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International Affairs Committee activities report

Ken Haag
Committee Chair

Steven Covey’s fifth habit of Highly Effective People states, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” During the past year the International Affairs Committee’s activities have been devoted to better understanding the value that international activities can bring to APWA members.

When I first entered the public works profession I felt that all I needed to know was taught in engineering school. As you well know, I was WRONG. Through participation in chapter activities, my learning the similarities of operations in other communities and states greatly enhanced my ability to serve my community. Much later in my career I have come to appreciate the fact that all public works knowledge does not reside in the United States and Canada. Although the governing structure or organization may not exactly reflect what we are accustomed to seeing, the basic needs of the public for efficient transportation, a healthy environment, and efficiency in government does not change across national borders.

During the past year we have attempted to present a series of articles that focused on public works activities in other nations, and methods that have proven effective in enhancing international understanding. With the opportunity presented by eight issues of the APWA Reporter, we have covered asset management in Australia, cooperative agreements between San Diego and Tijuana, and a U.S.-Japan exchange program. We have also covered public works in the Slovak Republic, Australia’s international exchange program, the use of traffic circles, and the use of electronic communications to further international exchanges.

In addition to these articles, the committee arranged to have some APWA members submit articles for publication in Australia’s Public Works Engineering magazine. We were able to arrange for President Fay to attend the AMMAC meeting in Mexico and are currently exploring the possibilities of creating a Mexico Chapter. We have also arranged hosts for some of our international visitors while they visit us. We advanced our talks with Japan towards a more formal agreement and drafted an agreement with the Slovak Public Works Association.

These articles and activities were accomplished with the hope that a better understanding of activities across national borders would generate some added international activities, and that these activities would in turn benefit our members. I can safely say, from personal experience, that we have much to learn from the international community. Any community that is consolidating units of government could learn much from Australia’s experience of forming 70-plus units from more than 260 in the early 90’s. The recycling efforts observed in Germany could teach us much about managing solid waste. And, while the U.S. is presenting engineering awards for the “innovative” use of traffic circles in Vale, Colorado, the rest of the world has been successfully using these for years.

There are unlimited opportunities for learning from our counterparts throughout the world. We are truly living in a “Global Village” and almost instantaneous communication means that this information is readily available to all of us. I would anticipate that APWA could also benefit by increasing its international activities. There is clearly a vast source of untapped membership potential throughout the world and the private sector members in other countries will be interested in reaching our members. The individual APWA members, both public and corporate, will also wish to become active in the global village.

It has been my pleasure to serve as committee chair for this year and I wish my successor the best. If I can be of service, please do not hesitate to call on me.

Ken Haag can be reached at 406-348-2166 or khaag@mcn.net.