International perspectives and an educational two-way street

Brian W. Pettet
Director of Public Works
Pitkin County, Colorado
Member, APWA International Affairs Committee

Where can you network with a multitude of international public works professionals and gain new insight and international innovation to your agency's public works problems? The answer is the annual APWA Congress & Exposition. I had such an opportunity recently in San Antonio with the international delegation. Each person had a little different perspective on Congress and public works issues in the United States. The consistent theme from all was that the event is big, well-developed and educational. However, this educational opportunity is a two-way street.

Martynas Kandziarauskas and Paulius Arstikys work for EISMAS and are responsible for traffic management and infrastructure issues in Lithuania. EISMAS is a private company that holds multi-year contracts for maintenance and management of public works and services in Lithuania, with a particular focus on traffic management and infrastructure issues. They found out about Congress while surfing the Internet for public works events and were impressed with educational opportunities. "We gained new information from educational sessions and mostly learned about new technology from the vendors on the exposition floor," confirmed Paulius. "We found three or four suppliers for new traffic system software that would help our agency." The well-dressed Lithuanians found Congress much less formal than they expected. "Some people thought we were bankers with our suits and ties," added Martynas.

They extended an open invitation to visit Europe and see transportation innovations, especially in new countries to the European Union. Paulius commented, "Large investments are being made in the new countries to the Union. This significant funding allows those countries to lead innovation for infrastructure technology. People in the United States can get focused internally because there is so much information available here, but there is much to learn in Europe as well." Paulius added a final observation, "Governments in the United States seem to enjoy stop signs more than in Europe" where they are less desired and traffic flows more freely.

Other differences were noticed by Robert Ward (retired) from Port Melbourne, Australia and Ashley Harper, President of INGENIUM (counterpart to APWA in New Zealand). They both acknowledged the breadth of the educational experience at Congress. According to Mr. Harper, "You have so many learning streams from which to choose and the vendors are widely varied in scope." Again, however, it doesn't mean the United States has the best and latest technology available. Mr. Harper explained, "New Zealand could be more advanced when it comes to recycling efforts and asset management applications. APWA representatives would gain significantly in these areas by studying in New Zealand." Interestingly, there is an INGENIUM conference in Bizborne, NZ, June 5-7, 2008.

Nathan Darrell, Transport Foreman for Hamilton Parish, Bermuda, was most impressed by the size of Congress and everything in San Antonio (it is Texas after all). Bermuda is comprised of 21 square miles compared to Texas with a size of 268,581 square miles. It is easy to understand how the physical size can stand out as a major difference from someone coming from Bermuda. According to Mr. Darrell, "Your vehicles are huge from my perspective. I procure the smallest vehicles I can from the United States and they are even too big for my Parish's needs." Maybe we could learn a little about conservation from our friends in Bermuda. He went on to say that he would bring back volumes of information for his coworkers and superiors and that with more marketing about Congress in Bermuda more people would likely attend, especially in New Orleans, the site of the 2008 Congress.

The educational symbiosis that is created between international counterparts at Congress will result in a more well-educated and innovative world of public works. As we experience the vast educational opportunities here in the United States, understand that this perspective can be limiting. Take time to meet and get to know your international counterparts whenever you have an opportunity, either through informal exchange or through an established process like the APWA Jennings Randolph Fellowship Program. These are two easy methods to promote international relationships in order to ensure that information flows all directions for the benefit of the international public works community.

Brian W. Pettet is Chair of the APWA/IPWEA/INGENIUM Task Force. He can be reached at (970) 920-5390 or