Top 20 Under 40: Raise Voices to Boost Infrastructure Funding and Plan for Risks

By on August 13, 2019

From ENR:  With America’s infrastructure and IT infostructure in dire straits, and little if any federal government momentum to move money into critical investment, Top 20 Under 40 team members were clear that industry professionals need to rev up their own advocacy and creative solutions.

“[Companies] really aren’t showing how different ways of building ‘better, faster, cheaper’ can help fill that gap,” says Anita Woolley Nelson, who recently joined Skanska as chief strategy officer for building operations. “The industry has lobbied previously for certain things,” she says, and should speak out just as strongly on infrastructure finance needs.

Some already are making their voices heard.

“I’ve gone to Washington numerous times and met with my congresspeople,” says Barton Ross, president of Barton Ross & Partners LLC, a Chestertown, Md.-based architecture firm that specializes in historic preservation. “It doesn’t always make a difference but it’s important to get the message out.”

Having a unified industry message is critical, the professionals said, with broader and more frequent promotion of infrastructure project success stories. National industry groups such as the American Institute of Architects, American Society of Civil Engineers and Construction Management Association of America “should be responsible for helping drive the agenda,” says Nelson.

The team also weighed in on how project risk should be allocated among stakeholders as jobs get larger and more complex, with tougher cost and schedule drivers.

“There is a common misconception that contractors have large margins … at a moderate level of risk,” says Mark Cochran, COO of general contractor S.M. Wilson & Co. “Margins are very low and are obtained at a very high level of risk, especially in the current climate of labor shortages and rising costs.”

He cites alternate delivery and finance methods “that [allow] all project participants to share in benefits and risks of a project to lead to better outcomes,” pointing to integrated project delivery as one such approach for  “a mutual understanding of risks and benefits.”

New demands on internet speed and functionality—and a host of known and unknown cybersecurity risks ahead—will require focused infostructure investment.

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