Equal opportunity for the American Dream
Election season is upon us and the mayors of America have a challenging idea perfect for engineers to lead on.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors has proposed an election-year policy agenda called Mayors’ Vision for America: A 2020 Call for Action. The mayors want bipartisan solutions for some of the greatest challenges facing our nation and they are prioritizing those solutions around Infrastructure, Innovation and Inclusion. But, what does the bricks and mortar version of infrastructure, innovation and inclusion tangibly mean and how are they inter-related? How can engineers and contractors respond to this call?
Republicans, Democrats and Independents in America all agree, we need to rebuild our decades-old, crumbling infrastructure. The American Society of Civil Engineers has an Infrastructure Scorecard that evaluates and grades the many types of infrastructure in our country. The composite grade is currently an unacceptably low, D+. We agree that we need a new, 21st century ecosystem of roads, bridges, water and wastewater treatment, airports and seaports, a more robust electrical grid and 5G communications that may cost as much as $1 trillion over 10 years, but we do not agree on how to fund it. Compromises will be made amongst the political leaders, but engineers will be asked for empirical input on cost, schedules, project delivery methods, emerging technologies and more.
Funding may come from increased gas or use taxes, more quantitative easing (deficit spending) or, my preferred option, domestic Public Private Partnerships PPP). A PPP can take many forms, but generally allows the engineer or contractor consortium to arrange project financing to design, build, operate and maintain an infrastructure asset for a period of years receiving a steady stream of payment from the state, county or local government before turning ownership of the asset to the civic owner.
Project cost and schedule estimates will need to consider buy-American requirements, union and non-union labor resources, unique climate sensitive designs like net zero or sustainable materials, and much more.
Project delivery methods should focus on schedule incented turnkey solutions that reward contractors for early delivery and penalize for late delivery. Turnkey is generally synonymous with design-build or Engineer, Procure, Construct (EPC).
Emerging technologies allow unique 21st century collaboration opportunities among many types of infrastructure leading to an ecosystem of infrastructure or a smart city.
In the end, however, Americans will expect a 21st-century design, and America’s engineers and contractors are ready to start.
Innovation and a new paradigm of thinking will require providing a vision for American youth about their future. Important and life-impacting challenges like spending $1 trillion on infrastructure, the advent of artificial intelligence or building a Moon base will capture their attention and incentivize them to study science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM). America’s engineers and contractors will need to support STEAM in their communities. Perhaps a small percentage of each federal dollar spent on infrastructure can be plowed back into our secondary schools, colleges and universities to produce the innovative technical graduates that America needs to build here and on the Moon.
The innovation and intellect needed to be competitive in artificial intelligence around the world cannot be understated. America needs to invest in robust innovation and STEAM education. A $1 trillion infrastructure investment allows us the unique opportunity to achieve this.
With a vision of artificial intelligence, robots, virtual reality, clean and renewable electrification, and a future in space, our schools will start to graduate greater numbers of talented young men and women that will excel at science, technology, engineering and math and use their creative (the arts) and innovative intellect to design and build infrastructure that benefits everyone in their communities.
The vision for innovation will lead to more new high tech jobs for college graduates, a chance to start a new business or expand an existing business, engagement in emerging technologies that form an infrastructure ecosystem, or getting a second job to send your child to college.
Big investments in STEAM in our local secondary schools, and our colleges and universities will produce a new generation of graduates with a vision for the future and the technical training to support it. This next generation of young men and women from all socio-economic and demographic backgrounds will have opportunities to rebuild their communities as states across the nation receive their share of $1 trillion to design and build 21st century infrastructure. New jobs for graduates give chance to start a new business or expand an existing business, engaging emerging technologies that form an infrastructure ecosystem, or getting a second job.
What is $1 trillion and what does it mean to a community? A billion dollars means hiring 100 people, starting a new project office in the community where the project will be built, and hiring 50-100 sub-contractors to provide engineering, all the trades, massive amounts of materials like concrete, steel, cable and glass, and countless ancillary services from real estate and legal services, hospitality and restaurants, fuel, safety and security personnel, office space and equipment and so much more.
If you’re not an engineer or general contractor, you still benefit from infrastructure investment and the new job or growth opportunities. And, some of this will be set aside for small, diverse and women-owned local businesses. When we spend $1 trillion on infrastructure, watch how many new companies join the Billion Dollar club and how many new diverse businesses start and grow.
America needs the world’s best and brightest engineers and technicians to complete this once-in-a-career $1 trillion infrastructure investment. Smart, creative and innovative men and women from foreign lands that graduate from US colleges, universities and trade schools should be given a welcoming and clearly defined path to US citizenship. US citizenship is a great reward. It should be offered to those college and trade graduates willing to legally become a contributing, faithful and patriotic American. We can include foreign graduates from our schools…if they want to become new citizens of this great country and pursue their version of the American Dream.
Now is the time for engineers to step forward and lead. Together, we can build a better, brighter future for all and provide equal opportunity for “your” American Dream.
Mike is a registered Professional Engineer in Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Texas, Colorado, Kansas, Georgia and Alabama, a Fellow in the American Society of Civil Engineers and a Member in IEEE and CIGRE. He is the author of “The Science of the Sale” and the COO of Mike Beehler & Associates.