The 2023 ACEC Annual Convention delighted nearly 900 attendees with appearances by distinguished national and international leaders who discussed significant industry and business concerns.
The Convention included the introduction of Jay Wolverton, executive vice president and chief growth officer for CHA Consulting, as the new ACEC Chair.
In her Convention-opening address to the Board of Directors, ACEC President and CEO Linda Bauer Darr noted her fifth anniversary as the Council leader. “We are a very different organization today,” she said.
She noted that her focus so far includes the establishment of the ACEC Research Institute, the Engineering Influence podcast, and a growing national influence. She also emphasized that improved Council relationships with Member Organizations (MOs) is key.
“We have a new posture now with our MOs of mutual respect, responsibility, and a shared sense of mission,” Darr said.
The Convention featured Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, 2024 U.S. Presidential Candidate Chris Christie, and World Economic Forum President Børge Brende.
More Annual Convention highlights include:
SECRETARY PETE BUTTIGIEG TO ENGINEERING LEADERS: ‘WE CAN’T DO IT WITHOUT YOUR HELP’
The historic Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) is a “once-in-a-lifetime investment opportunity in transportation that we must get right,” Buttigieg told engineering firm leaders at the Convention.
“But we can’t do it without your help,” he said.
Buttigieg mentioned the collapsed section of I-95 and how highway industry stakeholders, including engineers, would need to make needed repairs primarily on the East Coast north south highway artery. (After the Convention, that section of I-95 reopened just 12 days after its collapse.)
He predicted that, despite decades of infrastructure underinvestment, the historic funding opportunity now presented by the IIJA will also challenge U.S. productivity. “On time, on task, on budget—that’s our goal,” he emphasized. “And so much of that success will depend on you.”
He noted that 70,000 road projects and 4,600 bridge projects are currently underway throughout the nation because of the IIJA, and there is more to come.
Before concluding his speech, he emphasized, “There has never been a better time to be involved with transportation infrastructure.”
GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE CHRIS CHRISTIE ADDRESSES POLITICAL DIRECTION OF NATION
Former New Jersey Governor Christie delivered a lively and insightful presentation on the state of American politics.
Having completed a lengthy CNN town hall only hours before, Christie began his remarks by warning that he was operating on only four hours of sleep, joking with attendees that they could be in for an “interesting morning.”
Christie shared his unique blend of humor, U.S. history, and deep inside-the-Beltway expertise, sharing his impressions on where our nation is headed politically after the turmoil of the last decade. He regaled attendees with tales from his time as an adviser to former President Donald Trump.
When Trump was elected in 2016, his mistake was conflating his slim electoral victory with a wide personal mandate: “You had the two most unpopular presidential candidates in history running against each other. Trump didn’t win that election. Hillary lost it,” Christie said.
In early 2020, as the pandemic and the primaries converged, President Trump asked Christie which Democrat he believed would be his most formidable opponent. Without hesitation, Christie responded: “Joe Biden.”
When Christie stood in as Trump’s debate partner in 2020, he played the role of Biden. Trump asked what his one piece of advice would be if such a debate took place.
“Let him talk,” Christie said. “There is an overwhelming likelihood that the more he talks, the more trouble he will get into.”
But Trump would not let Biden talk and interrupted him about 100 times in a 90-minute debate.
“I knew after [that debate], the election was over. There was no pathway back after that,” Christie concluded.
He pointed to Trump’s continued influence over American politics, namely the electoral “red wave” that failed to materialize in the 2022 midterm. Those muted gains, Christie argued, were owed to a slew of what he called “awful Republican candidates,” most of them endorsed by Trump. “The candidate matters the most. More than money, momentum, pace. The American people are smart. They look beyond almost everything else to see who you are,” he said.
CORPS ENGINEERING CHIEF VOWS GREATER COLLABORATION WITH ACEC
“We need you,” U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Chief of Engineering and Construction Pete Perez told the Convention audience.
While focusing on the relationship between ACEC and the engineering industry, Perez acknowledged some past difficulties and miscommunications and said he is working to make it better. “We’re trying to pinpoint the reasons why we don’t collaborate like we used to, as we need better collaboration if we are to successfully execute our goals.”
To facilitate improved relations with industry partners, the Corps has developed a new playbook on construction and engineering relationships, which focuses on greater commitment, communication, and collaboration.
“We need greater commitment to making each other successful, not just for us but for those we serve and the public at large,” Perez said.
ACEC/PAC ANNUAL CONVENTION SWEEPSTAKES WINNERS
The winners of this year’s PAC Sweepstakes: Michael Fabbiano of Highpoint in Dedham, Massachusetts, won the $10,000 Grand Prize. Roger Smith of KBA Inc. in Bellevue, Washington, and Scott Hall of SAM LLC in Austin, Texas, each won $5,000. Chris Gale of HNTB Corp. in Indianapolis, and Jonathan Blanchard of Yeh and Associates Inc. in Grover Beach, California, each won $2,500.
