Engineering Corporate Citizenship


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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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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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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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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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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.