Change is in the wind for infrastructure – what a difference a year makes!
By Mary Scott Nabers
Change waits for no one, so as 2019 winds to a close, it’s important to reflect on what has changed this year. The changes will impact all parties in 2020, especially companies interested in the evolving world of infrastructure reform.
The federal government, to no one’s surprise, has not passed an infrastructure reform bill. However, that’s probably not all bad. Few of us ever really thought that public funding would be available for a significant infrastructure reform movement. At least, no one thought that the staggering amounts being discussed would ever materialize.
When it became obvious that not much was going to happen, many state and local government leaders moved on to launch large infrastructure projects through public-private partnerships (P3s). They secured their own sources of alternative funding and selected experienced teams to help them deliver critical initiatives.
Infrastructure reform is now underway because visionary leaders at the state and local levels of government realized that kicking the can down the road is no longer an option. Here are just a few of the changes that emerged and/or evolved in 2019.
Government leaders, in every jurisdiction, became more comfortable working with private-sector partners and investors. The public at large gained a better understanding of, and acceptance for, collaborations between public- and private-sector entities and private-sector investors.
All parties began to see that critical initiatives can be structured to generate revenue for public entities, reduce costs, and/or benefit taxpaying citizens in various ways.
Weather-related disasters helped citizens appreciate the urgency of rebuilding and the importance of being prepared for other potential disasters in the future.
Public officials became attendees at conferences to learn how to successfully launch collaborative initiatives. They also learned about alternative funding sources that can be tapped to deliver critical water projects, roadway expansions, bridge safety, renewable energy projects, and more.
School districts won approval from taxpayers to launch infrastructure projects valued at trillions of dollars.
The federal government funded new grant programs, reduced a number of regulatory time killers, and initiated new programs that encourage private investment in public projects.
Opportunity Zones were created to provide incentives for investors through tax benefits when they participate in public projects in regions where economic development is less vibrant and poverty rates are higher.
Economic development organizations joined supporters of infrastructure projects and began looking at regional projects that would benefit a number of government jurisdictions.
Community colleges and universities began to work with industry visionaries. Hotels located on university campuses where students in hospitality could get internships were attractive to all parties.
Cities and counties in need of police, fire, and first responder facilities found ways to partner with developers interested in locating retail around the new buildings.
Autonomous vehicles became an accepted future reality, and dozens of cities are now partnering with vehicle manufacturers to build large campuses for research, testing, and the development of new models of autonomous vehicles.
Technology firms burst into the infrastructure marketplace with sensors, digital signage, camera technology and more for roadways; as well as LED lights for safety and cost reductions, water and utility technology, broadband expansions, school safety initiatives, and big data analysis for more efficient planning of large infrastructure projects.
Some energy firms began constructing district energy systems on university campuses or hospital sites. Other energy companies partnered with developers and construction firms to deliver ‘smart buildings’ and connected communities on campuses.
Revenue generation in 2019 became one of the key components of success in launching infrastructure projects. Toll roads paid for critical infrastructure that could not have been constructed otherwise.
Last but not least, regional banks joined the ranks of interested investors in infrastructure projects after analyzing the community benefits and economic stimulus that result from large, critical infrastructure projects…plus the fact that such investments are actually very safe ones.
In 2020, the trend of collaboration will escalate quickly. Almost every governmental entity in the U.S. has critical infrastructure projects on the drawing board or in planning stages.
All this will ensure a robust marketplace for services from construction, to engineering, to technology, and professional service firms in 2020. Trillions will be required for critical infrastructure projects of all types and investors will also find the government marketplace to be attractive to investors as well.
Companies interested in government contracting and infrastructure projects are encouraged to visit with public officials who, at the end of 2019, appear almost eager to schedule meetings and discuss potential collaborations. That change also will continue because public officials today recognize the value of private-sector conversations and potential partnerships more than ever.
Mary Scott Nabers is president and CEO of Strategic Partnerships Inc., a business development company specializing in government contracting and procurement consulting throughout the U.S. For more information, please visit maryscottnabers.com.