News Archives

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Scholarships Awarded to Dunwoody Students

Supporting industry education and giving back to our community are highly valued at VAA. The Haldorson and Jansen Scholarship program reinforces both goals and recognizes our enduring community ties to Dunwoody College of Technology (Dunwoody). Founded in 2014, the program includes two scholarships named for current VAA Principal and Dunwoody alum Bernie Jansen and former Partner / Dunwoody alum Gene Haldorson, who retired in 2018 after nearly 38 years at VAA.

The program has awarded a total of $20,000 to Dunwoody students since its launch. In addition to the monetary award, the scholarship recipients visit VAA for an office tour before being treated to a celebratory lunch.

Recent scholarship recipients David Thompson and Hazel Wolf applied for the program in 2019 and their awards will go towards their spring 2020 semesters. The candidates were interviewed and evaluated for commitment, academic achievement, benefit from scholarship, community involvement and previous employment. David Thompson was awarded the Haldorson Scholarship and is enrolled in the Architectural Drafting and Design Program. Hazel Wolf received the Jansen Scholarship and is enrolled in the Surveying and Civil Engineering Technology Program.

Congratulations to both 2019/2020 scholarship recipients. 


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VAA Wins Wellness by Design Award

VAA received a 2019 Wellness by Design award for excellence in worksite wellness at a ceremony hosted by Hennepin County Public Health in November. As a silver-level award recipient, VAA was recognized for making “employee health a priority through creative and effective wellness initiatives.”

Wellness by Design awards are presented to Hennepin County employers that demonstrate accomplishments in management support, wellness infrastructure, communication, and programming directed at improving employee health. VAA joins over 70 organizations that were recognized with awards for workplace wellness this year.

“VAA is honored to be recognized by Hennepin County for our commitment to creating a healthy workplace for our employees,” says VAA HR Generalist Cheri Axel, PHR, SHRM-CP. “Receiving the award affirms VAA’s dedication to fostering an environment that promotes diverse wellness programs that meet a wide range of personal health needs while developing a workplace culture focused on celebrating and improving the quality of life for all employees.”

Each organization’s wellness program is assessed in 10 categories ranging from senior-level support to policies and employee engagement. This is the fifth time VAA has accepted a Wellness by Design award, demonstrating the continued growth of its social, mental, physical and financial well-being programs.

Wellness offerings at VAA include a structured mentoring program, charitable PTO, education reimbursement, profit-sharing, teambuilding outings, an onsite fitness room, quarterly healthy snacks, book club, and annual ping pong and basketball tournaments. The firm is also committed to community wellbeing; employees regularly participate in a variety of community-based events from Habitat for Humanity projects to hosting an annual Community Caring Campaign that raised over $50,000 for local nonprofits in 2019.

New additions to the wellness program this year include freshbenies, a heath concierge service offering a holistic suite of options to provide employees and their families with cost-effective healthcare services.

Worksite wellness programs are of value to both the employee and employer. They can improve employee performance, increase engagement, lower healthcare costs, and build community. Effective programs create a culture of health that affects all employees. To learn more, visit the Wellness by Design website.


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25 & Up Club: Shawn Shahriar

Shawn Shahriar, PhD, PE, Principal / Sr. Structural Engineer, is our final “25 & Up” 2019 Club member.  Shawn’s influence on new employees, veteran engineers and VAA’s ag and industrial projects comes from the same place – an intense drive to help and the heart to do what it takes to make it happen. A phenomenal fixture in VAA’s structural engineering services, his technical skill with seismic design, forensic engineering and many areas in between are significant and appreciated. Thank you for being you and congrats on this milestone.

How did you first learn about VAA?
As a Project Engineer at Kiewit (formerly T.E. Ibberson Company) in 1992-1993, I was managing two major agribusiness projects where overflow drafting was subcontracted to VAA (formerly Van Sickle, Allen and Associates): Gene Haldorson (former VAA Partner and employee for 37 years who retired in 2018) and Bernie Jansen (former VAA Partner and current Sr. Project Manager). They impressed me and I felt we had good chemistry working together. Later in 1994 I contacted Gene about employment opportunities when I was looking for a change in my career. He introduced me to Dick Van Sickle, PE, and Reg Silverthorne, PE – the rest is history.  

