Lattatudes: Colors


By John Latta

by John Latta, Editor-in-Chief,

Chameleon, drab and ordinary, is faced with a bright red or green or yellow or white background. Chameleon’s thick skin changes color so that it blends into the background, comfortable in its own, new, skin.

It’s easy for him/her; nature takes care of the process, there’s no burning the midnight oil figuring out how to do it. It harder for us, but just as essential. Our industry has a modern history where not too much changed in macro terms, and in which we were able to make the subtle moves needed to adapt to what was out there. Contractors and agencies knew where the edges were, knew the boundaries, and could accommodate what was needed. They worked in a place where unpredictability was uncommon, where changes were met without a lot of fuss. Warm mix came along, okay we can handle that. Latex in concrete? Okay we can handle it. We can change our colors to accommodate those.

But back then the chameleon only had to change, relatively speaking, from brown to light brown or dark brown. Out of Washington later this year, or maybe next year, or even the year after, will come a reauthorization bill that may well require the chameleon to change from brown to rainbow. Quickly.

We cannot predict with any degree of certainty what a new bill will look like in this game. If this were poker, and it well might be, there are more wild cards than you’d expect at a fraternity poker night lit up with a keg and an unrestricted guest list.

Be you a contractor or a government agency, you must be ready for this administration to push through a reauthorization that demands that you change the way you’ve traditionally worked. No more browns. It is entirely possible that contracts will require “livability” provisions. It is also possible that the Highway Trust Fund will finance some roads and a new fangled formula will decide how to finance other road projects. Perhaps some of the stimulus provisions will be carried over into any new reauthorization bill. Perhaps you will have to show your “green” bona fides to get a contract. There are so many maybes.

Maybe the short-term, erratic stimulus model will remain the norm for years. Maybe you’ll see a need to work with other companies; maybe you’ll have to do more of what has not traditionally been your core work. Maybe you’ll have to go outside your comfort zone when you bid.

I know, I’ve been here before. My concern is that history shows us that when companies fail to change they can be undone very quickly, and sometimes the rigidity comes not from an inability to change or even an unwillingness to change but a lack of awareness that change is needed.

Imagine a brown chameleon on a white leaf. Easy pickings.v