One of the first things you might notice about ACEC/MA is that many of the organization’s leaders are women—which is notable for an industry in which women make up only 15 percent of its professionals. When asked about it, Executive Director Abbie Goodman laughs and says, “This is Massachusetts. We have a woman governor, a woman lieutenant governor, a woman treasurer, a woman attorney general, a woman auditor, and a woman climate chief.”
A determination to be inclusive is one of the key drivers of the organization’s mission to achieve higher professional, ethical, business, and economic standards to provide quality consulting engineering services for the clients and communities it serves. It’s a strategy that starts at the top, with Goodman’s leadership. “Abbie works hard to bring along women in the industry,” says Rebecca Williamson, vice president of ACEC/MA.
Begun in 1960, ACEC/MA now has 120 member firms engaged in the development of transportation, environmental, industrial, and other infrastructure. Those companies bring along their 7,000 employees to participate in the organization’s 16 different committees and business practice forums and in myriad networking and educational opportunities.
At the helm are President Colleen Moore, Vice President Rebecca Williamson, National Director Lisa Brothers, and Executive Director Abbie Goodman.
With 7,000 bills filed in the state house each legislative session, ACEC/MA has its work cut out for it. While not every bill will impact its members, the organization looks at “some 400 to 500 bills to find information helpful to our clients and our community,” Goodman explains.
Success at the statehouse takes research, partnering, relationship building, and educating. Goodman’s background as the state’s director of tourism and director of international trade, in conjunction with the skills brought by ACEC/MA’s dedicated board and committee members, have made the Member Organization a force to be reckoned with on Beacon Hill.
One issue appears often. “Every legislative session since I started 27 years ago, we have seen bills filed that would prohibit the state from contracting out for engineering and land surveying services from the private sector. And we have fought those successfully every session,” Goodman says.
In recent years, the organization has been successful on a variety of fronts, helping to push through:
During the 2023-2024 session, ACEC/MA is working on a lot of legislation around stormwater, sewers, and drinking water, including the so-called wipes labeling bill. This explains the importance of labeling non-flushable wipes, which have wreaked havoc on sewage treatment plants. “Plant operators were spending money on trying to get parts to replace pumps and other equipment rather than spend their limited funding on the things that they really needed to do,” Goodman says.
The Member Organization is also gearing up for a water bond bill. Goodman says that for transportation, the legislature appropriates some money each year, but for water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure, “it’s federal money coming into the Clean Water Trust as well as grants and loans—but not enough money for all the needs that we’ve identified.”
Testifying, letter writing, and state house meetings are only one part of the advocacy equation. ACEC/MA has also formed partnering committees with major clients, including the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, and Massachusetts Port Authority. Member firms can have one employee sit on each of the partnering committees.
Collaboration helps ACEC look at “the issues, stumbling blocks, and how we can work with clients to improve the process,” Williamson explains. “And clients look to us consultants when they’re having trouble on their end, if they need to collect data or get information out to the engineering community. ACEC will distribute the information, run training sessions, and set up webinars and in-person meetings to get information to more people.”
Recently, the Member Organization hosted a half-day energy and utility markets conference. Cynthia Joudrey, an ACEC/MA past president, moderated the session, which brought together members of the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority; Eversource, a municipal energy provider; Melissa Hoffer, the state’s first climate chief; and other energy advocates and policymakers.
“The engineering community was present, as were the permitting experts who work to implement these projects,” Joudrey says. “We asked, how can we help? What do you need from us, and how can we collaborate? These kinds of meetings are a great way to ask questions of policymakers and our clients that are attending.”
“Every legislative session since I started 27 years ago, we have seen bills filed that would prohibit the state from contracting out for engineering and land surveying services from the private sector. And we have fought those successfully every session.”
ABBIE GOODMANEXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ACEC/MA
“We work with community colleges to engage students and communities of groups historically underrepresented in the STEM workforce, adult learners, minorities, and women.”
