Harnessing the Power of Public Works at APWA PWX 2019

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By Tom Brewer, Content Manager at Gordian

In early September of 2019, the American Public Works Association (APWA) held its annual PWX event in Seattle, Washington. Part symposium, part celebration, part glimpse into the future of American infrastructure — PWX 2019 was a joyous whirlwind. But once the motion and the excitement subsided, a few trends emerged. Here’s what we learned from APWA’s PWX 2019.

Public Works Employees Support Each Other

Between the hugs, the enormous smiles as attendees reunited and the immediate camaraderie between APWA chapter members meeting for the first time, one thing was clear: This is a tight-knit group. The closeness went further than greetings. Anywhere a director, engineer or public works pro shared a challenge, another colleague or two were there to offer advice and encouragement. I saw this play out over and over again: on the trade show floor, at the “Get Acquainted” party at the delightful Museum of Pop Culture, at unofficial gatherings in the PWX orbit. No matter where, no matter when, the public works community was always willing to support its people.

Gordian at APWA PWX 2019.
On the trade show floor and at the “Get Acquainted” party at the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle.

Public Sector Resource Strain is Real

“We have to do more with less.” This constant refrain might as well have been the official mantra of PWX attendees. Public Works departments, despite incredible strain, are doing their best to provide high-quality services. It’s one thing to know this intellectually, to understand this strain as a concept. It’s another thing to hear the exasperation in people’s voices as they describe how difficult it is to repair and maintain vital community assets. These professionals have devoted themselves to making a difference but each year that gets increasingly more difficult. That’s why so many of them were interested in Gordian’s Job Order Contracting (JOC), an alternative construction delivery method that allows a variety of projects to be completed with one competitively-bid contract. With JOC, public works departments and other government agencies can start work faster and with greater cost control, helping relieve resource strain.

Cooperative Purchasing is all the Rage

Our friends from Sourcewell, a cooperative purchasing network, had one booth in the exhibit hall. But their presence was everywhere. You couldn’t get far without seeing a colorful Sourcewell flag resting on a booth. An exhibit of impressive construction equipment — there was Sourcewell. Fleet asset management software – there was Sourcewell. It seems that the public works sector has caught on to the power of volume discounts and the other benefits of buying goods and services through co-ops. For more cooperative purchasing insights, read this interview with National Cooperative Purchasing Partners Executive Director Tammy Rimes.

Public Works Has Gone High Tech

You’d be forgiven for mistaking PWX 2019 for CES, the Consumer Technology Association’s annual expo. Mobile apps, particularly those dedicated to GIS mapping and asset management, occupied a large portion of the exhibit hall. Like their private-sector counterparts, public employees are using smart technology to work more efficiently than ever before. This should excite citizens across the U.S. Now some of the brightest minds in the tech space are working on solutions that benefit our cities, states and towns.

By the end of APWA PWX 2019, it was clear that the tie that binds public works professionals is a desire to make their communities better. They are constantly searching for something, an edge, that helps them deliver better service today than they did yesterday. It’s a compulsion they could not stop if they wanted to. Lucky for the rest of us, they don’t.