Are we investing enough in our water infrastructure? New data shows, the answer might be a little bit more complicated than it once was, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers) recently created a status report on COVID-19’s impact on America’s infrastructure—and the outlook is bleak.
Rural development loans and grants are being used to bring broadband Internet access to farms and small towns across the country. With many businesses and schools depending on remote work rather than in-person contact because of the COVID-19 pandemic, having Internet access is vital, not a luxury.
Nineteen recipients of a total of $75 million in federal grant funds under the Mississippi Broadband COVID-19 program, which is designed to help residents and businesses in unserved or underserved areas of the state get fast, reliable internet access in 2020, are required to match 50% of the overall cost of their individual project. This cost sharing approach will make the project a community partnership with the companies involved while allowing the companies to recoup their investments from long-term Internet access fees.
The Rural Development Program at the Department of Agriculture can be a funding source for small towns that have infrastructure plans but no capital. There are two programs, loans and grants, each with its own requirements and funding sources. Eligible borrowers include public bodies, community-based non-profit corporations, and Federally recognized tribes.
Direct Loans require repayment terms not longer than the useful life of the facility, the applicants’ authority, or a maximum of 40 years, whichever is less. Interest rates are set by Rural Development, and once the loan is approved, the interest rate is fixed for the entire term of the loan. Interest is determined by the median household income of the service area and population of the community. There are no pre-payment penalties.
The federal government is comprised of many departments, agencies, and commissions. Some deal with areas that would seem to be outside their mandate, if you think that mandate is found in their name. The USDA (Dept. of Agriculture), for example, would logically deal with crop and livestock issues but they also address other aspects of what is usually referred to as rural living.
Take for instance an investment the USDA is making in building a new campus for the Winooski School District in Winooski, Vermont. Winooski is a city of about 8,000 people adjacent to Burlington, a city of 43,000. Burlington is the home of the University of Vermont among other attractions while Winooski is the most densely populated municipality in northern New England, an area comprising the states of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont.
After months of economic pain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, states continue to revise their closure mandates for what have been deemed non-essential business. Shops are reopening, restaurants are serving (limited numbers of) people indoors, and customers have been venturing out, safely, once again.
What has been happening to those who have continued to work through the slowdown? The latest Paychex | IHS Markit Small Business Employment Watch shows that despite hiring remaining flat since its drop-off in April, employees of small business are seeing the benefits of solid wage growth. Hourly earnings growth was steady at 3.28% in August and weekly earnings continue to improve as the number of hours worked increases. The national jobs index stood at 94.39, moderating 0.21% from the previous month.
While the world is focused on the COVID-19 pandemic and some areas are literally locked down, essential work must go on. Nature isn’t waiting for the crisis to end, it will create its own crises this summer as it always does: thunderstorms, tornados, hurricanes, and other phenomenon. Across the country, workers are preparing for these normal summer events.
Con Edison crews are preparing to respond to any outages that occur as thunderstorms and powerful wind gusts hit the New York City area all while following the U.S. Centers for Disease Control guidelines during the health emergency. Personnel responding to the events have been instructed to practice social distancing with each other and members of the public in order to keep everyone safe from the coronavirus even as they battle natural events.
Your construction company has been disrupted. Projects were halted. Workers were furloughed. New safety procedures and processes were required. Companies that recognize this are taking proactive steps to determine what’s next—and how to move forward. Central to this is technology. Digital transformation, AI (artificial intelligence), 5G, the IoT (Internet of Things), biometrics, AR (augmented reality), VR (virtual reality), blockchain, robotics, and more have never been more important than they are today.
Beyond the need for technology due to a change in business, the numbers are also pointing us toward digital transformation. CompTIA (Computing Technology Industry Assn.) Emerging Technology Community lists the top three technologies today as AI, 5G, and the IoT, while Grand View Research projects the AI market will reach almost $391 billion by 2025, and ResearchAndMarkets predicts AI and IoT devices market will surpass $105 billion in North America alone. Reports also show that the global cellular IoT market is expected to climb 18.54% from the end of 2019 to 2025. Add in the fact that the pandemic is accelerating the need for digital transformation, and the outcome is going to be ramping up for the IoT on the construction jobsite.
Keeping workers safe, whether from injury or illness like COVID-19, will always be foremost in any company’s agenda. Applying technology will often aid management’s efforts in safety and using the artificial intelligence capabilities of some technology can improve the efforts. As the pandemic ebbs and flows, healthcare facilities are strained, new hospital projects are being expedited, and long-range planning for other infrastructure projects move forward to ensure the environmentally positive movement of needed resources.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, utilities and infrastructure operators are using technology to enhance emergency work, keeping communities safe while protecting workers from unnecessary virus exposure risk on priority field work. One approach is represented by products such as Urbint, a field risk management platform that predicts and prevents threats to critical infrastructure and the workers who maintain it.