Gaining awareness of public-private partnerships

February 2008 » Editor's Comment
Whether your focus is transportation or water resources and management, public-private partnerships is a topic to watch.
Shanon Fauerbach, P.E.

In the news article, "Schwarzenegger proposes public-private partnerships for California infrastructure improvements," we learn how the governor is making recommendations for the state that would allow it to tap into the billions of dollars private investors are seeking to spend in the United States and abroad to build, manage, and maintain infrastructure, in hopes of a profitable return on their investment.

This article, as well as our feature article, "Public-private partnerships: What’s old is new again," highlight the rising interest of this mechanism. While much emphasis is placed on the use of this tool for transportation projects, P3’s application in the water and wastewater industry is rising as well.

In July, the Reason Foundation, a non-profit organization founded in 1968 that produces public policy research on a variety of issues and publishes the monthly magazine, Reason, published its Annual Privatization Report (APR). The APR stated, "The [water and wastewater] market has grown steadily by 5 to 12 percent a year since 2000 (total dollar value)." It indicated that there are 1,038 wastewater and 746 water facilities under private operation in the United States. Additionally, according to the APR, a total of 1,463 municipal, state, or federal clients outsourced their water or wastewater operations to the private sector in 2006, representing a 4.3 percent increase compared with 2005.

So whether your focus is transportation or water resources and management, P3 is a topic to watch. Considering that activity in the land development market is on the decline and many firms are looking to beef up their public works practice, I think many will expand their knowledge of P3 and involvement in this industry niche. The National Council for Public-Private Partnerships may be a place to begin your quest. Check out its website at http://ncppp.org. You’ll notice that besides municipalities, universities, and economic development councils, some engineering firms are members of this organization as well.

Schwarzenegger’s plan to address California’s infrastructure needs is actually two-fold. Besides plans to allow P3, he also cited the projected shortfall of engineers in California by 2014 during his December State of the State address and recommended specific actions to boost the number of engineering graduates. Schwarzenegger’s attention to this potential problem, which is not California’s alone, shows commendable leadership; it hopefully will be emulated by other states’ leaders.

Of course, firms and individuals can do their part, as well, to promote engineering, and I think more and more firms are engaging in such activities. In fact, as we reviewed our Corporate Survey for the annual Best Firms To Work For ranking, we realized we were remiss not to include a question to understand how firms support their staff’s profession through involvement in mentoring programs, providing scholarships, and more. I’m happy to say that this and other improvements have been made to our evaluation tools so that we can better assess firm workplaces and honor those at the top of the list in our October issue.

For more information about how to apply—and the complimentary feedback that all participants receive showing how their firm stacks up to others in the industry—visit www.cenews.com/bestfirm. You’ll note upon review of this website that ZweigWhite, the publisher of CE News, has expanded its Best Firms To Work For lists and now ranks civil engineering, structural engineering, environmental, and architecture firms. Be sure to pass along this information to your human resources or marketing manager so that your firm can participate. The deadline to apply is April 4, 2008.


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