AIAI’s forward trajectory

Partnerships Bulletin’s Solape Alatise interviews the Association for the Improvement of American Infrastructure’s executive director Lisa Buglione and senior policy advisor Marshall Macomber

What were the highlights of 2019 for AIAI? 

LB: There were a few: the growth of the Association and our reach has been more apparent in 2019, with more and more firms joining up to become part of the movement. As we can see by the growth in the market, P3s are becoming normalised. The model is no longer an obscure concept but is now accepted as an opportunity to deliver on infrastructure needs around the US, at state and local level. And perhaps for me, selfishly, a big highlight was the development of the “AIAI More” program; designed to bring more visibility and gender diversity for women in infrastructure. We have many capable, expert women in the industry who quite frankly are absolute rock stars! We need to provide a stronger foundation upon which they can grow in their roles and achieve even greater professional success, just like their male counterparts - as experts in the industry. In turn, they can then mentor and bring along other women to their rightful place at the forefront of the industry.

Was 2019 a good year for the P3 model in the US? 

MM: Absolutely, although it can’t really be viewed as an annual thing. Due to the progress and increased interest in the market, we are now able to break it down into sectors. It is not just the P3 market any more. We now have clear classes of transit, highway, social infrastructure, water and public buildings. Whereas, five or ten years ago the P3 market seemed to primarily concern heavy civil highways. There are so many more opportunities in the various sectors as the individuals responsible for infrastructure delivery are now accepting that P3 is one solution to consider as they address procurement options for their capital project plans. 

LB: I think it’s hard to pinpoint 2019, because by design these larger projects take many years to plan and get to procurement. You sow the seeds, you start the discussions and it takes a while. It’s a growing market and it’s trending better and better each year. 

What are your hopes and priorities for 2020? 

LB: We are always focused on moving P3 forward, and to that end AIAI will continue to concentrate on state and local engagement – that is where infrastructure is built. That has always been a priority for AIAI and we will continue to build on the ongoing successes. A benefit of AIAI is that we are a nimble organisation and at the behest of the Board and our member companies, we’re able to adjust and address initiatives based on opportunity and need. While we have a focused strategy, we are flexible enough to be able to adjust should the market dictate.

We will also continue our work on the Federal Level; the policies, plans and ability of the Federal government to affect local growth shouldn’t be overlooked. Working with our partners, especially through the P3 Coalition of aligned associations - which we coordinate - we will continue to advocate to Congress and the Administration for more funding for infrastructure and good, sound policy to allow the states to address their growing needs. 

How do you plan to fulfil this priority for 2020?

LB: As we’ve always done, we roll up our sleeves and get to work. As an association, we’re very fortunate that while the staff does the heavy lifting, we can count on some of the more engaged members to bring practical experience to the work we do and share their knowledge, insight and expertise to ensure that we approach the market thoughtfully and address the needs of our public sector partners as we support them in their efforts. 

Which states in particular are you thinking about?

LB: We are constantly working through the list with our members and Board members to ensure that we are focused on the markets where we can be most impactful. AIAI has tentatively scheduled our core fly-ins for 2020 and will release that information once membership and the board of directors weigh in on the direction we will take. I can share at this time though, that there are many states and cities new to the P3 market on that list, and we’re excited about that!  

How has the organisation evolved since it was founded?

LB: The ever-increasing engagement of our members has been crucial, as has the work of our internal team. Our members are fully invested in our mission and it shows in what we are able to achieve. AIAI’s visibility has flourished thanks to the passion our members demonstrate and the time they spend on what we call “missionary work”. This team, our members, all believe in the work we are doing and are committed to education and best practice solutions. In turn, our members see the value to their organisations from this shared effort.

I believe we are the leading P3 organisation in the US that represents the interests of our public and private stakeholders across all infrastructure sectors. We are seeing the results of these efforts as the P3 market in the US has grown.

Early on, the appearance was that we were focused on transportation only, which was not the case. Our mission was to grow a pipeline across all sectors through education and outreach to connect public and private sector representatives with the goal of bringing projects to market through the use of the P3 model. Howard County Courthouse in Maryland is an early example of the impact of AIAI and its members. Early on, the administrators reached out for resources and information on the P3 model and AIAI’s members met with various stakeholders to discuss best practices for programs and procurement using alternative delivery methods. The result is a program that has hit all the milestones and is moving forward to completion. AIAI has truly grown as the P3 market in the US has grown. 

As we were standing up the association, Rich Fierce, then SVP of Fluor said, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” Rich has since retired, but I took his statement to heart, and continue to strive to work together both internally with all of our members, and externally through the P3 Coalition that we lead in DC, as well as the coalition building we do at the state level. It’s clear that working together, we can do so much more and create a bigger impact. 

Lastly, in addition to the above, we have implemented programs to complement the work the private sector is doing. Our P3Direct program has allowed us to bring the public sector and private firms together to discuss and build upon best practices. It has also allowed us to develop a foundation and venue for the public sector to draw upon each other’s experiences and lessons learned. This association is not in the business of providing advice but rather sharing information, resources and our knowledge as many of the owners look to the model as they focus on solutions for their local communities. We are simply a great place to start out the journey.