I attended the 2014 Rail-volution conference looking at trends in economic development and transportation oriented development. This past year we worked with some large scale TOD projects that included high speed rail projects in North America. It was interesting to see the different approaches programs in a variety of states where pursuing. One key difference revolves around have the core of the funding be public or private backed. Both options have their advantages and complications. Public funding is very politically complicated, involving more effort in securing support, but possibly providing stronger alignment going forward. Private funding tends to have deeper pockets and makes more ambitious projects possible. The complications on the private side involves alignment to public interest vs. corporate and ultimately long term ownership and maintenance of the solutions. Both have their advantages and can be combined into Public + Private ventures.
Another major variable involves the inclusion of foreign investment capital. I’ve been involved in a number of regional investment conversations with foreign nations. In today’s world climate, north america represents one of the few stable regions in the world today for investing, especially in infrastructure. Many countries have strong capital reserves they desperately need to invest, but the idea of global markets is a risky proposition and north america is very attractive. Have countries invest in America, its infrastructure, and its future is a great way to increase relationship with foreign powers. In most cases, foreign investors are very flexible no the ownership issues, preferring regional ownership long term, and looking more at security of capital and returns.
These investments get more interesting and regional impact increases when multiple stakeholder groups come together. When you combine transportation investments built around new innovation centers, education centers, industry parks, research parks, conference centers, etc – then a multiply effect comes into effect where you are creating new capabilities for the region and career / lifestyle options that attract and retain the next generation of talent. Again, it also pays to look past ones primary project into parallel efforts. For example: Transportation projects also change adjacent real estate value and possibilities. Combining efforts through joint ventures with other real estate development groups can be a great multiplier for support and financing.
This event was a great showcase of projects and approaches. Networking with economic development firms and state agencies was fantastic and factors into ongoing networking. Looking forward to attending the next event.