, Primera continues to build on that legacy to be a leader in the areas we serve – Buildings, Transportation, Utilities, and Business Consulting. We have grown into one of the largest woman-owned engineering design and consulting firms in the region while our commitment to our clients and staff remains the same.

As we celebrate 30 years of success, we know none of this would have been possible without the unwavering support of our esteemed clients, employees, family and friends. To honor your role in our story, we put together a commemorative online anniversary book that celebrates our history while encouraging inspiration for our journey together through the next 30 years. We used the below 30 stories as a starting point for our book.

Thank you for joining Primera along for the ride. View Anniversary Book here. 



30. Empowering People to Learn, Grow, and Provide Quality Service to Clients

Erin Inman joined Primera because she believed it was a quality-focused firm that empowered people while valuing work-life balance and service to the community. She instantly knew it was the kind of company she belonged at because she wanted to make a difference. She attributes Primera’s solid foundation and outstanding reputation to Mike and Pedro’s leadership style, which she felt was really ahead of its time. Erin hopes to build upon their legacy as Primera positions itself for the future.


29. Be the Smartest Kid on the Block, Yet Always Have a Smile.

Primera was founded with one distinct goal in mind – To provide: quality, teamwork, integrity and balance at every opportunity – whether it’s internal or externally with every client interaction. To this day, Mike is fond of those values which he helped implement at Primera from day one. “I learned early on that if you want to have the right company, you have to have the right people in place. I was fortunate to have found a team that believed in those same values.” This is also one of the reasons why the transition of ownership to then-Utilities Division Manager Erin Inman was such an easy move to make.


28. Honoring our Commitment to Superior Service.

Primera’s Chadds Ford, PA office was established in 2017 in response to our long-term strategic goal of significantly growing our Mid-Atlantic presence to support new and existing clients. More specifically, the expanded space enables our Utilities and Business Consulting teams to support Exelon Operating Companies PECO, DPL, ACE, and BGE. Primera is fully committed to supporting Exelon and will continue to grow our team in the Chadds Ford office as our relationships, as well as our engineering and design services, mature. Previously, Primera had maintained a small presence in King of Prussia, PA since 2011.


27. Chief Strategy Officer States, “We’re not here to make a quick dollar.”

David Tufte is one of Primera’s most-tenured employees, having worked at the firm since 1991. He’s most impressed with the firm’s success in doing programmatic work for our clients. According to him, Primera has always focused on really understanding our clients’ standards and requirements and then developing efficient processes that can be used time and time again, “the focal point of our work is to get it right, and not on the bottom line and profit, or making that quick dollar.” He’s enjoyed this culture for over 25 years and knows Primera has a bright future if we continue down this path.




26. Advancing STEM Education

Primera has worked with North Park University since the late 1990’s. We have partnered on several renovation and design projects over the years, however our signature project with NPU has been the new Nancy and G. Timothy Johnson Center for Science and Community Life, where Primera provided MEP, fire protection, lighting design and energy services. We are proud of the role we have been able to play in furthering science education for future generations.


25. Senior Vice President Welcomes Continuous Learning Opportunities

Lourdes Gonzalez has served Primera in various capacities, including heading up our Sustainability group, leading our Architecture team and now takes point on the firm’s Business Development efforts. The reason for this is that she believes the best leaders are constant learners, and Primera has allowed her to do just that. Lourdes recently closed out our BBVA Bancomer Torre and BBVA Bancomer Centro Operativo projects, both long-term endeavors where she served as a LEED consultant for the client who was based in Mexico. This project gave her a different perspective because she was able to represent BBVA Bancomer and had the opportunity to interview the big architecture firms who were bidding for it. It was one of Lourdes’ most fun assignments and also provided her with professional and personal growth.


24. Increasing our Performance Levels Across State Borders

As Primera has grown in recent years new relationships have blossomed, one of which includes the Indiana Department of Transportation. We value our partnership with INDOT, and other Northwest Indiana clients, so much that it led to the opening of an office in 2013 in Munster so that we can better serve them. Since then we have worked on several construction inspection, road and bridge rehabilitation, and other transportation-related projects for both INDOT and for other clients within the State of Indiana.


