By Gary W. Raba, D.Eng, PE, originally presented on Civil + Structural Engineer Media, csengineermag.com.
As Americans look to rebuild the economy post-pandemic, it is essential to remember that there is hope for tomorrow despite the difficulty and uncertainty that have defined these past months. While a significant amount of business activity came to a halt this year, pockets of the economy have continued to push forward. Deemed essential, the continued efforts of construction, infrastructure, and engineering professionals have provided stability in the public project sector throughout the country.
As the nation slowly begins to pick back up and sets its sights on the future, public projects will play a crucial role in rebuilding the economy and creating the elements for a more prosperous country. We are fortunate to have the funding and capabilities to capitalize on both existing and upcoming projects that offer infrastructure, transportation, and education improvements, while simultaneously providing employment opportunities in a struggling job market. Below are a few of the roles public projects will play in returning to economic vibrancy, along with an insight into how Raba Kistner, Inc. plans to navigate the future through a broadened scope and proven experience.
As a member of the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC), I participate in a national conversation that identifies patterns, commonalities and stressors across various industry sectors. While the steady consensus is that there is no guarantee about where Q4 and beyond will take us, many can agree that there is a need for growth and a need to continue investing in personnel. With projects in queue and funding plans moving forward, we need to be prepared to have teams and talent in place to follow through. Construction management, construction engineering, and project management positions will continue to open as workload steadily increases.
For many organizations, including Raba Kistner, Inc., external growth such as merger and acquisition activity has paused during this period of business uncertainty, organic growth has continued to flourish. Continued planning and a deliberate focus on the future have allowed the industry to prepare and invest in internal growth.
It is a true testament to the resiliency of our nation that projects continue to move forward despite a downturn in the economy. In terms of timeline, the slowed state of business and decreased traffic have allowed some projects to progress quicker than anticipated. With public projects fully funded, many projects have pushed weeks or months ahead of their initially planned completion dates. This will allow many organizations to take on an increased workload in the coming months.
Particularly related to the transportation sector, in Texas we have seen a growing desire of the community to address the state’s rapid growth and push projects forward. We have certainly taken advantage of the quieter roads to capitalize on progress. Highway 249 improvements in Houston, new construction for the I-635 LBJ East Project in Dallas County and the Oakhill Parkway Project in Travis County have all benefited from the decreased congestion and the ability to move forward with infrastructure during this time. Transportation projects will continue to create new logistical opportunities for businesses and their ability to move goods and materials, along with providing increased access to education and jobs while decreasing transport costs.
Investment in higher education
As proven in 2008 amid the Great Recession, enrollment levels in higher education increased due to the rise in unemployment and the desire for further education. Today, many individuals are faced with the choice of returning to work or returning to school, and the higher education system needs to be ready to respond accordingly. In working with Texas Tech University on the development of its veterinary school, Texas A&M on the construction of new conference centers and The University of Texas at Austin in moving forward with plans for a new arena, we are continuing to invest in the infrastructure elements that compose the fundamentals of a world-class higher education system across our state.
The ability of an organization to withstand a crisis and continue to support both employees and the economy itself is not by chance – it is a matter of well-developed strategy. When the organization began in 1968, San Antonio-based Raba Kistner, Inc. focused 80 percent of efforts on local, private projects. After the financial crisis in 2008, the organization quickly pivoted to a diversified portfolio, which included over 75 percent public projects and the strategic pursuit of recession-proof markets. This direction has proven critical to the success of the company.
While many employees and projects are based in Texas, Raba Kistner, Inc. maintains a strong presence throughout the country, and even internationally. It is essential to remember that there is no single solution for rebuilding what the pandemic has broken. Each state, county, and city has its unique nuances that must be evaluated, both for compliance and investment opportunities.
For organizations invested across markets and locations, it requires a unique ability to focus on the needs of local communities while also balancing a more significant state or national impact. We need to keep a close connection to our communities while thinking globally, maintaining a perspective broad enough to be better prepared to seize future opportunities. On a personal level, involvement with trade organizations such as ACEC allows me to strategize based on the successes and lessons learned from the industry as a whole, rather than through a narrow, local lens.
While the next several months, and even years, may hold unknowns, a commitment to investment in public projects that also enhance our national economy and quality of life will continue to move our nation forward.
Gary W. Raba, D.Eng, PE is President of Raba Kistner, Inc., a premier Engineering Consulting and Program Management Firm based in San Antonio, TX.