What is the best piece of advice you received throughout your career?
“I think, therefore I am.”  -- Rene Descartes

What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment / contribution since you started working here?
As a Partner from 1998-2018, I am proud to have helped build VAA’s reputation as a highly specialized and reliable design-oriented engineering firm capable of supporting clients’ engineering needs, particularly on one-off, complex agri-business and industrial projects. 

Pick three words you feel best describes VAA. Why do they apply to the company?

Successful: When I started at VAA in 1994 it was a 17-person operation. To see the firm steadily grow in revenue and to 140+ employees is testament to the dedication of our Partners and competence of our work force.

Organized: It takes coordination and organization to execute the best service possible to our clients and internally to our staff.  Through the years, we’ve stepped up and delivered success through our strong engineering performance and project organization, not to mention in-house accomplishments such as office moves / expansions, maintaining continuous operations around the 2016 office flood, healthcare benefit challenges, etc.

Niche: A specialized firm with unique knowledge and competency that distinguishes it from its competitors.

From your perspective, describe the biggest differences between when you started at VAA and the company now (other than company size).
At its roots VAA was a structural engineering firm. Today, we are a multi-discipline practice offering a full suite of services.  

Where is the most beautiful and/or enjoyable place you have visited?Zihuantanejo, Mexico. This city found fame as the destination at the end of the movie, Shawshank Redemption. It is inviting, peaceful, friendly and authentic Mexico.  I can count on two hands the times I have returned for vacation – truly breathtaking!

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25 & Up Club: Jeff Ferkinhoff

Our second featured “25 & Up” club member in 2019 is Structural Engineer, Jeff Ferkinhoff, PE. Reliable and steady are a few words to describe Jeff’s M.O. He takes pride in thoroughly understanding what VAA’s agribusiness clients need and providing designs that translate into the field. Often seen in the office with a massive red mug of tea, he is a valued resource for engineering and the latest stats on local sport teams. Thank you for being you and congrats on this milestone.

How did you first learn about VAA?
I applied to structural engineering firms within reasonable driving distance of where I lived. After I submitted my written resume, I followed up with a phone call that resulted in an interview.

What is the best piece of advice you received throughout your career?
Listen to clients so you can understand what the issues are in the field and make sure the design is buildable for the guy/gal in the field. On paper things fit like a glove, but in the field that is not often the case, so it helps to have some ‘wiggle room’ in the design.

What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment / contribution since you started working here?
Supporting one of VAA’s longest client relationships has been my greatest accomplishment. It has been rewarding to know my efforts on the team have helped this design-build contractor be satisfied with the firm for many years.

Pick three words you feel best describes VAA. Why do they apply to the company?

Generous
VAA often shows generosity towards employees and the community we live and work in. For the employees – substantial profit sharing, HSA contributions and educational opportunities are a few examples. For the community - the annual Community Caring Campaign and supporting employee participation in various outreach activities like Feed My Starving Children or Habitat for Humanity.

Relationships Whether it be with existing clients, new clients or company employees, relationships are important to VAA. The firm strives to deepen relationships to better serve the client and/or employee. Examples include the Egret Party (annual client event); the company holiday party which includes spouses and/or significant others; and past summer family picnics.

Growth When I first joined VAA (formerly Van Sickle, Allen and Associates), the company services were limited to structural and civil engineering, some architectural design and equipment layouts. The company has since expanded in all the previously mentioned disciplines and added electrical, mechanical and process engineering to its service offerings.

From your perspective, describe the biggest differences between when you started at VAA and the company now (other than company size).
The extent of services VAA provides clients and quicker turnaround time on projects. 

What was your favorite toy growing up?
Pretty much any kind of ball - whiffle balls, basketballs, footballs, baseballs along with accessories like bats / gloves. This became a big influence for me as I coached my sons and their friends in a variety of sports as they were growing up.

Jeff will be retiring at the end of 2019. We appreciate Jeff’s many years of dedication and wish him some well-deserved relaxation and enjoyment in his retirement.