23. Engineering Director Enjoys the ‘little things’ about her Job

One of Rosa Lazebnik’s favorite projects has been when she worked on the old Marshall Field’s building (now Macy’s) on State street. She enjoyed this project so much because she had the master keys to the entire building and complete access to all rooms. She learned so much about this historic space while on the project that she never passed up the opportunity to use some fun facts to impress friends and family when they came to visit. For example, did you know that there’s a working marble fountain on the 7th floor that is open to the public?


22. Maintaining a High Quality of Life in our Communities

Primera has worked with the County of DuPage since 2011 when we provided commissioning services for the Children’s Advocacy Center. Since establishing this relationship, we have provided construction engineering, administration, and design services on projects ranging from transportation to public works. We are proud of being able to help the county be a great place to live, work and raise a family.


21. Buildings Division Manager Provides Insight into Key Strategies

Senior Vice President and Buildings Division Manager, Ken Panucci, has high hopes for Primera’s future, but that’s because he knows that being in tune with both clients and employees is the right move. Listening to the needs of our most important assets and then offering them what they want is what has helped Primera grow exponentially these past 30 years. According to Ken, if we continue down this path, the firm will likely be twice our current size in less than a third of that time.


20. Helping Students Learn in a Fresh Environment

Primera has worked with Chicago Public Schools since the mid 1990’s when we served as the managing engineer for a capital expansion program that sought to resolve their overcrowding issue. At the time, Primera’s co-founder and owner was not only passionate about engineering, but also cared deeply about the well-being of the students. Apart from designing a functioning system, Primera also created a process that allowed the students to have the best possible learning environment. We developed a standard that implemented a new outside air system to get good indoor air quality for the students, versus using re-circulated air as in previous designs. This system became the new standard and prototype for over 50 schools in the CPS network, and solidified our long-term partnership with them.


19. Architecture Lead Applauds Employee Empowerment

Primera has always valued building meaningful connections with its employees. Jill Diechmann, our Architecture Lead, can attest to that. For over 20 years Jill has volunteered her time with Rebuilding Together Metro Chicago, an organization dedicated to providing repairs, modifications and improvements for homeowners in need. In 2012 she approached Primera’s leadership team and was instrumental in helping the firm become a program sponsor for National Rebuilding Day. She was surprised, impressed and grateful at the response she received, and the support for both her and the organization. Today, Primera continues to be a proud supporter of Rebuilding Together.


18. Leading the way in Sustainability

Primera has a special relationship with the City of Chicago dating back to the early 2000’s. As a result of this partnership, the City of Chicago trusted Primera’s sustainability expertise in helping them secure LEED-EB:OM certification for their Chicago Center for Green Technology (CCGT) project back in 2012. With Primera providing Sustainability and LEED Consulting, the building became the first municipal and brownfield site to win a LEED Platinum award. All aspects of the building were optimized in order to reduce waste during the construction process, and energy waste during the operation of the building once it was completely renovated. Today, CCGT uses about 40% less energy than a building of the same size.


17. Engineering Director values Innovation in Sustainability and Energy

Josh Greenfield is our resident energy efficiency expert. For over 15 years he’s worked on several energy consulting and sustainable design projects for Primera. His favorite project has been the Goose Island Household Hazardous Waste building back in 2004 because it was the first LEED project he worked on and the first time he had to take environmental sustainability into account during design. Today, Josh has played a role in helping 104 projects earn LEED certification.


16. Reducing Congestion and Increasing Mobility for Illinois

Primera’s Transportation Division and the Illinois Department of Transportation share the same goal: to ensure that destinations are reached in the safest, quickest, and most comfortable and cost-effective manner. It’s no wonder that we’ve been partners for over 20 years now. From highways to bridges to bike paths, Primera’s planning, design and construction management services have helped move people in smarter ways.


