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Staff Stories—Juan Valdez

A man on a dredge vessel
One of Juan's personal favorite photos. This was how he spent a good part of 2007, learning the art of needlegunning a rusty piece of jet pipe on the NEWPORT during a yard period in Chickasaw, AL.

Fresh out of college at his first job at a design firm, Juan Valdez realized he wanted a more dynamic work environment. He kept his eyes peeled, searching for new career opportunities. Little did he know that a few pictures and a phone call would change his life dramatically.

Before attending college to pursue a degree in Mechanical Engineering, Juan spent most of his childhood growing up 9,000 feet above sea level in Quito, Ecuador. As a child, he felt the warmth of family and friends as his mom and dad each have several siblings. For Juan, this meant huge gatherings of cousins to hang out and explore Ecuador’s historic capital.

Frequent visits to his maternal grandparent’s home in a little beach town fostered the growth of Juan’s affinity for the water, a connection that remained intact for the rest of his life. Following graduation, Juan made the decision to attend Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Florida.

As a Panther, Juan worked his way through the rigorous design and fluid mechanics courses at the university. When he wasn’t burying his head in the books, Juan says he spent his days off surfing at Melbourne and Floridana Beach, a hobby he picked up from college roommates Zach Chester and Kyle Howell. This hobby would lead him to pick up other water activities such as offshore fishing and boating. “People probably look for other activities to catch a thrill, but for me it’s the water that helps me find my source of emotions,” Juan says.

With an engineering degree in his back pocket, Juan went to work for a local design firm after graduation. Most of the work involved drafting designs for yacht engine rooms and machinery arrangements using digital programs such as AutoCad. Grateful for the opportunity to get his start as a young engineer, Juan worked tirelessly in his new role. Things at the design firm seemed to be going okay, but he knew there was something missing.

Summer in Port Arthur, TX monitoring discharge operations with a young Ray Givan.

Whenever Juan would meet up with Kyle and Zach, it was always a treat. The trio would reminisce about their days at Florida Tech and the countless hours spent catching waves out on the water. When it came to the topic of work, Juan had little to say, instead he was intrigued by his friends’ new roles at Manson Construction Co.

Interested in the idea of marine construction, Juan began to research the niche industry and managed to get Zach to show him a few pictures of some Manson jobs. One day, he received a call from Zach inviting him down to Siesta Key for a tour of Manson’s hopper dredge BAYPORT. Without hesitation, Juan packed a weekend bag and spent the next few days checking out the vessel. Basking in the presence of the impressive dredge, Juan asked every question under the sun.

“When I finally got to see the BAYPORT up close, I knew this was something I wanted to be a part of,” he says. Admiring his fascination with marine construction, Zach encouraged Juan to apply at Manson. Several months later, Juan resigned from his job after he was hired on to work as a Field Engineer out of Manson’s Jacksonville office. His first assignment was 20 miles off shore on the BAYPORT, the first Manson vessel he had ever boarded.

Juan and Zach Chester celebrating lobster season with their catches of the day.

Immersed in his new role, Juan spent several years learning the “ins and outs” on how the dredges operate. Reflecting on his first few years with the company, Juan says “working on a dredge was exactly what I was looking for because every day there was something new to look forward to.” It seemed like he had found his calling out on the water, what he jokingly calls “home on a hopper dredge.” Now it is 15 years later and Juan is Manson’s dredge operations manager, coordinating assignments for hopper dredges BAYPORT, NEWPORT, and the GLENN EDWARDS. His current role is a little different as he now spends a majority of his time in the Jacksonville office, though his fascination with the dredges has not wavered. Every few weeks, you can find Juan on a plane en route to visit the vessels he is responsible for, checking in with the crew and the current project phase.

Juan’s old college roommates have also found success within Manson. Kyle is now Manson estimating manager and Zac is now dredge operations manager. The trio of engineers have worked alongside each other all these years and still get together once in a while.

Juan, his wife Laura, and daughter Marina with the catch of the “Miss Laura B”

Juan likes to say that he’s “well rooted with Manson.” Aside from finding career success at Manson, he met his wife, Laura Valdez, on the West Coast Hopper Project in 2015. Together they have a baby daughter named Marina, a fitting name honoring the element that brought this family together.

Even when he’s not on official dredging business, Juan could be found offshore, creating precious memories with Laura and Marina. “My family is all about days on and out on the water.”

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