InTrans / Oct 18, 2017

Impacting the future of transportation construction: CMAT supports DBEs and small cities/counties across Iowa

Jennifer Shane is looking forward to a future full of “movement.”

People are always moving, sometimes just down the road or sometimes across the state, and that means that transportation construction plays a key role in how they’ll get there.

As Director of the Construction Management and Technology (CMAT) Program at Iowa State University’s Institute for Transportation, Shane is dedicated to helping disadvantaged businesses, small cities and counties, and project planning teams make a powerful impact on the future developments in transportation construction.

A disadvantaged business enterprise or DBE may be classified as a for-profit small business that is owned and operated by someone socially and economically disadvantaged, but to CMAT, there is no “little guy.”

And to government sponsors of transportation projects, the same is true, as they are deliberating, encouraging, and supporting DBEs whose strong economic force can provide jobs for diverse community members later on.

“We provide training and support on the technical, construction, and marketing ends to help these companies compete for contracts and work with larger businesses,” says Shane.

In the past year, the CMAT Program has provided a workshop on accounting to help DBEs with bookkeeping and another workshop on using cost estimation to help them make better bids for government contracts.

And when it comes to marketing, the CMAT Program often contracts with ISU design and programming students to provide DBEs with graphic design services for logos, cards, letterheads, and basic web services. Shane says this partnership gives students real-world experience and gives DBEs “the benefits of professionally-designed materials they can use when interacting with other businesses.”

But the CMAT Program’s outreach efforts are only part of Shane’s vision of the future. Their current research efforts include a $172,590 study funded by the Iowa Department of Transportation looking at the long-term costs that small cities and counties incur for large, expensive pieces of construction equipment.

The research builds on and expands the scope of a 2017 study done by Kevin Scheibe and Sree Nilakanta, both ISU associate professors of information systems, who were looking at ways to optimize the life of equipment such as snow plows, fire trucks, and street sweepers.

While the original study only looked at two different snow plows, the CMAT Program’s research study includes a wide range of different vehicles.

“We’ll be looking at the type of equipment, equipment records, and systems used,” says Shane.

The benefits could be significant to small cities with tight budgets.

“Through our evaluation, we’ll be able to recommend optimal service schedules for each piece of equipment, determine when repairs will not be cost-effective so equipment replacement should be considered, and help gauge when they’ll need to buy new equipment, so they can put these big-ticket items into their long-term budgets.”

Helping small businesses grow stronger and small cities and counties plan for a more productive future are just two ways the CMAT Program is moving transportation construction forward.