A Year in Review: Lonnie Burklund Leads ITS Heartland

JEO Consulting Group’s Lonnie Burklund, PE, PTOE, has been at the helm of ITS Heartland since April 2021. As he prepares to hand the reins of the chapter to the incoming president during the Annual Meeting, April 25-27 in Lincoln, Nebraska, he took some time to look back on his presidency and reflect on how he led the chapter during a unique time in history. To understand where he leaves the organization’s top role, it’s important to look at where it began.

Burklund didn’t receive his presidential stature with the usual pomp and circumstance at the organization’s annual spring season meeting. Instead, he quietly began his one-year term in April 2021 because the COVID-19 pandemic postponed the annual meeting from April to November 2021. And while he accepted the gavel in front of an audience at the November meeting, it was simply a matter of ceremony as he’d already been hard at work leading the organization for more than half of his one-year term.

Steering the chapter alongside talented and supporting board members came natural to Burklund. He’s worked in the traffic technology industry for nearly 25 years and has been involved with ITS Heartland for a majority of them. He first served as a consultant director on the board of directors in the early 2000s, then went on to serve as the chapter’s vice president before moving into the presidential role.

As the leader, he set challenging, yet pragmatic, goals to achieve while in office. His primary focus was to help the chapter navigate through the virtual world of early 2021 and return to in-person conferences. Among other benefits of meeting face to face, Burklund wanted members to be able to network with like-minded professionals in person. There’s something fundamental in sitting down with a colleague or having a discussion in the hallway that can’t be replicated in the virtual world. Not surprisingly, networking is one of Burklund’s favorite aspects of ITS Heartland.

“This is a big group of people that represent the private sector, public agencies, product vendors, and solution providers, all in the realm of transportation technology,” Burklund explains. “Technology changes at such a fast pace. Everyone coming together to talk about what’s new, what’s working, what’s not working, is exciting! It’s fun to get this group together because everybody is interested in motorist safety and improved operations (and catching up personally).”

During his presidency, Burklund has the unique opportunity to assist the chapter through not one—but two—annual meetings, with a quick turnaround in between. First, working alongside current past president Slade Engstrom, the rescheduled November 2021 conference was a resounding success, with more than 200 attendees gathering in Overland Park, Kansas, to celebrate transportation technology. Following quickly on its heels, the 2022 version is returning to the meeting’s traditional spring dates and will keep the momentum going when it takes place in Lincoln. That’s two giant leaps in the right direction toward Burklund’s primary goal. “We really wanted to get everybody back together again, maintain good communications, and be able to pull off a couple successful conferences. After a great showing of support by our members at the 2021 conference, I think the one in Lincoln will be the icing on the cake.”

Another of Burklund’s presidency goals was to continue the discussion of the chapter’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) opportunities, needed in such a vast and growing organization. The ITS Heartland chapter operates under the ITS America (ITSA) umbrella, and a representative of the parent organization will present on DEI at the April meeting. Through this continued conversation, Burklund and the ITS Heartland membership will draw from the experiences of other ITSA chapters and look forward to further moving the needle with an organization-wide unified approach.

While his presidency will end when he hands the gavel to the incoming president Jamie Rana, Burklund’s role with ITS Heartland won’t be finished. He’ll continue to serve on the board of directors, this time as past president for a one-year term. As such, he’ll play an active role. “The past president plays an important role in the health of the board of directors and the organization as a whole,” he explains. Among other tasks, he will be providing guidance and mentoring to the new president—just as he’s been provided—as well as continuing to be a part of the monthly board conference calls and meetings.

“It has been my pleasure to serve as president of ITS Heartland,” Burklund says. “We have a fantastic executive team and top-notch state directors. Working closely with this group of professionals and helping steer the organization back to our new normal has been extremely rewarding. I look forward continuing my involvement in ITS Heartland for years to come.”