REBECCA WILLIAMSONVICE PRESIDENT, ACEC/MA
ACEC/MA President Colleen Moore chairs the Government Affairs Committee and is mostly involved with transportation agencies. As the owner and president of a small construction services firm, Moore offers a different perspective than large firms. “I’m able to voice concerns about how requirements for large firms will impact and possibly burden smaller firms,” she says. “And while it’s hard for a small firm to be able to advocate for itself, I’m backed by the strength of the entire organization. A small firm can say, ‘Here are the issues I’m encountering,’ and ACEC is a resource.”
For example, Moore’s committee is working to get MassDOT to reevaluate a change rule that would essentially freeze overhead rates for a defined duration of a project. But that can burden smaller firms much more than larger firms, Moore points out. “It can eat up your budget really fast if you have to use the original contract overhead rate, even if it’s 10 percent or 20 percent higher later on in the project.”
In addition, she says, “The other benefit to small firms is the access to larger firms for networking and teaming opportunities.”
As is the case nationwide, the labor shortage looms. Massachusetts has a need for engineers, particularly since the passage of the federal infrastructure bill and the influx of money for large public works projects. “A lot of senior people are retired. There’s a shortage of middle managers, and while there are some newer people entering the industry, there’s a learning curve,” Moore says.
ACEC/MA is doing its part to bring in younger people with programs such as its task force for STEM Starter Academy. “We work with community colleges to engage students and communities of groups historically underrepresented in the STEM workforce, adult learners, minorities, and women,” Williamson says. “We try to get them involved at our firms and show them options for the future.”
The other way to move the needle on labor is through diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEI&B) initiatives, says Lisa Brothers, national director for ACEC/MA and chair of the ACEC DEI&B Committee, which she helped launch. “ACEC/MA has done tremendous work in this space, establishing both a DEI&B committee and a forum,” Brothers adds.
The committee figures out what, as a local Member Organization, it can do to help move the issues around DEI&B forward. In the forum, they have open communication, programming, networking, and roundtable discussions about what other firms are doing and how to begin conversations around DEI&B. ACEC/MA is also working on metrics around DEI&B and has done surveys of its member firms.
“The senior leadership has taken it seriously,” Brothers says. “It’s not about ticking boxes. They recognize that if you don’t have commitment from the CEO, and the CEO isn’t authentic about it, then it’s hard for the rest of the organization to move that ball forward.”
The need for DEI&B is more important than ever. “We have a huge workforce shortage,” Brothers adds. “We need to be inclusive and open to everybody out there and get younger people in, and then keep them in our industry. We must work really hard to make people feel like they are included and that they belong. For example, we’re graduating more women engineers, but the industry itself still has the same small percentage of professional female engineers.”
That brings us back to the strong showing of women leaders at ACEC/MA. Brothers adds that even before she was president of the Member Organization back in 2010, “the Nominating Committee was always thoughtful of getting a diverse group of board members. They were very thoughtful about the makeup of the board, how diverse it was, and where they could reach out to find other people. And it’s not just diversity in gender or ethnicity. We look at size of firms. We look at whether they do private or public sector work. We look at whether they’re vertical construction versus horizontal.”
With all of their hard work, Williamson says, “We’re optimistic about the future of engineering in Massachusetts.”
“While it’s hard for a small firm to be able to advocate for itself, I’m backed by the strength of the entire organization. A small firm can say, ‘Here are the issues I’m encountering,’ and ACEC is a resource.”
COLLEEN MOOREPRESIDENT, ACEC/MA
“We need to be inclusive and open to everybody out there and get younger people in, and then keep them in our industry.”
LISA BROTHERSNATIONAL DIRECTOR, ACEC/MA
“[ACEC/MA conferences] are a great way to ask questions of policymakers and our clients that are attending.”
CYNTHIA JOUDREYPAST PRESIDENT, ACEC/MA
Stacey Freed is a writer based in Pittsford, New York, who has contributed to This Old House, Professional Builder, and USA Today.