BUILD A CONTACT LIST
Begin establishing contacts within other local agencies to find areas for collaboration or shared funding and resources. City public works department managers, for example, should know what projects their county counterparts are planning.
“If you make them aware of what you're trying to do, there might be someone at the county who plays matchmaker because they likely have more experience with grants,” Ismael says. “Also, be a face at your state capital. Meet with different agencies to talk about what your community is trying to do, not to talk about a particular grant but to talk about potential projects.”
Mendoza advocates reading trade publications and attending conferences to learn about grants.
No one knows that better than Bostic, who used to attend several annual conferences, where he met engineers, city managers, and other public works managers as well as the grantors themselves. These days he foregoes those trips to allow his staff to gain the experience.
“If I send two of my operators to Portland for three days, I can figure I'm going to spend $1,500, but it's worthwhile. They learn something, they bring back information, they make contacts,” says Bostic, who admits that he'd spend nearly half his time researching and writing grant proposals if the state didn't host meetings with funding agencies.
“You also want to set up a good working relationship with your local enforcement agency, such as the EPA, OSHA or the local health department. They don't want to fine you for not doing something right, so they're going to help you reach your goal,” Bostic adds.
Don't underestimate the generosity of local private benefactors, either.
Although the Shady Cove treatment plant didn't receive private funding, Bostic says other infrastructure projects, such as street improvements, have been funded partially by residents.
“Don't try to go to the other side of the world for funding,” he says. “It may be in your backyard.”Winning arguments
Four ways to win a grant or loan request.
There are the typical funding sources most public works managers know about, such as Community Development Block Grants, and then there are the lesser-known sources that are equally worth pursuing. And chances are that another agency has found a way to get it done.
“The biggest benefit is that I've made contacts with people who are doing the same thing we're doing on a daily basis,” says George Bostic, an Oregon public works director who's successfully appealed to both local and state sources for funding. “We learn from them and their mistakes, no matter what size city we are.”