There are many opportunities for Canadian companies and professionals to export their infrastructure expertise just about everywhere in the world. But it can be complicated. Individuals and firms that aspire to export their goods and skills need to be experts not only in the work they do, but also in how to identify opportunities and organize their bids.
Here are a few pointers:
1. Know your opportunities
Foreign opportunities can be on a scale that dwarfs those proposed for domestic projects. For example, India's Smart Cities Mission, launched by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in June, proposes investing billions of dollars to upgrade the infrastructure and technology in 100 cities in areas ranging from waste management to electricity metering to parking and traffic management. India is also seeking to develop thousands of kilometres of industrial corridors, connecting regions with updated transportation and communications infrastructure to develop the country as a global manufacturing hub.
These initiatives create many different opportunities, says John Farrow, chair of Markham, Ont.-based engineering service company Lea Group Holdings Inc. His company is working on plans to refurbish five railways stations in Mumbai. There are many other opportunities. In March, Sidney Frank, Canada's Consul General in Bengaluru in Southern India, said that, "Canadian companies notably have significant expertise in project management and engineering services; transportation; water and waste water management; solid waste management; and safety, security and disaster management."
2. Expect the unexpected
Other countries and regions don't necessarily set up and manage their infrastructure process the same way that Canadian provinces and local governments do. Major projects ranging from the Channel Tunnel to nuclear station refurbishment can involve bidding, financing and navigating regulations over many years, and even then the obstacles can be huge. Bureaucracies will be different, there are arcane local rules, setbacks in timing and governments and partners that can change their minds. Circumstances can change and then change again. In the early 1990s, Canadians invested heavily in London's massive Canary Wharf project, only to become overwhelmed financially, yet later the project succeeded and Canadian development expertise is still in demand in Britain.
3. Get help
As Lea Group's Mr. Farrow says, it is important for infrastructure exporters to engage professional experts to guide them through bidding, hiring and government relations. Good public relations and communications in the target country are important, too – local communities always want to know if they are benefiting by letting foreigners build their infrastructure. Infrastructure work often involves local training and community relations, as well. For example, Canadian mining companies setting up mines abroad engage firms that specialize in building and managing hospitals, schools and community centres in the communities where they operate – often as a condition of being allowed to mine.
4. Understand your markets
Former U.S. House Speaker Tip O'Neill once said that "all politics is local," and this can be daunting for anyone in the infrastructure export business. In addition to the obvious need to be culturally sensitive, exporters should be prepared for people simply changing their minds about projects even after they have been started.
Canadians may be familiar with how Toronto has done this on transit, opting for a new subway line heading eastward after first lining up funding for a less expensive light rail transit (LRT) line. This kind of situation can happen in any country with any project. For example, Bordeaux's tramway system, which operates on surface routes with no overhead wires, was earlier conceived as a tunnel-based system, until there was widespread public objection.