This guest article is a lightning round with Rebecca Bowyer, Engineering Director at ReWa in Greenville, South Carolina. Becca has worked with three units of local governments, where she has evaluated and led infrastructure projects for water & sewer, transportation, and community development projects.
JD: What are some of the types of infrastructure funding alternatives that you have explored or used?
Becca: In my work history, I have explored a lot of types at the federal and state level. Sometimes there are local options too. These include specific programs in transportation, water & sewer, downtown revitalization, FEMA, stormwater, and renewable energy. It is a little bit like college scholarships – there seems to be opportunities for about every application.
JD: What is the most challenging aspect of communicating infrastructure funding options to local officials and board members?
Becca: Keeping it simple. Funding can be complex and so can projects. That is why certain types of funding are perfect for a project and sometimes it is not. Keeping it simple helps them to understand what you are going after and why you are going after it.
JD: Is there a “one-pager” that you use to concisely describe each of the many options? If not, how do you explain the different programs to a wide range of leaders?
Becca: Mostly for me, it comes down to how the funding relates directly to the project. Different board members will have different technical experience and different experience in government. There are always hoops to jump through for all funding sources. Mostly it’s project by project.
JD: Many of the programs have a high level of reporting requirements during implementation. Have you been successful in helping local leaders appreciate this, or do you just get the money and deal with it?
Becca: The federal programs usually have a lot more requirements than the state programs. It can be challenging to keep up with all of them. You need good resources to understand what the current requirements are.
It is not just paperwork. Things cost more because more because you have to meet different requirements. Are you going to offset those by what you get with this funding? It can be everything from different interest rates and fees to different bidding requirements.
JD: What have you found to be the most effective way to communicate the many grant and loan options?
Becca: Some leaders want to save ratepayers money. Some may have an environmental sustainability goal or social issues. We are going to fix and repair what is out there, but you can also go above and beyond sometimes if it makes sense. Understanding what the leaders want helps match funding sources with projects. And it helps sell them too.
JD: How do you prevent local leaders from having you chase every new option?
Becca: Some of it is knowing what you are familiar with and working from that. There are also resources available to help you narrow it down. I think most of the time if you find a source that fits, you can reuse it again so that you are not chasing every new source that comes along. There are always tried and true resources you can use.
JD: Given the amount of aging infrastructure, the need for low interest loans or grants often has elements of desperation. How have you been successful in gaining the trust of local leaders that you are making the right choices or sufficiently exploring the most viable alternatives?
Becca: You have to communicate what you know and be honest in explaining “this works” or “we have done this research.” You often build trust by also saying we do not recommend this and show your justification why you recommend using something else. You have to talk simply and concisely. The leaders have to be able to communicate what you tell them among themselves and to others.
Rebecca Bowyer, PE, is Director of Engineering at ReWa, a special purpose district created by the General Assembly of the state of South Carolina with a commission consisting of 11 members who are appointed by the Governor upon recommendation by the legislative delegations of Greenville, Anderson, Laurens, and Spartanburg Counties. The Agency provides wastewater treatment services for residents and industries covering substantially all of Greenville County and portions of Anderson, Laurens, Pickens, and Spartanburg Counties.
Becca formerly served as Engineering Director at Beaufort-Jasper Water and Sewer Authority, a public non-profit utility located in the beautiful low country of South Carolina that serves over 63,000 retail customers, 8 wholesale customers, and 4 military installations. Prior to BJWSA, she served worked in project management and leadership roles in Rock Hill, South Carolina.
Becca is a graduate of Clemson University with a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering and a master’s degree in Environmental Systems Engineering. She is a licensed engineer in South Carolina and North Carolina and has over 30 years of experience in both the public and private sectors.
Becca has also contributed two other articles for Communicating with FINESSE related to effective communication for people who have trouble seeing and hearing: