I Love Bridges

Written by Nick Bjork, DJC Advertising Director, January 28, 2015

Death, taxes and, umm, infrastructure?

Infrastructure is a funny thing. Even though elements of it often define a city or region, its absolute importance to everyday life – not to mention how it’s funded – is rarely a hot topic of discussion amongst the citizens that use it.

A group of local A|E|C marketers is looking to change that by celebrating our infrastructure and promoting that dialog on a national level through the creation of their grassroots effort, the Infrastructure Fan Club.

I took a moment to discuss this effort with Josh Grenzsund, business development/marketing manager for Eugene-based OBEC Consulting Engineers and one of the folks leading the charge. Take a moment to read what he has to say about the group, and be sure to check out their Facebook page here,https://www.facebook.com/infrastructurefanclub?ref=br_tf

  • Tell me a bit about the Infrastructure Fan Club. The Infrastructure Fan Club is a way for people to express their admiration for infrastructure-related things in their lives that they depend on every day, but may take for granted. Anyone who drives on a road, flips an electrical switch, or turns a faucet on is already an infrastructure fan – the Infrastructure Fan Club is just an opportunity for us to look at familiar things in a new way and recognize how drastically different our lives would be without them.
  • How did it come about? It’s been about two years since my marketing team and I started looking for a way to launch something like this in the A/E/C industry. In January 2013, I went to see Jelly Helms give a talk called “The Importance of Storytelling”. Back at the office, I wrote the two guidelines he gave to the audience on my whiteboard: 1) connect with the purpose and importance of your work, and 2) tell the stories of that work taking place and the effects of the outcomes. When the ASCE gave US infrastructure an overall D+ in March of 2013, it really became clear that in the US there’s a disconnect between people’s reliance on infrastructure and our collective willingness to invest in maintaining and improving it. That disconnect became the problem statement that the marketing team started to tackle. We wanted a way to take the passion of the engineers we work with every day and fully connect it to the roads and bridges they design, the immense benefits that people enjoy from having functional infrastructure, and finally to a public demand (and willingness) to maintain it.
  • Who’s involved? It started out very small, just the marketing team at OBEC pitching ideas to each other. Once we landed on the Infrastructure Fan Club concept in the summer of 2014, we started sharing it with others to beta test it. We’ve only really started to launch it in the past six weeks, and so far we have reached out to about 20 A/E/C marketers at different consultant firms and industry organizations in Oregon, Washington, and California. Just last week I went on a tour of Churchill High School in Eugene and pitched the Club as part of my presentation to “STEM” students. Two teachers, a school board member, and about 80 engineering students pledged their membership.
  • Who are you trying to reach? The ultimate goal is to reach everyone who uses infrastructure. The message is simple: You use it, you love it- join the club! Infrastructure is awesome! The Facebook page carries posts that are fun to share, and the Zazzle store makes it easy for someone to get a t-shirt or coffee mug for the infrastructure lover in their life.
  • What is the main purpose of creating the club? The main purpose of creating the Infrastructure Fan Club is to help people to connect with each other and have fun sharing stories about something they already have in common- the engineered and built environment that makes our quality of life possible. By creating the Infrastructure Fan Club as an “open source” campaign for the entire A/E/C industry, we’ve designed a plug-and-play concept that people can take and adapt to their own circle of colleagues, friends, family, educators, and public officials. At OBEC, we’ve already started an Infrastructure Fan Club-inspired debate over which came first- the roadway, or the roadway engineer?
  • Obviously, funding infrastructure is always a major topic of concern for citizens, businesses and government, is your hope to teach people about the importance of funding infrastructure? For sure. I’ve spent time in countries where the infrastructure is not nearly as good as in the US, and in my experience, that lack of infrastructure makes life harder and rougher. Even here in the US, deficient or obsolete infrastructure undermines public health and safety, makes our businesses less competitive and profitable, and degrades our overall quality of life. Looking at it another way, it’s easy enough to ask someone what they have to do or enjoy doing each day- chances are, infrastructure makes it possible. Good infrastructure, good times.
  • With the legislative session approaching, infrastructure funding will be a major topic. Will you be using the club as a way to relay the importance of such issues to the people that will ultimately have a say in what is/isn’t funded? In this respect, the goal of the Infrastructure Fan Club is to engage and influence public sentiment in a fun and positive way that pressures our elected officials to effectively fund our critical infrastructure.
  • I know OBEC was heavily involved in the award winning Willamette Crossing I-5 bridge in the valley. Besides that, what are some of your teams’ favorite pieces of infrastructure in Oregon? There’s so many, and while we love ourselves some OBEC designs, a lot of our favorites were designed by our peers at other organizations, sometimes generations in the past. A few of them include the Crater Lake Rim Road, US 101, Old McKenzie Highway 242, the St. Johns Bridge (ok, any McCullough Bridge), and the new Tilikum Crossing in Portland.
  • In one year from today, what would be the group’s ideal impact that would make the effort successful? The idea of loving and taking care of our infrastructure is something that I think we can all believe in, and the Infrastructure Fan Club is a way for people who believe in it to make it visible. One year from today, when the camera pans across the audience at a 2016 presidential candidate’s event, we should be able to easily pick out an Infrastructure Fan Club t-shirt or poster. A year and a half from today, one of the presidential candidates should be wearing an Infrastructure Fan Club t-shirt at a photo op.