Construction has always been in Arcilia Acosta’s blood. The CEO of CARCON Industries and STL Engineers grew up in Midland, where her father built refineries for Texas energy companies. She never thought she’d get into the business herself, though, and attended Texas Tech University to see if she could find something to spark her interest. After graduating in 1989, she moved to Dallas, where her sister worked in banking, and got a job working for developer Rick Strauss, the founder of Republic Property Group.
“I went to work for him not knowing that his father was Bob Strauss, former chair of the Democratic National Committee, and that his uncle was Ted Strauss, who later became my mentor,” Acosta says. “Ted was married to former Dallas Mayor Annette Strauss. I didn’t realize I had gone to work for a member of this amazing political family.”
A quick learner, Acosta impressed her new employer and was asked to become a registered lobbyist. She made regular trips to Austin, attending events, showing support for lawmakers, learning, and connecting. She also began attending Dallas City Council meetings. “Here I was, 23 or 24 years old, getting to know all of these highly influential people,” Acosta says. “I said ‘yes’ to every opportunity. I didn’t realize it then, but it was the way my life was supposed to be. I didn’t know what all of this was setting me up to achieve.”
After about three years with Strauss, she left to join a former Republic Property Group executive who was forming a specialized financing group that catered to construction companies for Bank One. The experience ultimately led to her decision to relaunch her deceased father’s construction company. Through her work at the bank, she became deeply familiar with clients and their work. She saw how firms succeeded and how they failed. Visiting job sites was the clincher. “Being in my jeans and my boots and my hard hat and watching things get built was phenomenal,” Acosta says. “I just knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
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Acosta was named to the board of Energy Future Holdings in May of 2008, not long after the entity was created by a $45 billion leveraged buyout of TXU Energy. With fellow board members such as former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker III and former Commerce Secretary Don Evans, and discussing complicated issues like kilowatt-hours and nuclear power, Acosta admits to initially being a bit intimidated. She threw herself into learning as much as she could about the company and the industry. During one board meeting, when a particular issue came up, it was Acosta who had the right answer. Afterward, she excitedly shared the news with her close mentor, the late Ted Strauss. “He said to me, ‘I will tell you what I told Annette, and I’m going to share it with you,’” Acosta recounts. “The emperor has no clothes. You know just as much as everyone else.”
She officially opened CARCON Industries (a shortened version of her maiden name, Carrasco, and construction) on Jan. 1, 2000. Her first job was far from glamorous; she was hired to build new bathrooms at the Cotton Bowl. Next came pavers for DART. But for Acosta, taking what some would consider to be insignificant work was consistent with her philosophy of saying ‘yes’ to opportunities. She got her foot in the door and performed well. That led to bigger jobs, including massive upgrades at Terminals A and C at DFW Airport and highly complex expansions for DART.
In 2003, unable to find a woman-owned geotechnical engineering and construction materials testing firm, Acosta founded her own: STL Engineers. Ten years later, she launched an oil and gas group in Midland, coming full circle to where her life—and career—began. Today, her multimillion-dollar enterprises employ about 250 people.
Throughout it all, Acosta has remained involved in civic and nonprofit service at the highest levels, from being appointed to state boards by Gov. Abbott to serving as a regent for her alma mater, Texas Tech. She’s currently on the corporate boards of Veritex Holdings, Vistra Corp., and Magnolia Oil and Gas Corp. And last month, she was inducted as a 2022 laureate for Junior Achievement’s prestigious Dallas Business Hall of Fame, joining Fred Perpall, Clark Hunt, and Tom Luce. Next month, she’ll receive the TWU Virginia Chandler Dykes Leadership Award.
Acosta has been a part of the influential Dallas Citizens Council since 2011, and next year will take the reins as its chair. Strong public-private partnerships have helped build Dallas, and it’s a collaboration that must continue, Acosta says. “At the Dallas Citizens Council, we have a vision of what we must do as CEOs,” she says. “We have to get engaged and work on things that keep our city thriving, that help us prosper.”