2018 Top 40 Under 40: Ernest Romero Jr.

Sept. 14, 2018
Ernest Romero Jr., Senior Design Engineer, Tolar Manufacturing Company Inc.
  • One word to describe yourself: Loyal
  • Alma Mater: Chaffey High School
  • Favorite book: “The Catcher in the Rye” by J. D. Salinger – “This is the only book I have read more than once!”
  • Favorite TV show: "I don’t watch much TV but I will sit down to watch a Dodger or USC football game."
  • Favorite movie: :I enjoy watching movies, I have many favorites in all genres and it’s hard to list just one. 24 years ago, I went on the first date with my wife and we went to see “Dumb and Dumber,” so funny enough, this movie continues to bring joy to my life for the memory it holds."
  • Favorite hobby(s): "When I’m not working you will find me on a baseball field coaching my kids or cheering them on. Baseball is my passion and I love giving back to the community as a volunteer teaching the game that I love."
  • Fun fact about yourself: "I entered college to study and earn a degree in mathematics and become a math teacher. It was in college when I was inspired and introduced to engineering by a math professor."

Ernest Romero, Jr. is no stranger to public transit. He grew up in Ontario, California, and fondly remembers sitting at bus stops under the shade of a shelter waiting for the bus to take him to school and around town. Now, Romero designs those very bus shelters.

He demonstrates that hard work, education and dedication to his craft net positive results for one’s career and importantly, the public transit industry as a whole.

After high school, Romero attended ITT Technical Institute where he achieved the honor of class valedictorian. He then went on to further his mechanical engineering studies at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He began his career at Tolar Manufacturing Company in 2011 as an engineering assistant. He embraced the company’s engineering and manufacturing software, quickly advancing his skills and becoming a UL 48 Electric Sign certified senior design engineer. He now leads the company’s most complex and prestigious design projects with his innovative designs being used by public transit consumers across North America.

Among Romero’s notable accomplishments include being the lead designer for more than 700 bus shelters located throughout San Diego County that showcase four unique designs for San Diego Metropolitan Transit District (MTS). He also produced engineering packages for Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority's bus rapid transit service, a shelter project for the University of Southern California (USC), and created design and fabrication packages for the city of Fresno’s downtown civic center.

Recently Romero worked on a unique project for Omnitrans that required an integrated data system attached to an advertising kiosk. 

Romero thinks beyond the aesthetic requirements and material specifications of projects, recognizing the economic realities of how the operations team at transit agencies across the country will install and maintain the company’s shelters and related street furniture.

"I fell into this industry by way of the economy crashing in the mid 2000s. I was in the construction industry for years designing floorplans for hotels, casinos, and restaurants when Tolar Manufacturing Company took a chance on me in 2011. Within my first week at Tolar I was thrust into a fast-paced engineering department with multiple high-priority projects. I could see immediately that the company trusted my design experience, allowing me to inject that experience into designing bus shelters right away. This recognition by Mass Transit Magazine is quite an honor and I am grateful to my peers and management at Tolar for believing in me from the beginning. I am humbled to represent Tolar Manufacturing and our local community on this broad national platform. The work I do truly reflects a team effort and exemplifies all of the dedicated hours put in by our entire team."

"I enjoy the journey of creating an idea and making it come to life through the designs I engineer. The process of engaging in a project completely and finding ways to improve upon and solve issues for our clients gives me great satisfaction. It takes a village to exceed our client’s expectations, and here at Tolar Manufacturing, I have the absolute confidence in our team. Our Tolar team takes great pride in the work we do knowing that our bus shelters provide safety, comfort and security to help people across North America begin their trips to their jobs, schools, medical appointments, and more on public transit. I enjoy knowing that I play a small part in that."

"The most challenging but also the most rewarding part of my job is to deliver a superior product that exceeds our client’s expectations, every time. It takes patience to create and methodically contemplate a new design under a restricted time-fame and budget. It can be very difficult at times to balance creativity with budget and delivery schedules. Gary Tolar and the rest of Tolar’s leadership takes the time to ensure that I and my colleagues understand that the role we each play in the development and fabrication of our work is integral to delivering the highest quality, most durable, aesthetically pleasing product our clients have come to expect from our 27-year-old company. Knowing that my work represents the Tolar brand in each and every transit shelter, bench, digital display, and other components of outdoor street furniture across the country motivates me on a daily basis and empowers me to overcome the challenges of each new project."

"My biggest personal accomplishment is my marriage to my best friend and high school sweetheart, Estrella Romero. We have been together for 24 years, married for 12 of those years. We are blessed with four sons, Jeren 11, Zaiah 9, Elio 8, and Roman 6. My family inspires me to be a good person and to always lead by example. It is important that my boys see what I do and experience firsthand the importance of serving their community.

With that said, my biggest professional accomplishment has to be the San Diego Metropolitan Transit District  project in 2016. I was the lead designer for over 600 bus shelters, now located throughout San Diego County, that showcase four unique designs. The project entailed the integration of a solar-powered system, advertising displays and incorporating the District’s logo and branding within the perforated metal back wall. A project of this magnitude required multiple variations and renderings for the client to choose from, including placing one “test” shelter at Petco Park baseball stadium before the client agreed to the full 600 stop order. I’m proud that the original design was approved, allowing us to proceed with the full order. Now two years later I’m working on integrating a digital display into the shelter design. It’s gratifying and an honor to see these shelters all over San Diego county knowing that they are fabricated using my designs."

"The best advice I can give to up-and-coming design engineers for the public transit industry is to always stick with your gut feeling. I am continually faced with short time frames and deadlines. It’s the nature of the business. Do not take short cuts to the detriment of your work and always give each project your full attention, down to every last detail. Ask questions and take help when it is offered. Most importantly, stay humble. Always remember that the projects you are designing will be fabricated into real-world products placed in communities throughout the country, maybe even the world. People will be directly impacted by your work. Never forget that."

"Growing up I remember going places with my grandmother on the bus and also using the bus as a teenager to get around town with my friends like to the mall. Those are fond memories and also taught me about the freedom and independence that public transit provides. Now that I'm actually working in public transit through the design and engineering of bus shelters, it’s like I’ve come full circle.

"Public transit is a thriving industry. To be involved firsthand in new technologies that are being integrated into what once was simple bus shelters is exciting and challenging. In my seven years as a design engineer at Tolar Manufacturing I have seen the envelope being pushed farther and farther to incorporate more and better amenities into each design to meet the requirements of our clients. It’s never a dull amount and the rewards far exceed the demands. I will never lose sight of the opportunity I was given to join the Tolar team back in 2011 and I strive every day to ensure my contributions add value and purpose to our overall mission of delivering uniquely designed, quality-built products on time and on budget.

"I rode the bus as a child and teen, fell into the industry as an adult, and am now prospering with a rewarding career path of which I am very proud. This is how public transit has impacted me and it’s a pleasure to give back through my career."