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Interested in the stories from our other 25 & Up Club members? Click on a name to read another Q&A session.


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25 & Up Club: Terry Mahr

Terry Mahr is our first 2019 Club member. His memorable laugh and soft-spoken approach are valued by Terry’s teammates, his commercial / retail clients and the new technicians and designers he welcomes to VAA.

With a genuine interest to propel the firm forward, Terry is a steadfast resource for the firm’s recruiting efforts and a guide to others wanting to take their career to the next level. Thank you for being you and congrats on this milestone.

How did you first learn about VAA?
VAA (formerly Van Sickle, Allen and Associates) posted a position on the job board at Dunwoody College of Technology – a piece of paper on a cork board ad. One of my instructors at the time, Jim Roehl, brought the posting to me and said, “I think this is the one for you.” He sent me off with a foundation plan and foundation details to meet Gene Haldorson (former VAA Partner and employee for 37 years who retired in 2018) of VAA. Twenty-five years later, here I am.

What is the best piece of advice you received throughout your career?
When I began to put drawings together more independently, Dave Johnson, PE, VAA Associate / Sr. Structural Engineer shared a simple, but very useful tidbit. “When developing drawings, put yourself in the contractor’s shoes and think about what information he / she is going to need to build the building.” This line has been used countless times over the years with the technicians I’ve had the privilege to train.

What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment / contribution since you started working here?
Being a member of the 25 & Up Club is my greatest accomplishment. To be with a company this long is a pretty great feeling. The stability to me and my family is very important. I appreciate Gene Haldorson taking a chance on me many years ago and am grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had since my very first day at VAA.

Pick three words you feel best describes VAA. Why do they apply to the company?
Dedication, service, growth. VAA is dedicated to its clients and employees. We strive to meet the needs of clients and approach each project as though it could be the last - a project is a project no matter how small. Through our service approach, VAA has established long-term relationships with contractors, owners and architects that began 40 years ago and continue to grow.

From your perspective, describe the biggest differences between when you started at VAA and the company now (other than company size).
I would have to say the biggest difference is the impact of technology in the industry. The pen plotter and fax machines are long gone!

What is your favorite sports team and why?
Born in Wisconsin, it’s hard for me to choose, but it can depend on the season.

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Interested in the stories from our other 25 & Up Club members? Click on a name to read another Q&A session.


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Trick or Chili

Ghosts, ghouls and even a Greek goddess roamed the halls at VAA’s Plymouth office on Halloween. In addition to a costume contest, our Wellness and Outreach Committee hosted a Chili Cookoff and Dessert Bakeoff for employees to show off their culinary creations.

With nearly 20 costume-clad participants in the running, it was a tight race for the 2019 costume contest. Employees also engaged in a friendly competition for the Golden Spoon and Golden Whisk awards. For a $5 donation to Fur-Ever Home Rescue, employees received an all-you-can-eat pass for chili and desserts and a vote in selecting the top three winners in both categories.


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Helping Hands for Haiti

Our Wellness and Outreach Committee organized an opportunity for VAA to participate in a Feed My Starving Children (FMSC) event. A group of volunteers hand-packed 6,480 meals for children in Haiti. Meals of raw products, dried vegetables and minerals were sealed and prepped for shipping.

Visit FMSC’s website to learn about volunteer opportunities for individuals and organizations to help feed those in need.


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Paddling with Purpose

Volunteers and paddlers recently gathered at Hidden Falls Regional Park to participate in the 9th annual Great River Race (Race to Close the Achievement Gap). The race funds the Canoemobile Minnesota outdoor education program, addressing the achievement gap in local schools and reaching 15,000 kids annually. The program connects youths with outdoor experiences and learning activities that cultivate environmental stewardship and appreciation of the natural world.

The Great River Race features 26 teams in cedar Voyageur canoes paddling a stretch of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers around Pike Island.

For the third year, VAA sponsored a boat and several staff members plus friends and spouses participated in the race as rowers. VAA’s team came in first place (also for the third year in a row). The friendly competition is part of the fun, says Dave Olheiser, VAA Partner / Sr. Mechanical Engineer and race participant. Other members of the A/E/C industry are longstanding event sponsors / participants and taking part in the race alongside them is a great way to give back while enjoying the outdoors.