15. Project Manager Proud of our ISO Certification

Erin Lowery began her career at Primera providing mechanical engineering services, and for the last several years has worked as a Project Manager on projects utilizing multiple disciplines as a prime and subconsultant for MEP, FP, architectural, lighting and commissioning projects. She recalls when the company initially pursued its ISO certification and instantly saw an improvement in workflow through the use of the quality policy, quality objectives, audit results, analysis of data, corrective and preventive actions, and management reviews. Recently, Primera reaffirmed its commitment to our customers and the environment by becoming certified to current ISO standards, read more about it here.


14. Connecting People with our Natural Environment.

Primera’s work with Lincoln Park Zoo dates back to 2001 when Primera designed the MEP systems for the Regenstein Center for African Apes. The innovative design incorporated several unique features for animal comfort as well as public interaction. One such feature included a fan coil unit that when activated by an animal push button would blow cool or hot air, as selected by the animal, to both the public and the other animals. Since then, Primera has worked on many other design projects throughout the zoo as we proudly continue to support their mission of connecting people with nature and advancing the highest quality of animal care, education, science and conservation.


13. Aviation and Sustainability Lead Grateful for High Profile Project Opportunities

John Antonoglu clearly remembers the day Primera was awarded the contract to work on the O’hare Modernization Program (OMP) as part of the Master Civil Engineer team, BPC Airport Partners. “Mike and Pedro (then owners) came into the office with a bottle of champagne because it was the firm’s largest awarded project to date. To me, it serves as one of Primera’s most noteworthy achievements in its 30-year history.” John has played a significant role with the OMP, helping navigate the variety and complexity of the airport’s infrastructure, since the project began in 2003.


12. Creating Better Environments to Support STEM Education and Careers

One of our passions is promoting STEM education and careers, that is why some of our favorite projects are those that include higher education clients. Primera’s relationship with Northwestern University began in the late 1990’s with a lab renovation project. Since then, we have worked on nearly 100 projects at the Evanston and Downtown campuses including residence halls, academic buildings, offices and research facilities. One of our most notable projects with them includes the Technological Institute, a landmark building and one of the largest academic buildings in the world.


11. Long-time CAD Administrator Keeps Primera Moving Forward with Technology

Manny Santana is one of Primera’s longest-tenured employees. For over 20 years, Manny has been the face of anything and everything CAD (Computer Aided Drafting) related. The industry has come a long way since the mid-90s when he first started and he couldn’t be happier that it has. He remembers the times when he had to wear a face mask when creating blueprint drawings because the machine used ammonia. Manny has been with Primera every step of the way helping the firm evolve with new technologies, allowing us to better service our clients. Today, he oversees most CAD/BIM procedures and processes, training, and manages the licensing and renewals for all CAD software.


10. Greening and Beautifying Chicago’s Neighborhoods

Primera began working with the Chicago Park District in the mid 1990’s when we provided renovation services for a gymnasium. We have since expanded our partnership to work on countless projects that showcase the natural beauty of Chicago, including a huge electrical project at 31st Street Harbor on Chicago’s lakefront. Most recently, Primera was involved in the development of the new Maggie Daley Park downtown. This was one of our favorite projects since it was such a signature and important project for the city. Maggie Daley is the first park of its kind, mixing urban landscapes and technology with the outdoors. Primera is proud to have played a pivotal role by providing engineering and design services for the park’s one-of-a-kind ice skating ribbon.


9. Consulting Division Manager Praises the Firm’s Ability to Adapt to Change

Primera’s story wouldn’t be complete without mention of Senior Vice President and Business Consulting Lead Mary O’Toole. Mary was brought on in 2014 to lead our utility program management team. Soon after, with Mary’s leadership, Primera started its Consulting division which provides integrated capital planning and portfolio management services tailored specifically to client needs. With her help, Primera has continued on a progressive path of growth by diversifying our service offering and acquiring multiple contracts across the Midwest and Northeastern United States.


8. Building Innovative and Interactive Learning Spaces

One of our favorite projects with the City Colleges of Chicago includes performing mechanical, electrical and lighting consulting work on the renovation of six locations to create Math Emporium educational spaces. The Math Emporium is a modern learning center with computer software, instructors, and tutoring design to enhance math education and comprehension. This successful project has helped countless students improve their math skills while at the same time promoting careers in STEM. Math Emporiums can be found at the following City Colleges of Chicago: Daley, Harold Washington, Kennedy King, Malcolm X, Truman and Wilbur Wright.


