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Top: Fast-paced growth in Forsyth County, Ga., led to a need for additional wastewater treatment services. The 1.25 mgd Fowler Water Reclamation Facility, commissioned under a design-build-operation agreement, began operations in 2004. Bottom: This 3.6 mgd water treatment facility in Marlboro, Mass., provides a supplemental source of drinking water to approximately 76,000 business and residential customers. It is operated by a staff of three. Photos: Woodard & Curran
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The North Fort Myers, Fla., utility is a 3.5 mgd wastewater treatment facility serving 15,500 customers. It is operated by a staff of nine.
The Right Firm

When selecting a firm, pay attention to several key factors:

  • There should be a demonstrated track record in achieving clients' objectives. Other things to look for are sustaining high performance, avoiding regulatory problems, and maintaining fiscal control. Client references always should be provided and the buyer always should contact them.
  • Look for financial stability, based on time in the business, the type of facilities managed, and an established reputation as a good employer and a good partner— responsive and creative. Firms that plan and invest for the long-term, value client service and build a record of stability.
  • Look for organizational stability as measured by the extent to which the firm has been bought, sold, or merged with other firms. Although business is business, it is relevant and meaningful to know that the firm you hire today won't change its name, ownership, culture, and management philosophies tomorrow. Can and will they be willing to discuss this with you? What is their long-term business and ownership philosophy?
  • Look for depth of technical and managerial expertise, based on services available from other areas of the firm. Firms that offer a blend of process engineering, instrumentation, and controls skills present a strong team to complement their managerial and operations and maintenance programs. These skill sets are invaluable resources when inevitable technical issues arise.
  • The firm's demonstrated commitment to staff training and health and safety is more important than its face value. Health and safety programs demonstrate sincere employee concern and discipline. Adult education support maintains professionalism, pride, and a personal care for the client's assets. Firms that value their employees and their clients take great pains to stress programs in regards to training, safety, and professional support.
  • Analyze the importance of your business to the firm. Will you a be a small fish in a company's project list, or can the firm demonstrate that clients of any size are valued equally, as exhibited by the high level of service and communication they report receiving?
  • A Successful Partnership

    Once selected, it is important to remember that the agreement defines a partnership. In troubled projects, the relationship takes the form of a contract. In this case, parties begin to identify each other in an us-versus-them context. The downhill slide is predictable, bumpy, and painful to all. Partners care about the financial, human, and technical well-being of each other. It is that simple and it is that important. To this end, experience has shown that successful partners:

  • Carefully define the goals of success and how achievement will be measured and monitored.
  • Assign communication liaisons.
  • Communicate openly about their successes and their concerns.
  • Carefully establish a communication format, both written and verbal.
  • Plan together.
  • Agree to respect and appreciate each other—offer kudos and criticism as both are earned.
  • Although this list can be expanded, these tenets constitute the foundation of a successful partnership.

    Following these guidelines will help you evaluate whether a ConOps alternative makes sense for your community's utility systems. Remember that the best potential partner not only will be pleased to assist you through this consideration process, but will be the first to tell you that the alternative is not in the best interest of either organization.

    McKeown is senior vice president for Woodard & Curran, Portland, Maine.