Taking the APWA Congress to the streets

Jason E. Cosby, P.E., Assistant Public Works Director, City of San Antonio, Texas, and member, APWA Membership Committee

Steve Masters, Public Utilities Administrator, City of Lincoln, Nebraska, and member, APWA Water Resources Management Committee

Why attend an APWA Congress?

What do you gain from spending a week at the conference?

What can you take home with you?

How can it help develop your skills as a public works professional?

Why continue your membership and recruit other members for the organization?

Information, products, contacts
First, as a public works/utilities staff member, consultant, or vendor considering the APWA Congress, your initial expectations are predictable. You are drawn to a ready market of ideas, information, products, and people with similar work needs and challenges. There is reason enough to attend to hear what others are doing to meet comparable projects, snags, and regulations; see equipment and products; and to talk with individuals who are making progress with the same issues that you face.

As participants we are encouraged to prepare a list of products and topics that we wish to investigate in preparation for Congress. Types of pipe materials, traffic control hardware, front-end loaders, and software to manage everything from stormwater to fuel and pavement have previously been included on our lists.

Tour, drive the streets, check out the area attractions and culture of the community
Yes, we all have primary streets, traffic control devices, hydrants, manholes, target area developments, and treatment plants. We find ourselves needing to connect with our community and elected officials. The opportunity to experience the differences between San Antonio, Kansas City, Chicago, San Diego and Atlanta, can help give you a needed and new perspective into how you look at your own infrastructure. Those differences not only include the manner of facility management, but also the cultural make-up of the community. Public works and utilities operations are increasingly called upon to go beyond the technical applications of our equipment operations and design expertise to merge with the broader needs of the community.

Hearing about the successful highway-expressway public involvement in Florida, and feeling the enthusiasm of a Los Angeles Public Works Commissioner and Information Officer speak of their success stories and proactive public involvement program in a community of 110 different languages, gives one a unique perspective and helps to energize your own efforts. A common and humorous confession expressed by those involved with utilities and traffic is to describe nearly missing a traffic signal, by being absorbed by a visual analysis of another community's traffic-utility-transit-cultural "appurtenances." APWA gives you an opportunity to become absorbed in many ways.

First Timers enjoying themselves during the San Diego Congress

Friends, family, fun...
Getting up and over to the "First Timers" meeting on Sunday morning is worth the trip, even if you skip breakfast in order to arrive on time. Your participation in APWA gives you the opportunity to make friendships that can last throughout your career and beyond. Taking the initiative to introduce yourself, to ask those questions that challenge you, and then using someone's business card to ask other questions weeks or months later, can help form those friendships.

Visiting the host city can give you another perspective of the public works field that you cannot receive from staying home or reading over the Internet. It is amazing what you learn from visiting other cities, states, and even other countries, for the public works field is growing and transforming rapidly with similar predicaments that require us to be creative and use some of the same solutions from our cohorts.

Bringing those speakers and consultants "home"
Yes, we have invited speakers, vendors, and others we have met at Congress to speak, contract, and resource with us. Engineering and architectural consultants whom we have met have been invited to bid on projects. Vendors demonstrate their products to staff and learn opportunities to capture bid perspectives. Speakers share the knowledge they have acquired throughout the world with those in other municipalities.

Occasionally, those individuals have been public works staffers and other times they have been consultants under contract. Listening to firsthand experiences about putting into place "value-driven departments," mentoring local school systems, and emergency management and diversity initiatives can help communicate your own initiatives to your staff.

APWA's Nebraska Chapter contracted with Dr. John Luthy, President, The Futures Corporation, Boise, Idaho to bring his strategic planning presentation from the 2002 Congress to association members in Nebraska. The Lincoln Public Works & Utilities Department has taken that theme to create section strategic plans, resulting in an effective means of articulating issues, pursuing actions, and moving beyond the "departments within a department" orientation. Strategic planning that goes beyond simply being the "S" word can strengthen one's capability for communicating staffing and equipment needs.

The Texas Chapter used available opportunities to have joint state conferences with other similar memberships. The chapter co-sponsored their State Conference with the South Central International Erosion Control Association, which allowed stormwater professionals from Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas to benefit from our educational sessions.

Opportunities to serve on committees give one a distinct advantage to see yourself and organization as a part of an industry that makes a unique contribution to health and quality of life. New members are welcomed and recruited to bring their ideas and active participation to APWA's standing committees. Becoming an active committee member, not only locally but also nationally, will enhance the association and will place your city, county, state, and nation on the map by giving your organization recognition as a city of change.

We understand that we all are busy. However, when we share knowledge that can be used by our counterparts, and future public works leaders, it is most often done at the committee level.

An added benefit of membership and active participation is the possibility of developing mentorship opportunities between existing members, first-time attendees, and new members. These new relationships would not only benefit new members and first-time attendees, but also existing members through the development of new professional and working relationships.

Now that you have heard two members' experiences and how our local chapters, communities, employers, and families have benefited from us attending the national conference, what will you do?

Jason E. Cosby, P.E., a former member of APWA's Diversity Committee and one of APWA's Top Ten Public Works Leaders in 2002, can be reached at (210) 207-7785 or at jcosby@sanantonio.gov. Steve Masters, a former member of APWA's Diversity Committee, can be reached at (402) 441-7588 or at SMasters@ci.lincoln.ne.us.