7. Lead Civil Engineer Pragmatic about Primera’s Bright Future 

John Fehlberg had the pleasure of working with now President & CEO, Erin Inman, before she joined the Primera team in 2003. He got to know her well and witnessed first-hand her determination in consistently setting and accomplishing goals. Fast forward almost 15 years later, and John is just as confident in Erin’s abilities as ever. He is excited about the direction the company is headed and agrees that capitalizing on cross-divisional relationships will only help Primera grow.


6. Changing and Improving Lives Through Health Care

Primera has worked with Advocate Health Care since 2004. As a result of our mutually-beneficial partnership we have had the good fortune of working on countless projects for them. Most notably, we have been part of several renovations and design projects at Advocate South Suburban Hospital located in Hazel Crest, IL. For example, we recently provided architecture and engineering services associated with the demolition and design for a complete new mechanical system replacement, as well as demolition and design of 87 patient rooms, infusion treatment center, nurse stations, and support areas.


5. Project Coordinator Applauds our Give Back Efforts

Roseann Marra was hired at Primera as an Office Manager in 2005, however her passion for customer service and desire to work with clients inspired Buildings Division Manager, Ken Panucci to transition her to Project Coordinator shortly thereafter. Throughout her time at the firm, Roseann has always been impressed with Primera’s give-back efforts, stating that at any given time there is always something going on as it relates to improving our local communities – from highway clean-ups to mentoring to environmental stewardship.


4. Fueling the Chicago Region’s Economy 

Primera has been a partner of the Chicago Department of Aviation since the late 1990’s, however our relationship wasn’t solidified until 2002 when we were awarded the O’Hare Modernization Program (OMP) contract. As part of the Master Civil Engineer team, BPC Airport Partners, Primera has led this $6.6 billion program, at times putting all hands-on deck with as much as 75% of the company working on the project. The OMP was also a gamechanger for Primera as it was the biggest project win at the time and was the first significant joint-venture for the company. The project also allowed Primera to create a separate Transportation division and served as a stepping stone into the utility industry by producing our first blanket contract with a large local utility. However, we are most proud of helping the City of Chicago ensure that O’Hare remains one of the most important economic generators for the State, as well as become a national leader in sustainability through the creation of the Sustainable Airport Manual (SAM) .


3. Distribution Engineering Director Focuses on our Growth Strategy

Bryan Knowles joined Primera in 2006. Since then, he has moved up the ranks and is currently known as one of the firm’s leading substation and distribution experts. He recalls that around the time he was hired, Primera was slowly starting to shift from internally being organized by degree to being more organized by industry, similar to what the firm looks like today. He credits this as being a big driver in Primera’s ability to grow and focus on what sets Primera apart from other firms.


2. Transforming Communities through Corporate Social Responsibility.

Primera has been a ComEd partner since the late 1990s through our work with the O’Hare Modernization Program, which eventually resulted in our first blanket Engineer of Choice contract with them. This game-changing agreement allowed Primera to first step into the utility industry. Since then, we have worked on over 1,000 projects with ComEd/Exelon and continue to remain a strong partner of theirs. What makes us most proud, however, is that we share in our commitment to make a difference in our communities and have joined forces on several occasions to support their corporate social responsibility efforts.


1. Our Lighting Studio Expert Highlights Career Growth and a Commitment to Quality

Deborah Steimel-Clair has been with Primera since January 2004. As a recent college graduate with a Master’s of Science in Architectural Engineering from Kansas State University, Deb was brought on to Primera’s Buildings team as an Electrical Engineer. She has gradually progressed in her career and today serves as the firm’s leading lighting design expert. Deb’s favorite projects include 31st Street Harbor and Maggie Daley Park, both of which have been recognized with industry awards.

30 for 30: Engineering Our First Thirty Years

In honor of our anniversary celebration, we are featuring a mix of 30 employees, clients, and projects that have helped shape us into the premier engineering/architecture firm we are today.