3 reasons why public-private partnerships are the solution to building strong, sustainable cities
Posted in Business Insider
July 13, 2022

3 reasons why public-private partnerships are the solution to building strong, sustainable cities

Business Insider

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Projects like smart streetlights can be funded by public-private partnerships.

CPS Energy

  • City leaders can better prepare for the future when they partner with the private sector.
  • Public-private partnerships can improve outreach, speed, efficiency, connectivity, and cohesion.
  • These partnerships can also help cities pay for projects like smart streetlights and stay on budget.
  • This article is part of a series focused on American cities building a better tomorrow called "Advancing Cities."

City governments are taking on increasing responsibility in dealing with the effects of climate change by embracing technology. While many city leaders readily accept the challenge to prepare their municipalities for the future, they recognize that they often need to partner with the private sector — nonprofits, businesses, local organizations, and academics — to be most effective.

Brian Dillard
Brian Dillard.

Brian Dillard

"We can’t do this alone," Brian Dillard, San Antonio’s chief innovation officer responsible for finding solutions for improving city services, told Insider. "We need to reach out, get outside of our siloes, and acknowledge that there are people in the private sector who want to help and have the expertise."

headshot of Matthew Gonser
Matthew Gonser.

Courtesy of Matthew Gonser

Collaborative public partnerships can improve outreach, speed, efficiency, connectivity, and cohesion, Matthew Gonser, the chief resilience officer and executive director of Honolulu’s Office of Climate Change, Sustainability, and Resiliency, said, as well as build political will. Here’s a look at why they’re so beneficial.

They bring specialized resources to the table 

Working with the private sector allows cities to tap into a company’s expertise and resources, including modern technology, a skilled workforce, and sometimes funding, and better understand their challenges, efficiencies, strengths, and weaknesses, Gonser said.

For example, San Antonio’s SA Digital Connects is a public-private-community partnership with the city and companies, including USAA, Toyota, and Texas Mutual, that was formed to create a roadmap to expand digital connectivity across the city and implement the city’s Digital Equity Plan. The plan includes additional partnerships with AT&T, Google Fiber, and Spectrum to offer affordable internet access for low-income residents. 

"The partnership we have with the private sector, internet service, and telecom providers really needs to be strong," Dillard said. "Cities can’t solve this gap with digital infrastructure by themselves. We have to leverage funding and data." 

Data is crucial in digital inclusion projects, Dillard added, because it helps identify where internet service providers are building infrastructure and where cities can step in to ensure that municipal offices and community centers are connected.

They can come up with solutions quickly

headshot of Jessica Price
Jessica Price.

Courtesy of Jessica Price

Companies have expert insight into their industries, so they can work quickly to help cities strategize on the climate-resilient or technology projects that will have an impact, Jessica Price, the sustainability and resilience manager for Madison, Wisconsin, told Insider. 

"Cities can help leverage and grow this success through policy and programmatic support and highlight areas where city support is needed to overcome challenges," Price said. 

The city department of Atlanta Information Management created the Chief Information Officer (CIO) Advisory Board of members from the public and private sectors, including Georgia Tech, the Metro Atlanta Chamber (MAC), Delta Air Lines, and Cox Enterprises. The board meets quarterly to strategize on the city’s technology projects, including finding new investments, getting community buy-in, and identifying ways the public and private sectors can collaborate and address challenges.

They help fund initiatives

City budgets are usually constrained, and city leaders are responsible for being stewards of taxpayer dollars. Public-private partnerships can help cities pay for projects, like smart streetlights, and ensure that programs are completed on time and within budget

"It’s always a balancing act," Price said. "We’re doing our best with limited resources. Leveraging public-private partnerships make sure we’re doing things efficiently as we can to stretch taxpayer dollars to make them go a little bit further."

City leaders must understand the business model with any public-private partnership, including whether revenue will be generated, the business risks, and who’s paying for what and for how long. Projects need to be financially sustainable for the private as well as the public sectors.

To help win the US Department of Transportation’s "Smart City Challenge" and secure a $50 million grant, Columbus, Ohio, embraced public-private partnerships. The nonprofit Columbus Partnership, which is made up of CEOs from local companies, committed financial support to increase its smart-city projects’ viability and show community support for the projects. Being awarded the federal grant helped the city minimize risk for businesses, making the private sector more likely to contribute.

Brittaney Carter
Brittaney Carter

Brittaney Carter

Developing partnerships with the private sector starts with city leaders expressing a desire to collaborate, Brittaney Carter, chief technology officer for Atlanta said, adding that public-private partnerships benefit companies through heightened public recognition and improved perception just as much as cities.

"Setting up a time to share your vision and collaborate with the leaders on the other end of the table is enough to get it going," she said. "You do not need to build an entire program in order to collaborate. You can start with a smaller group, learn from the experience, tweak it, and keep going."

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insider@insider.com (Erica Sweeney)

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