When the ACEC Research Institute was launched in early 2020, the engineering profession was facing a multitude of national business challenges that continue today and into the foreseeable future: the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and workforce shortages, to name a few.
Engineers have always shouldered the responsibility of delivering critical design solutions for national dilemmas, no matter the nature of the difficulties. The ACEC Research Institute was created to help firms address those challenges. Since its launch, the Institute has advanced in fulfilling its mission of delivering knowledge and business strategies that guide and elevate the engineering industry.
“The Institute’s success is rooted in the quality and consistency of the research,” says Daphne Bryant, executive director. “With more than 650 engineering firm executives participating in the quarterly Engineering Business Sentiment survey, we can give a snapshot of the current business climate—data that business leaders across many different markets can use in their planning.”
The ACEC Research Institute has added valuable context to the discussions happening in the halls of Congress and in state capitols throughout the country.
“Through our research, we determined that the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) will require 82,000 new engineers to complete the work,” Bryant says. “With an engineering shortage already, that concrete data can help ring the alarm on the need for immigration reform and expanded STEM education,” she adds. “For the first time ever, our industry has data to quantify engineering’s value-add to GDP, jobs, wages, taxes, and more at the state and federal levels through our annual Economic Assessment of the Engineering and Design Services Industry forecast.”
As implementation of the BIL ramped up, one of the biggest wins to date for the Institute came during the Accelerating Infrastructure Summit at the White House last year, Bryant says. At that event, the Biden administration unveiled the Action Plan for Accelerating Infrastructure Projects, citing an ACEC Research Institute study that recommended best practices in designbuild project delivery.
“The Institute’s research is shaping the discussion and helping to create efficiencies when bringing projects to fruition at the highest levels,” Bryant says.
While the Institute is an independent, nonprofit research organization, ACEC member firms understood early on how valuable the group’s data would be in quantifying the impact of the industry and informing business decisions.
“The success of the Institute has been funded at all levels by partners in the industry dedicated to engineering today for a better tomorrow,” Bryant says. “We’ve seen commitments from individuals, firms, grant-making foundations, and industry suppliers continue to grow over the last three years, with more than 150 donors to date.”
Firms and affiliate members should consider supporting the Institute financially, says Gregory Kelly, president and CEO of STV and fundraising committee chair for the Institute.
“The ACEC Research Institute delivers new research, resources, tools, and education to guide and elevate the engineering industry,” Kelly says. “Its work provides engineering leaders with fact-based research in critical areas such as designbuild and market sentiment that allow us to drive our businesses forward. Given the internal and external changes around our industry, it’s more important than ever to support the Institute so we have access to the data that helps our businesses continue to thrive today and tomorrow.”
Firms can participate in sentiment surveys, consider a financial pledge over one or multiple years, or support fundraising activities such as the annual golf outing or auctions at the ACEC Convention.
STV’s support for the Institute is an opportunity for the firm to help both ACEC members and the industry “be more collaborative and resourceful in driving innovation and creative solutions that will support our clients and the communities we serve,” Kelly says.
The ACEC Research Institute can also provide a resource that is undeniably valuable to firms today: data. “I believe that data-driven decision-making is the key to the success of any business or trade association,” says Jonathan Curry, executive director of ACEC/MN, the first ACEC state Member Organization to donate to the Institute.
“The Institute’s research is shaping the discussion and helping to create efficiencies when bringing projects to fruition at the highest levels.”
ACEC RESEARCH INSTITUTE
Collecting data and issuing reports is an expensive process. Investing in the ACEC Research Institute gave ACEC/MN the opportunity to contribute a small percentage of its annual revenues and simultaneously deliver a new member benefit to firms across Minnesota, Curry says.
“The ACEC federation is stronger when we all work together to share resources and support common causes, which is why every Member Organization should consider supporting the ACEC Research Institute,” Curry says.
The vision of the ACEC Research Institute “is to be the leading source of knowledge and thought leadership for creating a more sustainable, safe, secure, and technically advanced built environment,” says John Carrato, chairman of the board of Benesch and inaugural chair of the ACEC Research Institute.
“We want to be part of discussions that impact the future of our industry, the country, and the world when the built environment is being considered,” Carrato says.
ACEC’s strategic plan focuses on raising the value of the profession through greater influence and involvement, being more inclusive, and building a stronger knowledge base, Carrato says. “The strategic plan led to the reconstitution of the ACEC Foundation into the ACEC Research Institute to help pursue these goals,” he says.
“By better understanding what society will require, we can explore what we will be challenged to deliver in order to succeed and be viable, thriving firms in a thriving industry.”
CHAIR, ACEC RESEARCH INSTITUTE
CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD, CEO, AND PRESIDENT, VHB
“I believe that data-driven decisionmaking is the key to the success of any business or trade association.”
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ACEC/MN
The Institute has developed a research and stakeholder engagement framework that incorporates a range of research materials, webinars, and roundtable discussions on various initiatives.
“We have worked with experts, leaders, and academics inside and outside the industry to identify several current subjects that our clients and companies are considering in the short, medium, and long term,” says Kate Harris, Institute board member and president and CEO at Stanley Consultants. “Today, those initiatives include business-critical issues such as the talent revolution, the ethical and appropriate use of technologies, artificial intelligence and generative design, and the development of sustainable, resilient infrastructure practices.”
