by Jamie Carter-Logan, Bryan Roche and Peter Anania
Wright-Ryan’s Jim Giberson finds special meaning in the company’s work to construct and restore buildings that add value to the community and local economy, and that honor Maine’s history.
When the firm completed its extensive historic renovation work on the Sanford Mill, there was a close family connection for Giberson. His father’s side came from East Millinocket, one of Maine’s most storied mill towns. His mother’s family, however, lived in Sanford, and found employment in those same mills.
Naturally, Giberson invited his parents to attend the grand opening, giving his mother the chance to explore the same building her mother spent so much time in. As the family walked around, they carried with them a photo of Giberson’s grandmother working on one of the mill’s production lines. The opening was a full family affair.
The work allows him and Wright-Ryan to play an integral part in bringing people across the world to Maine. For Giberson, that’s why the Press Hotel stands out. He’s proud of his colleagues’ work that once again brought life to a building that is oozing with history.
As a Purdue University graduate — an institution well-known for its prestigious engineering curriculum — you may think that he is the one drawing up the blueprints and bringing the designs to life. Instead, he dedicates his time to a different type of design, serving as the firm’s commercial marketing manager.
Today, Giberson teams his desire to add to the rich fabric of Maine’s built environment and honor the state’s history with his expertise in strategy and design. More importantly, the work allows him to help accentuate what makes Maine…Maine.
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Like generations of his family, Giberson was born and raised in Maine. He attended high school at North Yarmouth Academy, before pursuing his degree. It was there that he first recognized his interest in strategy and design that would eventually lead him to his career at Wright-Ryan.
Giberson focused his studies at Purdue on engineering and ultimately graduated with a degree in construction engineering. However, while there, he recognized a desire to find creative outlets to balance the demands of his high-intensity engineering studies.
“Engineering presented a unique challenge. My course work reinforced values like dedication, perseverance, and commitment to achieve my goals,” he says.
He found a much-needed outlet in the Purdue Varsity Glee Club, an organization that provided him with leadership opportunities and gave him the chance to perform around the country and around the world, including destinations like South Africa. He also found artistic balance by taking art courses through Purdue’s Patti & Rusty Rueff School of Visual and Performing Arts. Giberson recognizes that this added some strain to his engineering studies and his commitment to traveling with the Glee Club.
But, he doesn’t regret the experience in the least. Giberson says the skills he learned through his artistic coursework have been of great value — namely, how to work with certain design software, as well as strategic communication tactics.
Now, in his work as commercial marketing manager for Wright-Ryan, he is again immersed in a combination of work that’s grounded in engineering but also allows him to tap into the creative side of his brain. Those skills became especially important as Giberson sought to make the jump from project management to marketing.
“I love this side of the business – the theory of it, the strategy of it, the relationships,” he says of his role as marketing manager. “I’m also fortunate that John Ryan and the team at Wright-Ryan was open to the idea of my ‘unconventional’ career shift.’”
Giberson’s path to marketing manager started well before he joined Wright-Ryan, exposing him to the different types of projects he would eventually have to immerse himself in. It also gave him a deeper appreciation for his home state.
After he graduated from Purdue, Giberson and his wife, Eliza Warren Giberson, opted to live in Chicago, and they were both able to find jobs fairly quickly in the area. Giberson worked for a construction company that built water treatment plants in Indiana and reached into the regions around Chicago. His projects included implementing environmentally-friendly technology that used algae to treat wastewater. He found the work interesting, but knew something was pulling him back to Maine.
”There are things that we love about Chicago. If you’re really into architecture, the built environment and infrastructure in general, it’s a great opportunity.” says Giberson. ”But there is a lifestyle piece — a professional and personal life balance piece — that’s hard for folks to understand unless they’ve grown up in Maine.”
With that realization, he and Eliza — also a Maine native — started looking for work closer to home.
They kept their options open, first looking up and down the East Coast. It became apparent that Boston might be the closest they could get to Maine. After all, it was 2012, and companies were still recovering from the recession. The more they looked, however, the more opportunities they began to discover in Maine. The challenge was that companies wanted the couple to prove that they were committed to moving back home and not just casting feelers. So they went all-in and moved back to their home state.
In the meantime, he seized an opportunity to broaden his skill set. Driven by curiosity, commitment and the respect for hard work instilled in him by his family, Giberson learned to drive a forklift for a local lumber company.
It only took a month before he got a call from Wright-Ryan. He’d been hired on as an Assistant Superintendent for the select projects group. That was September 2012. Now, more than five years later, he’s still making his mark within the company, albeit in a different role.
During his time at Wright-Ryan, Giberson notes several projects that have been of particular importance to him. Beyond the work by his fellow employees on the Sanford Mill and the Press Hotel, some of his earliest projects with the company stand out. Adapting a longstanding Portland building into the Preble Street Teen Shelter is one, while others include the construction of a new branch for Mechanic Savings Bank in Brunswick and a new fitness center for L.L. Bean in Freeport.
In any construction effort, collaboration is key. As Giberson explains, the Press Hotel project brought together a host of local businesses to achieve a common goal — transform the dilapidated former headquarters of the Portland Press Herald into a place where visitors could find themselves walking into a unique hospitality experience.
Special attention was given to the details. Maine College of Art contributed a installation that paid homage to the building’s history. The wall of typewriters (pictured in the photo album above) is designed to emulate a swarm of bees, an apt comparison to the frantic sound of keys firing that once resonated throughout the building.
In the same time, Giberson has no trouble keeping busy outside of work. Just as in college, he dedicates his time to a variety of commitments, recognizing that there is a plethora of organizations around greater Portland who are advancing meaningful initiatives. Giberson loves the breadth of opportunities that are available to be involved and give back in his community.
As president-elect of the northern New England chapter of the Society for Marketing Professional Services, he has been able to carve out a leadership role within his industry that stretches beyond Wright-Ryan. Giberson also dedicates some of his time to help out with Architalx, a non-profit organization that brings leading industry professionals from across the globe to Portland to discuss the positive role that design and the built environment plays in our world and culture.
Outside of the industry, Giberson still finds time to give back. He serves on the board of Spurwink Services, an organization he is proud to advocate for. He notes how rewarding it is to support an organization that has a statewide impact and betters the lives of families and children.
Giberson has been a go-getter and involved in his community from an early age. While it wasn’t always easy, he knew what he wanted in his career and he pushed himself to achieve it. He went out on a limb to come back to Maine, and then again to take a leap into a creative job that he wanted. He’s succeeded in his career, in adding to the quality of Maine’s built environment and in contributing to his community.
That’s why Jim Giberson is an Emerging Maine Icon.
All photos by Peter Anania