Making Public Infrastructure a Catalyst for Economic Development and Community Prosperity

Making Public Infrastructure a Catalyst for Economic Development and Community Prosperity

February 6, 2024

By Jay Kennedy, Vice President, WSB

In the vast landscape of economic development, one key piece often remains hidden in plain sight: infrastructure. It’s not just about building roads and bridges; it’s about constructing the foundation for thriving communities and enticing businesses to bring jobs and investment.

Communities that invest in infrastructure with an eye to the future ensure they are the place that people and businesses want to be. Infrastructure is the lifeline that sustains economic progress. From utilities to public transportation to drinking water facilities, when these essential components are robust, designed with intention to the future and well-maintained, they create a fertile ground for businesses and communities to thrive.

Communicating with Businesses & Planning for the Future

The ‘build it and they will come’ approach, although powerful, isn’t the sole ingredient for sustainable growth. Communities need to actively engage with businesses and create an environment that welcomes investment.

Businesses looking for a community in which to invest can bring millions, sometimes even billions of dollars with them. Effective communication between communities and businesses is critical when it comes to infrastructure development. When local leaders say, “we are open for business,” they need the infrastructure and planning to back it up. 

When communities have plans that account for future development, population growth and supporting infrastructure, businesses can see a vision of why they should place their investment in that community.  

Relieving Infrastructure Stress & New Opportunities

There are also situations where upgrades and redesign can alleviate pressure on existing infrastructure and open new opportunities. Improving efficiency in public transportation and redirecting traffic from small community roads to major roadways, for example, can benefit both residents and local businesses. What starts off as one project opens the door for developers wanting to be a part of an up-and-coming area.

As infrastructure pressure is relieved and economic growth continues, it is critical to have a dedicated team that can manage an expanding community. It sends the message that the community is dedicated to growth, attracting even more investment.   

The Ideal Community: Balancing Residential and Commercial Zones

An ideal community strikes a balance between residential and commercial land uses, as well as public spaces. People prefer to live close to work and amenities. A blend of both residential and commercial spaces not only enhances convenience for residents but also attracts businesses looking for a customer base and workforce in proximity.

Collaborating Across the State and Region

Cities looking at their long-term community plans must ensure they also align with county-level planning and broader regional plans. Cooperation and coordination among various levels of government means that an infrastructure project is not operating in a silo, but instead part of a larger plan to drive people and businesses to the region.

How WSB Can Help

In Texas and beyond, the success of public infrastructure projects and planning is driving economic development. WSB is playing a pivotal role in communities throughout Texas, where expertise in smart infrastructure planning and execution has significantly reduced stress on resources while actively attracting businesses to the area.

WSB’s team can help with everything from community planning to public engagement to designing major infrastructure projects and more. We can help your community find ways to bolster economic growth and build infrastructure that fosters the long-term success of your community and region. 

Jay is a Vice President leading Texas operations. He has over 30 years of experience overseeing the management, planning, coordination, design and construction of municipal and civil engineering projects. He works with staff and clients seeking new business opportunities and developing local staff.

[email protected] | 512.518.1819

Transforming Hillcrest into The Heights

December 18, 2023

By Bob Barth, Director of Land Development, WSB

A visionary redevelopment project in St. Paul. 

When the Saint Paul Port Authority saw an opportunity to purchase the Hillcrest Golf Course in 2019, they sought WSB’s infrastructure planning and design experience to breathe new life into the 112-acre property on Saint Paul’s east side. Four years later, this unique project is under construction and promises new jobs and housing, expands the local tax base, achieves multiple green outcomes, and interweaves publicly accessible open space into its employment and residential settings.  

The Challenges & Opportunities of the Project 

The Hillcrest transformation into the Heights can be mapped across several stages: pre-purchase due diligence, master planning, design and construction. We joined forces with the Saint Paul Authority and other partners for landscape and sustainability to tackle these phases head-on, understanding the complexities of the project, as well as the great value it will bring to the community upon completion.  

One problem that had to be mitigated was mercury contamination on the site, due to chemicals used on the property when it was a golf course. Also, the property’s uniquely hilly terrain had to be adapted to industrial development, new roads and infrastructure. Remediation plans to clean up the site and ensure the design accounts for the landscape were critical for this project. 

Crafting Community Space 

At the heart of this redevelopment lies the aspiration to create a space accessible to the public – one boasting open spaces, park-like areas and captivating public art displays. The idea is that no matter where someone is, people are close to nature. 

There will be one million square feet of industrial space and one thousand new housing units, driving economic prosperity and diversity in the area. This a public project, and at its heart, it is focused on the greater needs of the community and how to develop a project that brings critically needed housing, jobs and opportunities for the east side’s residents and its emerging young workforce. 

An Accelerated Timeline for Community Need 

Originally slated as a decade-long endeavor, the Heights redevelopment project gained momentum due to overwhelming demands and protentional to uplift the area. Substantial completion is expected in 2025, with full project completion in 2026. 

A Chance for Change 

Our firm’s involvement in this transformative venture was no accident. The choice was driven by a deep-rooted experience in working with project partners like the City of St. Paul and Ramsey County, and a shared commitment to projects that elevate diversity and prosperity. With a profound understanding of the region’s pulse and a dedication to inclusivity, WSB was proud to be a partner to turn the Heights vision into reality.  

Forging a Brighter Future, Together 

As Hillcrest Golf Course evolves into The Heights, a hub of vibrancy and opportunity, the collaborative efforts of the Saint Paul Port Authority, WSB and other visionary partners amplify the community’s prospects. From navigating complex terrain to envisioning inclusive spaces, this project speaks to a brighter, more sustainable future for the east side of St. Paul – one defined by innovation, diversity, and an unwavering commitment to transformation. 

