Climate Change, economic development, Infrastructure, Michael S. Burke

DAVOS, Switzerland – With many of the conversations at the World Economic Forum annual meeting filled with worry about economic slowdowns, climate change, Brexit and ongoing trade tensions between the U.S. and China, it would be easy to go away discouraged.

There are significant global challenges to address for which there are no simple solutions, no straightforward answers.

At the same time, both AECOM EMEA Chief Executive Lara Poloni and I found plenty of reasons to be optimistic, collecting insights and sharing many experiences at this annual gathering of business leaders and policymakers from which to draw inspiration.

For example, there’s incredible passion and resolve among young, emerging leaders advancing new ideas, technology breakthroughs addressing everything from early detection of breast cancer to reducing e-waste, global initiatives aimed at upskilling millions of workers and  partnerships designed to unlock private investment and encourage entrepreneurship.

Underpinning many of the responses to boost economic growth, protect the environment and improve mobility, connectivity and quality of life was infrastructure. In fact, there weren’t many topics that were covered in Davos that our company isn’t part of or thinking about.

As Lara and I engaged on panels and side-bar conversations with clients and leaders from countries around the world, we were able to draw upon the experiences of more than 87,000 colleagues focused every day on delivering transformational outcomes – the kind of outcomes necessary to avert many of the gloomy predictions we heard.

We also had the opportunity to release our 2nd annual research report: The Future of Infrastructure, Voice of the People.

I left Davos feeling proud and energized, with new appreciation for the critical role businesses like AECOM must play – both in the work we do and through our leadership.

We’ve long understood the value that infrastructure creates. A new Business Roundtable economic study, in fact, finds that in the United States, every $1 invested in roads, bridges, airports, waterways, ports and more can generate nearly $4 in economic growth.

This return on investment isn’t lost on government leaders. Because even with a global undercurrent of uncertainty, there remains an incredible need for modern infrastructure – a need measured into the trillions of dollars.

Government leaders are looking for ideas and partnerships with the private sector to increase the pipeline of bankable projects globally, build capacity and integrate technology to reduce cost and shorten timelines.

This is where I see tremendous opportunities for companies like ours. Not just to design, protect and build – or in the case of cities or regions devastated by natural disasters, build back better– but to demonstrate greater leadership through innovation and advocacy.

New digital tools and pioneering technologies give us the ability to deliver projects faster, better and safer. They allow us to help our clients adapt for what’s next – like electrifying highways to charge connected vehicles, building modular, helping make business and governments more secure and cities smarter.

We can champion resilient infrastructure solutions that address stresses posed by climate change, while also incorporating technologies that can reduce contributing factors, such as carbon emissions. We can also advocate for policies that break down barriers, promote alternative financing, balance risk and advance long-term infrastructure planning that extends beyond administrations and political change.

Our Davos experience this year reaffirms my view that our company, our industry and the business community at large must take on greater responsibilities to work with elected leaders, media, academics and others to find meaningful solutions. We have to think more globally, more creatively – especially at a time when some governments are narrowing their focus.

Walking away from Davos discouraged is the easy way out.

Staying true to our purpose, adhering to the values that define our company and delivering the transformational projects and services for which AECOM is known will always be the better path for us and the communities and people we impact through our work.

Originally published Jan 28, 2019

Author: Michael S. Burke