Ten people won $1,000 prizes: P.J. Fitzpatrick of HR Green in Aurora, Illinois; Hugh Cannon of ACEC/MW in Ashburn, Virginia; Steven Field of Rummel, Klepper & Kahl LLP in Gallatin, Tennessee; Michael Girman of AECOM in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania; Jon Ross of Smith Seckman Reid Inc. in Nashville, Tennessee; Daniel Larson of American Engineering Testing Inc. in Saint Paul, Minnesota; Jason Lietha of Ruekert & Mielke Inc. in Madison, Wisconsin; Vincent Loftus of J-U-B Engineers Inc. in Spokane, Washington; Margaret Talarico of Foresight Construction Services LLC in Pittsburgh; and Jeff Mulliken of Carolina Transportation Engineers & Associates in Columbia, South Carolina.
WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM PRESIDENT: U.S. ECONOMY ‘VERY STRONG’
Børge Brende addressed the Convention audience remotely from Geneva, saying, “Despite being in various stages of unpredictability and geopolitical risk, things are looking better for the U.S. economy than we predicted a year ago.
“If a country makes real cost-effective investment in infrastructure, such as the U.S., that will reflect in increased GDP and in global competitiveness,” he added.
He noted that the U.S. still produces 25 percent of the global GDP while having 5 percent of the world’s population. “The U.S. economy is very, very strong.”
Brende pointed to worldwide economic challenges, such as strong inflationary pressures being experienced by various countries and the impact on European energy because of the war in Ukraine. He added that the overall global economy has improved over the decades, noting that in 1990 the extreme worldwide poverty rate was 42 percent. Today it stands at 11 percent.
He also named artificial intelligence as potentially having the greatest impact on future global finances. “While some AI elements can be worrisome, it has the potential to boost worldwide production tremendously,” he said. “As it becomes more incorporated, it will affect jobs.
“The U.S., however, will always remain pretty well positioned because of its ability to change.”
ECONOMIST MARCI ROSSELL: NO RECESSION IMMINENT
Former CNBC Chief Economist Marci Rossell told Convention attendees that talk of a recession was premature, and such fears will be history by the end of 2023.
“A recession requires a decline in economic activity spread across several sectors, such as housing and unemployment, and that lasts six months,” she said. “In 2022 we had two consecutive negative quarters of GDPs, and the fears began.” She said consumer spending also must start to decline, but that has not happened. “Has anyone flown this year? Were there a lot of empty seats? Of course not.”
The former host of the pre-market morning news show Squawk Box also emphasized that inflation is much more an economic negative than a recession, but even current inflationary impacts are starting to ease.
“Inflation peaked at 9 percent last year, and the alarms went off,” Rossell reflected. “The Feds raised interest rates 10 times over 18 months to address the increase. Since then, the rate of inflation has gone down about 1 percent each quarter. It should be back to its normal 2 to 3 percent range by the end of the year.”
She added that the economy today is vastly different than past years, such as with the U.S. becoming an oil producer now. “The result is that the global price of oil today has a net-zero impact on our economy compared to 15 years ago.”
“Magic can happen anytime. You just have to be waiting for it.”
Those were the words of Jon Dorenbos during his General Session address. Dorenbos has worn many hats in his 42 years: Philadelphia Eagle. Two-time Pro Bowl selectee. Today he is best known for his thrilling and award-winning magic show, during which he performs dazzling sleight-ofhand card tricks combined with a poignant and riveting tale of survival, perseverance, and hard-won peace and forgiveness.
Using his trusty deck of cards as a metaphor for life, Dorenbos told attendees how a former NFL star came to be a motivational speaker and magician. His story began in Seattle, where he and his sister grew up. Dorenbos’ tale is one of a happy and unremarkable childhood shattered when his father murdered his mother. He was 12 years old, effectively becoming an orphan.
With his father incarcerated, Dorenbos and his sister spent a year in foster care before moving to Southern California with their aunt. It was there that Dorenbos’ two worlds—football and magic—would collide. A chance encounter with magician Bill Malone and a spot on the Golden West Junior College football team changed the trajectory of Dorenbos’ life and set him on a path to healing. He told attendees, “You write your own script how your life is going to be. The words we tell ourselves determine the life we live.”
After a successful football career of more than a decade, another shock came: Four days after being drafted by the New Orleans Saints, a routine checkup revealed a latent and dangerous heart issue. Dorenbos was rushed to surgery. Although the procedure was successful, his football career was over. Thus began a new chapter in Dorenbos’ life: magician, talk show guest, Las Vegas standout, and motivational speaker.
Dorenbos closed the show with a couple of head-scratching card tricks and a takeaway: “Life happens. Good, bad, and ugly. What separates people is how they handle it.”
Special Thanks to Our 2023 Annual Convention Sponsors
ACEC Business Insurance Trust
ACEC Life/Health Trust
ACEC Retirement Trust
aec360 by HSO
Berkley Design Group
SILVERKimley-Horn & Associates