Geoffrey Jacobson: All Engineers Don’t Work on Trains
Geoffrey Jacobson has had only one job, but he has had it for a long time. For over 40 years he has worked for the engineering firm, Nathan L. Jacobson & Associates, that his father Nathan founded in Chester in 1972. The firm, of which Geoffrey is now president, is celebrating its 50th year. Nathan Jacobson, now 93, retired some 10 years ago.
Actually, Jeff says, staying retired was a challenge for his father. “He retired three times,” he explains, “the last time at 83.”
The firm provides a range of civil and environmental engineering services, including site planning, roads, bridges, municipals projects as well as storm and wastewater projects, principally to small municipalities.
They are consulting engineers for some 15 different towns and well as consultants for different town boards and commissions. Most though not all, are in Connecticut. They have also worked in New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont and Maryland and once were consultants for a project in Hawaii.
During the Chester Main Street improvement project in 2020, the firm served as design engineers and also provided construction administration and inspection services.
As town engineers for Old Saybrook, Nathan Jacobson & Associates was also involved in the work to create The Preserve, the 963-acre stretch of protected woodlands in Essex, Westbrook, and Old Saybrook that is part of the state forest system
Through the years the projects changed, but the firm’s objectives remain constant, as Jeff explains. The goal is to have the firm’s principals involved in the essential work of the business, not concentrating on administrative and paper work.
“We want everybody engaged in substantive work,” he says.
The way Jeff works, however, has changed. When he began, planning and design were done with paper and pencil. All that is different today.
“We design, we plot out, all on computers,” he says.
The computer, Jeff points out, enables the firm to helps clients visualize in simulated settings, what finished projects will look like. They can show clients not simply a picture of what a new sidewalk will look like, but actually envision what walking down that sidewalk.
Sidewalks, Jeff explains, involve more than laying down a concrete path. They have not only to comply with governmental regulations, but also accommodate different kinds of users.
“Who uses sidewalks has changed,” he says. “They have to be multi-modal, accommodate pedestrians, bikes.”
Jeff remembers visiting his father’s office once as a child. He was fascinated by the stamp machine.
“I got tangled up with it,” he recalls.
He liked printing out the stamps. He did it all day. He had no idea that every time he printed one out, it cost money.
Since that time, things at the office have gone more smoothly.
“We disagree,” he says followed by a long pause, “Really nothing. We complement each other.”
Jeff, a graduate of what was at the time called Clarkson Institute of Technology but is now Clarkson University in Potsdam. New York, started out working summers before joining the firm full time after college.
Except for a few years living in Middletown, Jeff is a lifelong Chester resident and a graduate of Valley Regional High School. He and his wife Carol have two adult children, Kaitlyn and Matthew, both engineers but neither work at Jacobson.
Jeff has been a member of Camp Hazen YMCA’s board of directors for 24 years and president of the board for 14. He also has headed the facilities committee.
“They had a master plan; they were upgrading. I feel in love with it,” Jeff says.
He received the Middlesex Country Chamber of Commerce Distinguished Citizen Award in 2019 and has served as a trustee of the Essex Savings Bank for 20 years and a member of the Board of Directors for 12 years.
He fell in love with boating at the age of 12. Now he has a 45-foot powerboat, moored in Chester, which he is out on most weekends. His favorite places to go Greenport, Montauk, and Block Island. The longest boat trip he ever made was Fort Lauderdale to Sag Harbor.
Over the years he has graduated from smaller to larger craft, but he is aware of a truth about boat size. “There will always be a bigger boat,” he says.
He is clear about what keeps him going during the winter months when he can’t be out on the water.
“What do I do when I’m not boating? I wait until its boating season,” he says.
As he looks toward the future of the firm, Jeff says the most pressing current problem is one which many businesses are experiencing: finding competent staff.
“It’s the same thing you hear from every business person,” he says. And he adds, studying engineering is demanding. “Engineering, it’s not an easy curriculum,”
At the moment, none of the engineering staff is female, though there have been female engineers in the past, and Jeff hopes there will be in the future.
He sees an ever-increasing use of new electronic computerized devices in the way the business operates. “You know, visualization, putting on glasses and walking through something, seeing it in 3D.”
Still, he notes business is about something that in the end is intangible, something that being in business for 50 years teaches.
“We’re people oriented,” he says. “Business is about meeting people and solving problems.”