Perry Nations, 75, a strong voice for the construction industry for more than 35 years, retired as executive director of Associated General Contractors on Dec. 31, 2012. Two days later, he took a new job as vice president of the Mississippi Construction Education Foundation.
“I’m a workaholic,” Nations admits. “It is a challenge to come out here and try to work with the young people and give them the choice of going into construction. I just couldn’t turn it down.”
Nations, who sat on the MCEF board for 20 years, considers the formation and growth of the 501(c)3 organization to be one of the biggest accomplishments of the building industry in the state. The initial funding came from the Legislature approving an increase in contractor’s license fees from $100 to $200 per year, with half of that amount to go into construction education.
“We partnered with the National Center for Construction Education and Research and the Mississippi Department of Education for the courses that are now in 105 or 106 high schools in the state,” Nations said. “Now about 5,000 kids a year are taking advantage of going through our introductory courses, which we feel is a huge success. We are trying to grow it.”
Nations can also rest easy that AGC is in great hands with his son, Lee Nations, being named executive director. “He has been with me at AGC activities since he was a kid,” Nations said. “He sort of grew up with all the members.”
Another highlight of his career at AGC has been serving as a spokesperson for the construction industry and working with the Legislature to promote laws needed for the construction industry and economic development.
“I was always forthright and honest with the legislators,” Nations said. “We always tried to give both sides of an issue. In all those years, I never got cross-wise with them. My relationships up there I will always cherish.”
Marty Milstead, executive vice president, Home Builders Association of Mississippi, has known Nations for about 40 years.
“Perry has always been one of those who has been very open-minded and progressive about economic development, and the impact that construction has on Mississippi,” Milstead said. “Perry has certainly been a hall-of-famer for the construction industry because he has been doing it for so long, and is so professional and successful in what he has done.”
Born and reared in Jackson, Nations went to Central High School and started working part-time as a newspaper reporter his senior year. He attended Mississippi State University one year before returning to Jackson and a return to journalism, and took courses at Hinds Community College and Millsaps. His reporting work included covering the Legislature, and he won some major national awards for his photography including the 1962 AP Spot News Photo of the Year award for a photograph of Civil Rights turmoil.
In 1964, Nations went to work for the Mississippi Agricultural and Industrial Board where he traveled the country promoting Mississippi at trade shows, worked to help start the Welcome Center program and started a program called Discover Mississippi that encouraged state residents to see Mississippi attractions before traveling to other states. Evidence of his impact is that Nations was named by a national magazine as the number one “Outstanding Travel and Tourism Director” in the U.S., the youngest person to have ever received that honor.
While at that job, Nations had a unique experience witnessing one of the most significant events in U.S. history when he accompanied Gov. Ross Barnett to Washington, D.C., after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
“By accident, I got admitted to the White House, met all the Kennedys, and went in to see the casket — all because I got confused with the people in the car behind me,” Nations said.
During his time at AGC, he considers one of the biggest successes the self-insured workers’ compensation fund created in 1989 that is still saving contractors money today.
“It has been extremely successful,” Nations said. “It was never anything to make a profit; it was a service to the members. Over the years from 1989 until I left AGC, we had saved enough money to return more than $10 million in dividends to the contractors. Right now the fund is well funded with another $9 to $10 million in members’ equity.”
The program was launched after insurance companies in the state said they weren’t going to write any more worker’s comp coverage in Mississippi unless they were allowed much higher premiums. AGC’s fund was the first time the legislature allowed a self-insurance fund like this.
Part of the reason the program has worked so well was a parallel emphasis on improving workplace safety — another major successful AGC program. AGC’s safety department has partnered with OSHA to provided training and certifications for first aidCPR, forklifts, backhoes etc. They also instituted workers’ compensation requirements for drug testing before employment, at random, and after accidents. Nations said the safety record in the industry has improved so much that private insurance companies are once again interested in providing coverage.
“If we closed tomorrow because insurance was available in the standard market, we have been successful,” Nations said. “We have stabilized rates at a lower premium level, have been able to make a profit, and now private companies can come in and feel like they can make a profit.”
Earlier in his life Nations’ biggest hobby was coaching youth baseball for 17 years. “We went to the state championships a couple of times,” Nations said. “My son, Scott, was in a couple of state championships in Mississippi. My son, Lee, was a pitcher, and we went all way to the Little League World Series Championship in Nashore, N.H. It was probably one of the biggest thrills a dad could have. It is hard to describe. Both of my sons also played on state championship baseball teams.”
These days Nations enjoys watching his grandchildren play sports. In addition to their two sons, he and his wife of more than 40 years, Barbara, have three daughters, Anna, Dawn, Tammy, and seven grandchildren. The youngest is eight and the oldest plans to attend Mississippi State University this fall.
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