Even though the Institute was created during the COVID-19 crisis, “we are very happy with what we have produced and accomplished over the last three years,” Carrato says. Highlights include the landmark Engineering Industry Impact Series, the Engineering Business Sentiment survey, An Analysis of QBS in the Procurement of Engineering Services report, the Design-Build State of Practice report, and the Future of Engineering Roundtable Series.
“We recently committed to a three-horizon approach to research and thought leadership for the Institute moving forward,” Carrato says. “Horizon One will be efforts that have a quick turnaround and provide current business insights for ACEC member firms. Horizon Two is focused on midterm projects that are driving business outcomes and require a bit more time to complete. And Horizon Three will be long-term and forwardlooking thought leadership initiatives that will drive our industry into the future.”
“The Institute’s focus on Horizon Three, and an exploration of the Firm of the Future (2035), is an area I’m particularly passionate about,” says Mike Carragher, chair of the ACEC Research Institute and VHB chairman of the board, CEO, and president. “Key areas for exploration have been developed from contemplating what society will need with regards to the built environment. By better understanding what society will require, we can explore what we will be challenged to deliver in order to succeed and be viable, thriving firms in a thriving industry. This future-focused thinking empowers us to view the complexity of the challenges we face as tremendous opportunities that we, as an industry, have a responsibility to address—opportunities that will significantly benefit our communities and planet.”
Industry experts are taking notice of the Research Institute’s remarkable efforts. “The Institute has quickly emerged as the thought leader tackling some of the most complex issues around infrastructure and a resilient built environment,” says Steven Lefton, vice chair of the ACEC Research Institute and Kimley-Horn president and CEO. “The groundbreaking research the Institute is undertaking is critical for the engineering and broader design community to drive business outcomes and ensure a sustainable future for generations to come.”
Bob Violino is a business and technology writer based in Massapequa Park, New York.
“Given the internal and external changes around our industry, it’s more important than ever to support the Institute so we have access to the data that helps our businesses continue to thrive today and tomorrow.”
FUNDRAISING COMMITTEE CHAIR, ACEC RESEARCH INSTITUTE
PRESIDENT AND CEO, STV
“We want to be part of discussions that impact the future of our industry, the country, and the world when the built environment is being considered.”
INAUGURAL CHAIR, ACEC RESEARCH INSTITUTE
CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD, BENESCH
“The Institute has quickly emerged as the thought leader tackling some of the most complex issues around infrastructure and a resilient built environment.”
VICE CHAIR, ACEC RESEARCH INSTITUTE
PRESIDENT AND CEO, KIMLEY-HORN
“We have worked with experts, leaders, and academics inside and outside the industry to identify several current subjects that our clients and companies are considering in the short, medium, and long term.”
BOARD MEMBER, ACEC RESEARCH INSTITUTE
PRESIDENT AND CEO, STANLEY CONSULTANTS
After taking the lead of ACEC’s new Research Institute during the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chair John Carrato has completed his term. Being the first-ever Institute chair, he leaves it as one of the most impactful services for members offered by ACEC.
The Institute’s mission has been to provide expanded thought leadership capabilities in relation to industry trends and analysis. Significant progress has been made, and the Institute will continue to produce essential programming and resources to support member firms and our industry.
“I was a member of ExCom during the development of the strategic plan,” says Carrato, a former president and CEO of Benesch. “This is when discussion about creating a research arm to help position ACEC and the engineering industry as thought leaders was occurring.
“I was intrigued by the mission of the Institute and decided I would like to get involved in any way that I could. When they asked me to serve as the inaugural chair, I was absolutely thrilled.”
Carrato was confident he could help support the Council’s innovative endeavor. “I was a founding director for the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Structural Engineering Institute Futures Fund,” he notes. “While not the scale of the ACEC Research Institute, it is also a 501(c)(3) organization that funds research. I was hopeful that my experience with that effort could be helpful.”
He pointed to several reasons for the Institute’s success. “We have an incredible Board of Directors, including our new Chair Mike Carragher. They refined our vision and mission statements and have developed a solid framework for approaching our pursuit of research that will not only position our industry as thought leaders but provide useful information and tools to help our member firms excel.
“Our staff is absolutely incredible, starting with our Executive Director Daphne Bryant, whose passion and drive to make the Institute successful is amazing. Kerry Gaylor, Joe Bates, and Kevin McMahon have also been instrumental in our success. Of course, we would not be where we are today without the financial support of our member firms, state Member Organizations, ACEC, and the Design Professionals Coalition.”
Going forward, Carrato sees continued expanded growth and industry prominence of the Institute, while he plans to relish more relaxing aspects of life.
“I have enjoyed my time as chair these past three years immensely,” he says. “Fortunately, I will be able to serve on the board for two more years as past chair. I will be retiring as a full-time employee of Benesch on November 3 and will stay on as an on-call employee until I complete my term on the Institute board.
“With my newfound spare time, I intend to spend as much time with my family as they can tolerate, learn how to fly-fish, and see how much golf I can play without getting tired of it.”