Bob leads WSB’s Land Development Services. Over his 26-year career, he has worked for both public and private sector clients, beginning as a water resource engineer and evolving into his current land development role. Bob’s current interest and a focus for WSB’s Land Development Group is sustainable redevelopment within urban communities.

[email protected] | 763.231.4876

Beyond Maps

December 18, 2023

By Justin Hansen, Director of GIS Services, WSB

How GIS is Driving the Future of Data for Clients

As technology evolves, so does the way we harness information. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) have emerged as a transformative technology, empowering organizations with location intelligence. At WSB, GIS isn’t just about maps; it’s about turning geospatial data into a powerful asset that fuels innovation and smart decision-making for clients. The work we do with integrating GIS with other systems provides a dynamic data-driven insights and action. 

Foster Data-Driven Asset Management and Community Engagement 

For government and municipal clients, GIS is a cornerstone technology. It doesn’t just create maps; it’s a system of record-enabling, efficient asset management. GIS is a system of engagement and can empower greater community insight. In Duluth, Minnesota we helped implement a GIS-driven app for citizens to report issues to the city like graffiti, downed signs or potholes. Appls like this bring maps, data and people together in real time.  

Drive Private Sector Solutions 

For commercial clients, GIS can help mitigate risk and drive informed decisions. For example, we collaborated with an insurance data analytics provider to infuse GIS into their products allowing them to offer a more cohesive approach to analyzing risk. GIS provides geospatial data-driven insights and predictive analytics that insurance carriers use to reduce risks and improve policyholder retention. This, in turn, empowers businesses to strategize effectively, minimizing potential losses and optimizing their operations. 

Enhance Safety and Prevent Damage 

Energy companies leverage GIS to enhance safety and prevent damage. These technologies provide location intelligence tools that can pinpoint potential risks and vulnerabilities with infrastructure and operations. This proactive approach enables energy companies to make informed decisions that protect their assets and improve operational customer safety. 

Support Multi-Dimensional Projects and the Future of Data 

As project operations become more complex and interconnected via technology, so do the dimensions of data. Our GIS solutions are future-ready, supporting integrations with Building Information Modeling (BIM) for 4D and 5D projects that add time-based and cost-based elements to the geospatial data. This advanced approach enriches decision-making and creates pathways for enhanced project data delivery, from complex urban planning to construction sequencing – offering a new level of insight. 

In the rapidly evolving landscape of data utilization, GIS is the compass guiding us toward smarter decisions, efficient operations and sustainable growth. We’re not just pioneers in integrating GIS across organizations; we’re partners in leveraging its power to shape the future of diverse industries. From the public sector to the private domain, GIS isn’t just about maps anymore – it’s about transforming data into a strategic advantage. 

Justin is the Director of GIS Services and leads WSB’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS) group. He has over 15 years of experience managing GIS projects, staff, software development, solutions design, systems integration, and GIS implementation. Justin works closely with our clients to implement GIS-based tools and systems that meet their needs, provide maximum value, and foster engagement.

[email protected] | 763.231.4846

League of Minnesota Cities Conference

Gaining valuable insights at the League of Minnesota Cities Conference

Bart Fischer, Senior Public Administrator, WSB

WSB recently attended the annual League of Minnesota Cities (LMC) Conference in Duluth. At this conference, more than 600 city officials and staff attended from different cities in Minnesota. LMC is a membership organization dedicated to promoting excellence in local government. The goal of the conference is to join city officials from across the state to develop new skills, discover ideas and show love for our cities. This year’s theme was “City Love.”

City officials and staff are incredibly knowledgeable when it comes to their cities and communities. As we thought through how we could engage with conference attendees, while also gathering valuable insights, the “City Love” theme brought us to two prompts: “What do I love most about my city?” and “If I had a million dollars for my city I would….”  We displayed two boards with the different questions at the exhibit hall and below is what we heard.

What do I love most about my city?

We received a number of different responses to this question; however, they all shared common themes. What city officials and staff love about their cities is their community. The people, diversity, infrastructure, and nature of a community is what people care about. City officials and staff work diligently to create a safe community with a high quality of life. Several of the responses reflected on open spaces, parks, trails, lakes, and wetlands.

What do I love most about my city

It is crucial to understand this information because it matters when making decisions for the future of the community. When city officials and staff are providing their best to their community it grows and strengthens the city.

WSB works to grow with them, and we want to strengthen our cities infrastructure through partnership. Understanding what is important to the people we work with allows us to better serve a city’s unique needs. We incorporate our client’s values to build what is next in infrastructure.

If I had a million dollars for my city I would…

On this board, the many responses reflected similar ideas, and all revolved around making their city better. Responses talked about infrastructure, parks, landscaping, safety, and economics.

If I had a million dollars for my city I would

Gathering this information, our team reflected on how WSB can play a role. We have collaborated with different communities to support their needs for nearly 30 years. Throughout this time, we’ve found that in many cases, one of the largest barriers to completing projects is funding. We work with cities to find a way to get their infrastructure projects completed from start to finish.

Following the conference, it was interesting to reflect on the collective responses from each question.  While many cities share similar needs and thoughts, the scale and specifics vary greatly because of their unique characteristics, geography, and constructs.  

Bart Fischer has over two decades of experience in public administration. Throughout his tenure, he’s worked in five Minnesota communities as the city or assistant city administrator. Bart joined our firm in 2019 as a senior public administrator and focuses on lending his public service expertise to our clients.

[email protected] | 651.485.1839