“It motivates VAA to work hard when participating with a great company like Ryan Companies to raise money for a great cause,” Olheiser says.

This year’s Great River Race surpassed its $100,000 fundraising goal with the help of 29 sponsors and dozens of volunteers. The race is a joint venture between Wilderness Inquiry, a local nonprofit that connects people of all ages and backgrounds to the natural world through shared outdoor experiences; the National Park Service; the McKnight Foundation and other partners.


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Engineering the Next Generation

VAA hosted several high school students at its Minneapolis office for a job shadow experience. The firm’s technical staff provided an in-depth look at a multidiscipline soybean processing plant and answered students’ questions about engineering career paths, college courses and more.

The students learned about each discipline (civil, structural, mechanical and electrical) and saw the value of using REVIT to integrate services together. Technical staff shared how engineers, designers and technicians collaborate to deliver a complex industrial processing facility.

Senior Mechanical Designer, Taylor Clark, notes the job shadow provided an important opportunity to inform students of the many career options under the umbrella of engineering.

“I think a lot of young people believe they have to have an engineering degree to get into the business, so it’s a great opportunity as a designer to present the students with another path into the field of design / engineering,” says Clark. “It’s also a nice chance to show the students what we do and to answer any questions they may have on the roles of designers and engineers.”

Britnie Thieschafer, aPHR, HR Assistant at VAA, says hosting job shadows and other learning opportunities is valuable for students and the engineering industry.  

“The job shadow with the MCA students was a great opportunity for VAA to give back to the engineering community. Of course, we talk about VAA, but our main objective is to give students insight into the different disciplines so they can better determine what they might want to study after high school. We try to give them an idea of what they could do if they choose to work in this industry,” Thieschafer says. “They may never work or intern for VAA, but if they join the engineering community, that’s a win.”


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The Heart of Giving Back

The VAA Plymouth office hosted the Community Caring Campaign (CCC), a variety of events and volunteer opportunities for employees over the course of two weeks. Championed by VAA’s Wellness and Outreach Committee, the CCC surpassed its $50,000 goal along with providing supplies to those in need. 

In line with the firm’s commitment to community, the CCC aims to entertain employees while encouraging donations, pledges and volunteer time to support two selected local organizations:

Interfaith Outreach and Community Partners (IOCP)
Partnering with VAA for the past decade, IOCP helps families living in eight Twin Cities western suburbs overcome barriers, believe in themselves and soar to new heights.

Second Harvest Heartland (SHH)
Partnering with VAA for the past decade, SHH is a local food shelf that leads through innovation, finding creative solutions to connect the full resources of our community with our hungry neighbors.

CCC By the Numbers

440 cups of rice portioned for IOCP

790 loads worth of laundry detergent packaged for IOCP

$9,624 cash donations

$50,581 total raised for IOCP and SHH by VAA employees and clients


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Going Fore A Winning Design

Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska is hosting the KMPG Women’s PGA Championship for the first time. With a long tradition of hosting major championships, Hazeltine was a natural choice for the tournament, which focuses on empowering women on and off the golf course.

Almost 10 years ago, VAA provided civil and structural engineering services in the complete rebuild of Hazeltine’s clubhouse and surrounding site. The revitalized space melds the club’s history with its future, preserving original elements while setting the stage for events like the Ryder Cup and this week’s tournament.

Large timbers salvaged from the original 40-year-old structure were used in the new clubhouse entryway, ceilings and mantel pieces of the 50,000 SF facility. A pair of steel trusses creates aesthetic functionality by framing a mechanical equipment well and column-free ballroom. With transitions from the hardscapes near the clubhouse to the rolling hills at the first tee, Hazeltine welcomes locals and spectators from across the world.

The site of the U.S. Ryder Cup Team’s victory in 2016, Hazeltine will become the first U.S. venue to host a second Ryder Cup in 2028.


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Hammerin’ with Habitat

Ten employees recently volunteered with Habitat for Humanity (Habitat) to build a home in North Minneapolis. The group helped construct the house’s front porch roof, sanded and painted interior walls and trim, stained spindles and installed blinds throughout the home. By the end of the day, the house was nearly move-in ready for a family.

