Orange County Branch Newsletter

January 2022

President's Column

Connecting the Dots in 2022 and Beyond?

By Remi Candaele, PE | ASCE OC Branch President



As we enter 2022, I wish our members a very happy and prosperous new year.  It would be a shame not to recognize the accomplishments of the past year.  Our hyperactive Orange County Branch committees did not stop interacting and implementing activities: I counted over 60 events held during the past year.  I could not be prouder to belong to such a resilient and proactive organization.  I thank my predecessor, Clint Isa, P.E., for spearheading the efforts, and all of our volunteers for your contributions over the past couple of years.

Since September 2021, I personally enjoyed reconnecting with fellow members at in-person events, including:

  • Our Golf Tournament at the Aliso Viejo Country Club, which was attended by over 150 participants.
  • Our Annual History and Heritage and Student Night at the Fullerton Airport was attended by over 200 members.  Our Branch awarded $15,500 to meritorious students thanks to the generous donations of our sponsors.  We were honored by the presence of Society President, Denis Truax, P.E., PhD.
  • Our Geotechnical Institute hosted a presentation on the (tilting) Millennium Tower in San Francisco with nearly 100 people in attendance.
  • Our Environmental and Water Resources Institute hosted a site walk on the revitalization of the Santa Ana River in Anaheim, also known as the Orange County River Walk.

Feedback that I received from our Younger Member Forum, Sustainability, and Mentorship in-person events have been largely positive. I look forward to interacting further with our members this year.

While listening to many members at large, a common opinion that has become apparent is how straining the pandemic has been mentally.  Namely, our members have been tackling an endless succession of incoming projects, with limited talent availability, while pushing the boundaries of a healthy work-life balance.  Because I am neither a psychologist nor an expert in work-life balance, my notes that follow attempt to provide my initial take on the first two aspects.  Namely, I will stick to the economic forecast issued by local experts and identify a couple of tools that our engineering community has to offer. 

Is there an end in sight for the overheated pipeline of projects? Not in the short term (hang in there…). In its outlook for 2022, the California State University, Fullerton, Woods Center for Economic Analysis and Forecasting forecasts an unemployment rate in Orange County dropping from 5.9% in 2021 to 4.1% at the end of 2022, and 3.9% at the end of 2023.  Meanwhile, Chapman University’s 2022 economic forecast predicts a very strong economy for 2022 with a job growth of 5.0% in Orange County, specifically in the innovation sector.   Many economists disagree on the long-term forecast (beyond year 2023) due to the convoluted impacts of inflation (stallflation?), reposition market, and short-term electoral incentives, to name a few.

More federally funded Infrastructure projects are on their way. On November 15, 2021, President Biden signed the $1.2 Trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) into law.  The IIJA addresses the 17 categories outlined in the 2019 National Report Card and is anticipated to appropriate funding for projects for the next 5 fiscal years (i.e., through the end of Federal Fiscal Year 2026):

  • Nearly $500 billion for surface transportation systems, including roads, bridges, and transit systems.  California is guaranteed to receive $25.3 billion for highway apportioned programs, $4.2 billion for a new bridge program, $384 million to support the expansion of an electric vehicle (EV) charging network, and $9.45 billion to improve public transportation options.
  • $55 billion to upgrade water infrastructure and replace lead service lines throughout the country. 
  • $73 billion to rebuild our aging electric grid and ensure it’s ready for changing generation sources.
  • $50 billion to improve the resiliency of communities to better protect the nation against climate change, cyber-attacks and other aspects of the nation’s infrastructure. 
  • In addition, California has 805 high hazard potential dams. The IIJA provides $585 million for high hazard dam rehabilitation and $148 million for dam safety programs. 

While the funding dedicated by the IIJA may yield positive returns, the funding gap for infrastructure will continue to grow. In 2019, ASCE Region 9 released its Infrastructure Report Card and graded the overall State infrastructure with a C minus, meaning that California’s infrastructure is considered to be in mediocre condition and requires immediate attention.  A few references listed below draw a clear picture of the infrastructure upgrades that may remain:

  • The American Road & Transportation Builders Association identified nearly 4,400 bridges as needing repair in California and it is estimated that these repairs will cost about $12.2 billion.
  • In 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that a 20-year infrastructure need of $51 billion exists for necessary transmission, distribution, treatment and storage in California.
  • Estimates from the Association of State Dam Safety Officials and dam owners indicate that more than $2.5 billion in funding is needed to repair dams statewide.  Statewide, the California Department of Water Resources estimates that $80 to $100 billion must be invested in flood management.

How to find talented professionals? Finding talented professionals, or “unicorns”, in this state of the economy has become practically mission impossible.  An alternate approach might be to groom the leaders of tomorrow, starting with engineering internships. 

  • One of our prominent members, Kimo Look, P.E., has been working diligently to create a space that connects local engineering students to hiring public and private entities.  His initiative named Civil Engineering Internships does just that.  I invite you to check out the website and groom your next generation of talented professionals.

  • Another alternative is for public and private entities to post job descriptions directly on the Careers page of our website. We have received dozens of successful requisitions over the last few months.  Since we are mentioning our website, I sincerely congratulate our Website Committee, who was awarded the 2021 Outstanding Website Award by ASCE Society (of all the ASCE groups in the nation).  Special kudos to Chirath Karunathilake, Clint Isa, Gerardo Padilla, Haley Witzeman, Jenna Clark, Linh Mai, Marionne Lapitan, and Melissa Hilsabeck! 

That’s a wrap. ‘Til next time, take care of yourselves and please reach out with any questions or suggestions.


About the Author:

Remi Candaele, P.E., M.S., QSD/QSP, M.ASCE, is a Senior Project Manager at Huitt-Zollars, Inc. and the 2021-2022 President of ASCE Orange County Branch. Remi can be contacted at [email protected].


Advertisement:

Visit our Sponsor