In recent times, there have been some negative headlines for a handful of Public-Private Partnerships, commonly known as “P3” projects. However, there have been many more success stories across the United States, most of which never make it as a headline. Consider these successes:
- Chicago Metropolitan Water Reclamation District: Customized treatment of reclaimed water is distributed to industrial users by the P3 entity, providing a valuable service to the local business economy. It also reduces the usage of precious drinking water which benefits the greater Chicago community.
- Seattle Cedar Water Treatment Plant: Over 70% of Seattle is served with high- quality and less-costly drinking water with this design/build/operate effort. Nine people run this 180 MGD plant.
- Kentucky Gets Online: The Commonwealth of Kentucky went from last on the list, to almost first amongst the 50 states in terms of high-quality broadband access for all of its residents and businesses. This was achieved by a proactive P3 approach that installed and paid for fiber connections to all of Kentucky’s counties. All of this occurred over a period of about two years. A piecemeal approach could have taken decades. The “open access” system creates a better market for broadband services that could reduce overall internet access costs.
- Prince George’s County Stormwater Program: This “service P3” in Maryland leveraged a new stormwater fee (which many had opposed as a new tax) into an economic development program that’s improving the environment. A private company plays a “general contractor” role and directs the investments in stormwater improvements by targeting mostly local and MWBEs.
- Fargo-Moorhead Flood Control Project: This $1.8 billion multi-pronged project to improve a decades-long flooding problem is funded by local special assessments, sales taxes, state and federal dollars.
For communities with a defined need, P3 can represent an expedited source of funding and possibly improved service delivery. A city with a failing sanitary sewer system that lacks funding or debt capacity could obtain substantial improvements or a new system. Large- scale flood control projects can be achieved with local participation and private investment. Any such project requires thoughtful planning and strong public sector leadership.
In the book Collaboration Nation, author Mary Scott Nabers states, “the evolution of the business of government – from how we pay for infrastructure to how we respond to natural disasters – will increasingly be driven by those companies that see their public customers as partners, and who are committed to building long-term trusting relationships.”
P3 is a two-way street. Government leaders that recognize needs and how to pursue them can make a difference.