Texas Contractor Tapped for 2001 UM's Engineer of Distinction Honor

The University of Mississippi's 2001 Engineer of Distinction is a general contractor, pointing to James W. Barnette's unusual, yet highly successful, marriage of engineering and contracting.

The 1959 School of Engineering graduate and Corpus Christi, Texas, business and civic leader has established a solid reputation for both his professionalism and entrepreneurship.

"This award is absolutely the highest honor I have ever had," Barnette said. "It is particularly overwhelming when you look at the names of the former honorees and the many other engineering alumni and their professional accomplishments."

Dr. Kai-Fong Lee, dean of engineering, said Barnette stands as a sterling example for Ole Miss engineering students. "Mr. Barnette gained experience in the field of engineering, and then, recognizing the value and versatility of his engineering degree, pursued an ambitious career uniting his love for engineering and interest in construction. He has been a trailblazer, making many contributions to his profession," Lee said. "In addition, Mr. Barnette has committed countless hours of his time to strengthening his community through various organizations."

After majoring in civil engineering and serving in the U.S. Army, Barnette began a thriving decade-long career with Lockwood, Andrew & Newman Inc., the largest consulting engineering firm in South Texas. He established his own company, Coastcon Corp., in 1973.

Barnette is credited with revolutionizing the bidding process by introducing the negotiated method of construction to South Texas. In 1983, he again defied convention and formed an alliance with his major competitor, Fulton Construction, to pool resources and enable the two companies to win much larger projects.

Engineer News-Record ranked the Fulton/Coastcon joint venture among the top 400 construction firms in the nation in 1990 and 1993. Among the most recent projects of Fulton/Coastcon are two new hospitals - Christus Spohn Hospital South and Bay Area Medical Center - the new U.S. Federal Courthouse, and the Vista Automotive Mall, all in Corpus Christi.

Barnette's career accomplishments have been recognized with an array of honors, including the 1990 Small Business Person of the Year for the South Texas Region and 1990 finalist for Entrepreneur of the Year. In 1994, nine Corpus Christi engineering organizations jointly named him Engineer of the Year.

Barnette is a willing and much sought-after participant in business and civic life and has served as chair of the Corpus Christi Chamber of Commerce, City of Corpus Christi Ethics Commission, and City Mechanical Advisory Committee. He has provided leadership as president of the South Texas Chapter of Associated General Contractors and Nueces Chapter of the Texas Society of Professional Engineers. He also is a board member of the American National Bank and the Corpus Christi Regional Economic Development Corp. Barnette and his wife, Joyce, are the parents of three children and members of St. Luke's Methodist Church.

(Article appeared in Ole Miss Engineer, Vol. 41, No. 2, Fall 2001.)