The VAA team also helped on a neighboring Habitat house by unloading prefabricated wall sections.

Michael Jagerson, an Electrical Technician and one of the VAA outreach event organizers, says these builds are a valuable opportunity for service and team building.

“Participants benefit from having a direct impact in the build of the home and knowing the work they are doing will provide a wonderful home for a family in need,” he says. “VAA has had a great experience volunteering with Habitat for Humanity the past few years, and we hope to continue to volunteer with them for years to come.” 

Habitat for Humanity works to bring affordable housing to communities and the families that live in them. Locally, Habitat helps low-income families in the Twin Cities community through programs like Habitat Homebuilding, A Brush with Kindness and Family Support Services. The organization operates worldwide, dedicated to empowering families by helping them “acquire the access, skills and financial education necessary for them to be successful homeowners.” Learn more about the organization’s work or volunteering on the Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity website.


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Gary Nagel Celebrates 35 Years

Gary Nagel, PE, P.Eng, recently celebrated his 35th year at VAA. The Sr. Associate / Sr. Structural Engineer is the longest tenured employee currently working at the firm, and he’s well-known among co-workers and clients for his commitment to quality work and collaboration. Gary is an invaluable asset to the VAA team, bringing a wealth of expertise to every project.

“He’s worked in all the markets we serve and has a very broad experience level,” says Principal / Sr. Project Manager Bernie Jansen. “Gary quickly gains the confidence of the clients he works with by doing good work, and he is always there for younger engineers to help answer their questions.”

After earning a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities and an M.S. in structural engineering from the University of California – Berkeley, Gary worked for an engineer in the Wesley Temple Building in downtown Minneapolis. VAA was headquartered in the same building, and Gary joined what was then Van Sickle, Allen and Associates just seven years after the firm’s inception.

Gary has seen the firm grow from six people to 150, and he attributes much of that growth to the quality of the firm’s work and the value placed on building strong relationships.

“Gary hardly ever says ‘no’ when asked to help; he is always willing to take on new challenges,” adds Bernie.

In fact, Gary says client visits and traveling (especially to Canada) are two of his favorite parts of the job. Client connections, working on a variety of projects big and small and assisting less experienced engineers have kept the job fresh and challenging, but work-life balance has also been a priority.

Outside of the office, Gary is likely to be found outdoors, either up at the cabin or staying active by hiking, cross-country skiing or kayaking. Even in his spare time, Gary is a builder, enjoying woodworking and home improvement construction projects.

In recognition of Gary’s nearly four decades of service, current and former VAA executives presented him with a custom plaque featuring a rebar frame and a quote from a longtime client.

Pictured, left to right, are: Quin Vincent, Partner; Bernie Jansen, Principal / Sr. Project Manager; Gary Nagel, Sr. Associate / Sr. Structural Engineer; Gene Haldorson, past Partner; Jeff Schrock, CEO; Scott Stangeland, past President / CEO.

Thank you for all your hard work and congratulations, Gary!


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Taking a Walk on the Wild Side

For the third year in a row, VAA employees raised funds and participated with their canine companions in the Walk for Animals, the nation’s largest human / animal walk fundraising event. Thousands of people, pets and other four-legged friends took part in this Animal Humane Society fundraising event to help support animals in need in our community.

VAA’s “Team Egrets” raised $1,320 for the Animal Humane Society, and the 2019 Walk for Animals event surpassed its goal of raising $1 million. Every dollar raised helps provide medical treatment, behavior rehabilitation programs and care to the more than 23,000 animals served by the Animal Humane Society’s four Minnesota shelters each year.

“Many of our employees are very passionate about animals, and it’s amazing to join thousands of other people and animals gathered for such a good cause,” says Lacey Anderson, Project Assistant, and one of VAA’s outreach event organizers. “This is a fun, interactive event for our company to participate in, and it’s also great to be able to help an organization right in our area.”

To learn more about the event or volunteering, visit the Animal Humane Society website.


