A Brief History of the American Council of Engineering Companies of TN 1968 – present
On April 19, 1968, eight consulting engineers signed the Charter of Incorporation for a new organization, Consulting Engineers of Tennessee (CET). The eight engineers were Rufus H. Cottrell, Jr., Lorin Allen, Marvin Jacobs, Ben Adams, Tom Rentenbach, S. S. Kenworthy, Marble Hensley, and Robert Evans. With their signatures, they brought to fruition almost a decade of efforts to form an organization of Tennessee engineering companies. Now, more than 100 engineering firms are members of the organization that they launched in 1968.
Early efforts to form an organization of engineers in private practice were lead by L. A. Schmidt., Jr., Hal T. Spoden, Tom Rentenbach, Ross Bryan, and Lorin Allen. In an organizational meeting in Chattanooga on September 19, 1959, that group agreed upon the name Consulting Engineers Association of Tennessee.
At the outset, the predecessor of CET was closely tied to the Professional Engineers in Private Practice (PEPP), a practice group of the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE), and the state affiliate, the Tennessee Society of Professional Engineers (TSPE). The new autonomous unit (CET) was to serve as the Tennessee affiliate of both Consulting Engineers Council of the United States (CEC/US) and NSPE/PEPP.
At the national level, there were two competing organizations of consulting engineers, the CEC/US and the American Institute of Consulting Engineers (AICE). Some of the issues were whether individuals or firms should be members of CET.
As these issues were discussed and debated nationally, the predecessor of CET struggled with its identity and purpose during the years between 1959 and 1968. When the Charter of Incorporation was signed in 1968, it provided a framework and direction for the organization.
At the 1973 Annual Meeting in New Orleans, the CEC/US Board of Governors approved a merger with AICE. The marriage required compromise. The chief stumbling block was the composition of the two organizations. CEC was a federation of state and regional associations, with membership held by consulting engineering firms, while AICE offered direct membership to individual principals of firms. To preserve some elements of the Institute’s composition, the consolidation agreement provided for Fellow membership for the individual members of the Institute in the new organization which was called the American Consulting Engineers Council (ACEC).
An early history of CET, as reported in 1977 by Donald A. Buzzell, indicated the debate about national affiliation was a regional issue: the East Tennessee members favored CEC/US; the western members leaned towards NSPE; and those in the mid-state were divided evenly on the question. The consultants in East Tennessee were concerned with government and industry competition, which seemed to be the prime targets of CEC/US efforts. Those in the West were more interested in state and local affairs.
A review of the history of the organization reveals the influence its leadership has had on both a national and state level.
One of the Tennesseans active in the national merger of organizations was Billy Sumner, who served as the third national president of ACEC (1975-76). Later, Lester Smith, Jr., served as ACEC national president (1987-88). Several Tennesseans have served on the Executive Committee of ACEC, including Frank B. Gianotti, III; Lamar Dunn; Jerry Stump; and Candy Toler, in addition to Mr. Sumner and Mr. Smith.
Government competition continued to be an issue for ACEC and CET. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was a major concern, along with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and several others. CET stepped into a leadership role to resolve the issue. In the mid 1990s, the CET president hosted a meeting to discuss the problem during the national ACEC conference in Denver, Colorado. All of the “valley” states surrounding Tennessee attended the meeting. The following year, at the national spring meeting of ACEC in Nashville, the group reconvened with TVA representatives in attendance. Five years later, a partnering agreement was executed between TVA and ACEC to prohibit unfair competition.
In the early days, CET began an Engineering Excellence Awards competition generally patterned after the one conducted by ACEC. In 1996, an awards banquet was added to celebrate excellence in engineering. The banquet continues to be a highlight of the year with attendance generally well over 200 persons. Several Tennessee firms have found success in the national competition as well.
In 2001, ACEC changed its name to American Council of Engineering Companies. In 2002, CET changed its name to American Council of Engineering Companies of Tennessee (ACEC Tennessee). That same year, ACEC Tennessee moved into its new home at the Tennessee Engineering Center, which is home to six engineering groups.
ACEC Tennessee and its sister organization, TSPE, share a staff and conduct a joint annual meeting, share a legislative affairs committee, and work together on other matters of common interest. ACEC continues to be a firm-based membership, while NSPE is an individual-based organization. The membership of TSPE is heavily populated by employees of ACEC firms.
A Reason to Celebrate
To celebrate its 40th anniversary, ACEC Tennessee hosted a gala party on October 10, 2008, at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville. Past presidents, founders, and other leaders were honored. Five executive directors were recognized for their dedicated service: Gale Johnson Sowers, Mary D. Shahan, Diane Miller Mulloy, Jay West, and Candy Toler. The first executive director, William B. Farris, is now deceased. Jane Maggard (deceased), who was a staff member for 19 years, was also recognized.
Many of the founding firms are still active in the organization and continue to be a source of leadership.
The Voice of Tennessee Engineering Companies
Since 1968, ACEC Tennessee has served as the voice of the state’s engineering companies, advocating and promoting the professional well-being of all of Tennessee’s engineering companies and advancing the cause of public safety and welfare. ACEC Tennessee advocates at the state level before the Tennessee General Assembly, the State Board of Architects and Engineers, the Tennessee Department of Transportation, the State Fire Marshal, and the Tennessee Department of Conservation and Environment. ACEC Tennessee is also vigilant for the cause of Qualifications-Based Selection in the market place to protect the professional status of engineering companies against price-based selection.