Since joining Gresham Smith in 2013, Dave Verner has served in multiple leadership roles, including executive vice president of the Industrial market. His current focus is growing the firm’s relationships in the battery and electric vehicle industry—an area where his deep expertise has already led to significant project wins for the firm. Dave’s childhood fascination with science fiction sparked his unique path to a career in architecture.

Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, Dave spent his early years out west until the age of 13 when he transitioned to life in the South alongside his family, whose roots were in Tennessee. In 1980, Dave was granted a scholarship to Auburn University (AU) on the merits of a biology paper—a key turning point that would shape the course of his life and career.

“When I was in high school, I had to write a research paper as part of my biochemistry class. At that time—during the energy crises of the 1970s—there were articles written about solar power being transformed into microwave energy on satellites and beamed to earth. Since, like my dad, I am a science fiction junkie, this fascinated me,” remembers Dave. “I did the research and wrote a paper called: ‘The Effects of Microwave Bombardment on Drosophila Melanogaster with Special Attention to Mutations and Population Abnormalities.’ Basically, I zapped fruit flies in the microwave and tracked their genetic mutations. My teacher, without telling me, submitted the paper to a competition and it won, resulting in my full, four-year scholarship to Auburn University.”

After graduating from AU with a Bachelor of Architecture degree in 1984, Dave started his professional journey working for a small architectural firm in Memphis, Tennessee. He moved to Nashville in 1989, where he spent the next 23 years working primarily in the Industrial market for a full-service architecture and engineering firm. Leaving that firm, Dave’s original plan was to establish his own A/E practice, but he received a pivotal phone call from a business colleague who was working at Gresham Smith. That call led to an interview, and Dave joined the firm as a project executive later that year.

Over the next 10 years, Dave guided the Industrial market toward rapid growth and success by nurturing crucial client relationships and securing significant projects for the firm, culminating in his appointment as executive vice president of the Industrial market—just as the electrification revolution was poised to transform the industrial ecosystem.

“My first introduction to electric vehicle battery plants came from a conversation I had with LG Energy Solutions,” says Dave. “The first thing that struck me about these plants was the sheer amount of power they use, which I honestly did not think was accurate. So, I began doing research on what it takes to design a gigafactory. Right off the bat, we made a concerted effort to work with partners who could increase our knowledge base and quickly bring us up to speed, given that speed to market is crucial in the design of EV battery facilities. We then began pursuing battery plant projects and won our first project in 2019.”

Gresham Smith designed Ultium Cells’ newest lithium-ion battery manufacturing facility in Spring Hill, Tennessee. The plant is projected to employ 1,700 people in new high-tech jobs.
Gigafactories are monumental structures housing numerous complex processes with unprecedented energy demands.

Since then, Gresham Smith has become the premier designer of EV battery facilities in the United States, and is currently involved in either the design, construction or commissioning of 13 gigafactories across the U.S. and Canada. “I’m proud of how we’ve grown, evolved and developed our team to successfully deliver these complex, large-scale projects—and so fast and effectively,” Dave remarks.

Dave credits an understanding of the client’s business, culture and people, along with the ability to manage a global team, as key common denominators for success. “One of our big strengths is building a team that is comfortable and capable of working with non-U.S. clients,” says Dave. “That includes bringing in people who are bilingual and can help other team members understand the cultural nuances of working with non-U.S. teams. Things can easily get lost in translation when working on such large-scale projects. That’s why it’s so critical to find the right people when building a team—people who have the experience working with someone whose first language isn’t English. Although what we do is hard, what our clients do is often even harder. The people on our team have an innate understanding and appreciation of that.”

I’m proud of how we’ve grown, evolved and developed our team to successfully deliver these complex, large-scale projects. Dave Verner Director of Energy Strategy, Gresham Smith

Looking ahead to his new role as director of energy strategy, Dave intends to maintain and grow the relationships he’s cultivated within the battery and electric vehicle industry to ensure the continued growth of the firm’s Industrial practice. And while he’s very much looking to the future, he remains introspective about the reasons he was drawn to the industrial arena in the first place—long before EV battery manufacturing facilities sparked a transformative shift in his world.

“I’ve been involved in Industrial in some way, shape or form for my entire career,” reflects Dave. “What appeals to me the most about it is its dual nature—not only is it technically complex, but it is a dynamic force that shapes economies and transforms the very fabric of our communities. I feel privileged to be a part of that. Also, I just like the fact that you can pick up anything while sitting at your desk and know that somebody, somewhere made it. No matter what the item is, there’s an industrial process and a production facility behind it. We help make that possible. How cool is that?”

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