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Podcast: Explore Doors Open

On May 18-19, the inaugural event allows the public free, behind-the-scenes access to 115 buildings in Minneapolis that are architecturally, culturally or socially significant.

In a podcast, VAA’s Jeff Schrock, Paul Murphy and Bridget Reynolds of Dunwoody College of Technology discuss workforce development in the A/E/C industry and how agribusiness influenced Minneapolis’ history. Use Spotify, iTunes or LibSyn (Doors Open Minneapolis) to access the conversation.

Mayor Jacob Frey announced the first-time event inviting the public to explore the city’s history through its buildings. “Our city is home to some of the most spectacular architecture anywhere in the nation – through Doors Open Minneapolis, we’ll highlight it,” said Major Jacob Frey.

Doors Open started in 1984 in France and over the years spread throughout Europe and North America. Other U.S. cities have successfully launched similar initiatives. Neighboring Chicago and Milwaukee have hosted a similar event where the Minneapolis event’s inspiration stemmed.

Open House Chicago began in 2011 and last year over 100,000 individuals visited 257 sites in the city and two nearby suburbs. Doors Open Milwaukee also began in 2011 and last year 26,100 visited approximately 170 sites as part of its tour.

Comcast is the presenting sponsor for the event with the City of Minneapolis, American Institute of Architects Minneapolis (AIA-Minneapolis), Minneapolis, Foundation, VAA and others sponsoring.  

To learn view the list of participating venues, visit doorsopenminneapolis.com


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How Was Your Lunch Today?

For 27 VAA employees, lunch was spent learning life-saving CPR / AED techniques. Saving a life can happen any place, any time at any age.

Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) kills more than 350,000 Americans every year and the national survival rate is less than 10 percent. Did you know SCA is not the same as a heart attack? This unexpected medical emergency kills more than 7,000 seemingly young, healthy kids every year.

As part of their ‘Heart Safe Plymouth’ initiative, the Plymouth Rotary Club provided compression-only CPR and AED training. By participating in the training, VAA contributed to the City of Plymouth continuing its ‘Heart Safe’ community designation adding to the number of area residents and organizations educated in CPR / AED use. Since the program began seven years ago, the Rotary Club has taught 5,700 people and held 200 training sessions. Lub-dub!


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High Five for Five Productive Years as Mary Pettit Retires

Since Human Resources (HR) Manager Mary Pettit, PHR, SHRM-CP, joined VAA five years ago, the number of employees increased by 65 percent and the firm’s uptick in HR initiatives have made it an even better place to work. Mary retired in mid-March after building upon the HR structure and policies in place by her predecessor.  

“I like to develop people and it has been so rewarding to build an HR team that supports our employees and Partners,” said Mary. “I’m a good listener and I developed good relationships with employees because they know they can talk to me.”

Among the influential changes that occurred on her watch, a high-deductible health plan and generous company-sponsored HSA were introduced the year Mary started as she helped educate employees on the details. Mary also introduced Predictive Index, a behavioral assessment that aids in hiring, team building and conflict resolution.

Other milestones include an expanded Wellness and Outreach Program, including volunteer opportunities with Feed My Starving Children, True Friends, Habitat for Humanity and many others to enhance community engagement; charitable paid time off (PTO); and on-site bio-screening that provides employees with confidential health information such as blood pressure, cholesterol level and BMI.

A Peer Welcome Group was also established to help connect and on-board new employees and make them feel welcome. The Group serves as a resource to field questions as employees begin their career with the firm.

“VAA employees embrace the work HR performs and Mary has been key to the evolution of the HR department by applying policies fairly and consistently in the warm way that she is known for,” said Partner, Mark Mielke, PE, P.Eng. “Mary has advanced who we are at VAA and helped us evolve into a more effective organization by helping solve issues and identifying challenges that can threaten our culture. She has remained an advocate for all employees with her sincerity and patient demeanor.”

President Keith Jacobson, PE, “we wanted someone who was passionate, professional and capable. Mary has done a great job helping us grow and hire a lot of great people. She cares immensely and really connected with our employees.”

In retirement, Mary plans to volunteer, garden, travel, serve as caregiver for her mom and enjoy some pontoon time with her adult children. “Whenever employees leave they say they’ll miss the people the most, and it’s also true for me. We have wonderful people and VAA is a great place to work.”

