Some Random and Personal Observations

Jack Mascaro died on Sunday. There were few figures who played a bigger role in the construction industry in the era following the collapse of the steel industry than Jack did. His personality will be missed. I’ve done business with Mascaro Construction for 25 years now but didn’t get to know Jack until the time between selling Pittsburgh Construction News and starting the magazine BreakingGround. Over the past decade we became friends, working together every year or so on a project that he was pursuing (and for which he wanted some free information). I will miss getting those calls.

In his obituary there was mention of his starting his business in 1988 on the Ping Pong table in the basement of his Upper St. Clair home. This story is part of the Mascaro lore but it always makes me chuckle. Jack was proud of the humble beginnings story but he was anything but the kind of businessman who worked from his basement. Jack invested heavily in his people, his technology, his equipment, and his facilities. He didn’t do things on the cheap and he built a company that is one of the leaders of the construction industry. He was proud of that and of the fact that his three sons were trying to take the business to a higher level than he left it for them.

Jack was impatient. He was a ball buster. He didn’t like to lose, even in an industry where you lose way more opportunities than you win. And he had a high level of curiosity. Jack gave me a new book to read every time we met in his office. There was a lot more to Jack than I ever got to see but two stories stick in my mind when I think of how to describe Jack.

The first took place in 2006 or 2007, when we were first getting to know each other. One of his competitors had just landed a big job that he was competing to build. It was not the first big job the competitor had landed recently. My phone rang. Instead of hello, I heard Jack’s unmistakable high raspy voice asking me if [fill in the blank] “needs to win every [expletive deleted] job in Pittsburgh?!?” When I reminded him that the same competitor could have asked that question about Mascaro Construction just a few years before that, he laughed and said, “Well that was then. This is now.”

In 2018, Jack asked me for a bunch of data to try and understand an aspect of the market better for an idea he had to create a more competitive environment for the Laborers union. We had lunch at Legends of the North Shore. There was a server who would speak Italian with Jack so he could practice learning the language. Jack was really interested in digging into the data I pulled together for him, trying to see if it supported his idea and thinking about where his argument might be weak. All of this was after beating a bout with cancer into remission. I asked him why he was so concerned about the industry when he was technically retired from the operations. “I’m 73 years old. I’m just starting to get good at all of this,” he said.

I just turned 63. I try to think about that lunch when I feel tired of the day-to-day nonsense of running a business much smaller than Mascaro Construction. Jack left behind a great legacy. His sons, John, Jeffrey and Michael, care about Mascaro Construction and its people the way he did. His humor, passion, and curiosity left an imprint on an industry and a city. Alla prossima Jack.


Changing gears, Monday brought more great news about the progress towards a vaccine for COVID-19. The vaccine being developed by Oxford University and Asta Zeneca completed an early trial on 1,007 people and was found to be safe and to trigger the antibodies needed to fight the virus. This news follows last week’s announcement that the Moderna vaccine had been effective in triggering the defense antibodies in 100% of its trials and would go into large-scale human testing. The news is a reminder that the solution to the economic problems caused by the pandemic will be a medical solution. Until then, data is showing that people are going to avoid economic activities that expose them to the public, meaning that the recovery will be slow until the fear of transmission fades. Wash your hands. Stay six feet apart. Wear a mask.

In local construction news, Fay-Penn Economic Council announced the start of construction of a 100,500 square foot spec industrial building in Fayette Business Park in Georges Township south of Uniontown. Fairchance Construction is building it. Construction also started on the $20 million micro-grid project being developed by People Gas to power the Pittsburgh International Airport site. PJ Dick is the construction manager.

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