Editorial: 05.16.2023

Project Challenges Energize Ryan Neff

Ryan Neff

Whether he’s managing sitework at an elementary school or overseeing the early phases of a commercial development, Ryan Neff loves a good challenge.

“Every project is unique and has its own set of challenges that you're trying to figure out to achieve the best outcome,” he says. “That's what I find interesting. I wouldn't want to apply the same wash, rinse and repeat technique every time.”

Since joining Castle as a project manager in 2021, Neff has honed his expertise on a wide range of projects — from the Jack C. Taylor Visitor Center at the Missouri Botanical Garden to the new Bass Pro Shops retail store that recently opened in Sunset Hills. He also has hands-on experience working on school projects across the region, including Lindbergh High School, Melville High School, Oakville Elementary School and Old Bonhomme Elementary School.

As Neff continues to develop his project management skills, he draws inspiration from his Castle colleagues. “Everybody is so motivated and talented,” he says. “I just try to learn from the people around me.”

He also takes advantage of the career development opportunities available to Castle employees, including the Management 101 program. “Castle provides all the tools I need to become the best project manager that I can be,” he says.

The Road to Castle Contracting

Growing up in Belleville, Illinois, Neff got an early glimpse of the construction industry from his dad, an architect who worked at a design-build firm. “In high school, my dad introduced me to the field of construction management and we started looking at colleges throughout the Midwest,” he says.

Neff ultimately chose the five-year construction management program at the University of Cincinnati. Because the program prioritizes practical field experience, he completed three separate co-ops that included working with the in-house construction group at the Kroger grocery chain and a heavy highway contractor. “I got three different views of the construction industry, which is something that most people probably don't get, especially that early in their career.”

When he graduated in 2011, the construction industry was still reeling from The Great Recession, so Neff moved back home to Belleville while he searched for full-time employment. “When I moved to Cincinnati in 2006, there was 100% job placement and when I graduated, only about half of students got immediate jobs,” he recalls.

In early 2012, Neff secured a position at Korte & Luitjohan Contractors in Highland, Illinois. During his nine-year tenure, he specialized in sewer plant and bank remodel projects. He also met his future supervisor — Castle Project Director Dan O’Neal—while working on the expansion of HSHS St. Joseph's Hospital in Highland, a construction joint venture with McCarthy and Korte & Luitjohan.

But it was Castle Estimating Manager Tanner Search — a former K&L coworker — who tipped Neff off about the opportunity at Castle. “Tanner reached out to me and said that Castle was looking for project managers,” he recalls. “I was happy where I was at, but capped out on growth opportunities, so I decided to put together a resume.”

Another former colleague introduced Neff to his girlfriend Katelyn, a police officer in Greenville. “One day she texted both of us and said, ‘I just can't stop thinking that you two need to meet,’” he says. “And so we met in July 2020 and have been dating ever since.”

Relaxing at the Ballpark

A lifelong Cardinals fan, Neff and his best friend recently completed a week-long pilgrimage to visit ballparks across the northern Midwest. Their itinerary included stops in Toronto, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Minnesota and Milwaukee. The trip was a sequel to a 2019 expedition where they visited six East Coast baseball stadiums.

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