We thank Mary for being a tireless professional, a caring leader who enhanced our VAA environment and we wish her well as she shows us how much fun is possible in retirement.

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Gene Haldorson Retires as VAA's Longest Tenured Employee


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Gene Haldorson Retires as VAA's Longest Tenured Employee

After almost 38 years, Gene is retiring from VAA at the end of 2018. A mentor to the next generation and a foothold in VAA’s agribusiness projects, his influence on the firm’s culture has not gone unnoticed.

A graduate from Minneapolis’ Dunwoody College of Technology and a former VAA Partner, Gene’s career began at a design-build firm drawing grain handling facilities and feed manufacturing plants. Eventually he joined VAA’s then sister company, Grain Facility Design (GFD) in 1981. Pushing to establish GFD’s reputation in the industry, he helped propel the company into the agricultural spotlight. With the closing of GFD in 1990, he joined VAA to focus on facility design and process / equipment layout.

Respecting those who you work for and those who you work with is evident in Gene’s daily interactions. He is authentic – and the value he places on relationships is apparent with several clients that have been in place 30 years. “You meet a lot of people in the industry and you want to be in a career where it is not just about the work – it is about the people and the value of relationships you have impacting the work you do together. It is more rewarding when you truly feel you have accomplished something together,” said Gene.

A no-nonsense leader, a skilled project manager and friend. Gene set the tone of VAA at our roots through his clear commitment to the firm and steadfast display of integrity. Many employees appreciate his perspective, quality conscience “red pen” eye and continued guidance. We wish Gene well-deserved relaxation and enjoyment in his retirement.


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You Say Ugly, We Say Flammable (Sweaters)

VAA celebrated the season with an ugly sweater day and a Partner-served luncheon in the Plymouth, MN office. An annual tradition, the lunch is a way for our leadership to take a moment to engage with each employee and share gratitude for collective efforts throughout the year.

This sincerity is also paired with a light-hearted competition. Awards were doled out for Most Rash Inducing, Most Flammable, Most Creative and, of course, Ugliest Sweater.


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25 & Up Club: Gene Haldorson

Gene Haldorson is our final club member of 2018 and longest-running employee to date. After 37 years, Gene’s authenticity and no-nonsense leadership is as valuable today as it was when he joined the firm in 1981. We thank you for being you and congrats on this milestone.

How did you first learn about VAA?
Dick Van Sickle hired a gentleman who I worked with before he joined VAA’s sister company, Grain Facility Design (GFD), in 1980. After introducing me to Dick Van Sickle and Chuck Allen and several “get-to-know-each-other meetings,” I received and accepted a job offer in March of 1981.

What is the best piece of advice you received throughout your career?
Several come to mind that guided me throughout my career. Work ethic is important. Honesty, commitment and integrity earn the respect of those who you work for and those who you work with. Don’t pretend to know something you don’t. It is best to respond, “let me see what I can figure out and get back to you.” Finally, don’t forget to do what you say and follow through in a timely manner.

What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment / contribution since you started working here?
I am proud to have become an Associate and Partner of the firm and feel my biggest contribution has been developing VAA client relationships, especially those in place for 30 years.

Pick three words you feel best describes VAA. Why do they apply to the company?
Diverse – In our clientele, staff knowledge and project experience.

Committed – VAA is a devoted firm to its employees and clients.

Longevity – Being in business for 40 years, VAA provided me more than just a job – it was a career opportunity.

From your perspective, describe the biggest differences between when you started at VAA and the company now.
Design technology / resources and becoming a multidiscipline firm to include architectural, civil, structural, material handling, mechanical and electrical engineering capabilities. Also, the number of “high quality repeat clients” we are privileged to work with. We earned their trust by performing well technically to retain their business. I have also seen changes in the grain industry, particularly increases in the rates of grain handling both at the truck dump pits and loading 110 car rail shuttle trains on loop tracks.

Do you have a motto or personal mantra?
"Always do your best."

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Interested in the stories from our other "25 & Up" club members? Click on a name to read another Q&A session.