National Public Works Week gives recognition to public works profession

R. Kevin Clark
Editor, APWA Reporter

Many communities in the U.S. and Canada will celebrate National Public Works Week (NPWW) May 18-24 in a variety of ways to enhance the public works profession in the eyes of the public. NPWW is your best opportunity to inform the public about how public works professionals contribute to everyone’s health, safety, and comfort. The 2003 theme is “The Strength of Public Works.”

Successful activities, many conducted through the cooperative efforts of APWA chapters, have included:

  • Proclamations hailing NPWW signed by governors and mayors
  • Luncheons and dinners with prominent guest speakers discussing public works projects and civic affairs
  • Presentations honoring individuals and agencies
  • Open houses and tours of public works facilities
  • High school students working with public works administrators for a day
  • Parades featuring colorful public works equipment
  • Encouragement of talented young people to prepare for careers in public works
How will your agency or department celebrate National Public Works Week this year? Perhaps you’ll be involved in activities such as those planned by the Transportation Department of Polk County Government in Bartow, Florida. The department consists of 297 employees, has an operating budget of approximately $20 million, a five-year capital improvements program of over $185 million, and serves more than 500,000 people in the county.

According to Transportation Director Mike Herr, NPWW is an opportunity for the department to communicate with its customers about the role of the Polk County Transportation Department in their daily lives. “We use the promotion of National Public Works Week as a way to explain to the public about transportation services, the revenue and expenditure side of our operating budget, and our capital improvements program,” Herr said.

The setting each year for the department’s NPWW celebration is the Eagle Ridge Mall, a large retail shopping mall in Polk County. The promotion consists of an equipment show that displays some of the equipment used by the department’s Roadway Maintenance and Traffic Operations Divisions. In addition, all four of the divisions—Roadway Maintenance, Engineering, Transportation Planning, and Traffic Operations—organize a series of Public Information Displays to better inform the public about the department’s services.

“We have information tables set up for each of our divisions to support our displays,” said Herr. “We have an opportunity to address questions, take notes, and follow up. Last year we reached over 1500 citizens. We took the time to explain our department, the services we provide, our cost, and projects we’re working on.”

The department also gives out door prizes during the weekend at the mall. In order to qualify for a door prize a person needs to visit every display. “We feel it’s important that they walk away with something about our department,” Herr said.

“Keep our people pumped up”
Just prior to National Public Works Week in Polk County each year, the NPWW proclamation is read aloud in the Board of County Commissioners’ meeting room in the County Administration Building. Polk County management and staff are invited to participate in accepting the proclamation.

Following the equipment show and information displays at the mall, Polk County’s NPWW celebration concludes with an appreciation and recognition luncheon that takes place following Memorial Day. Each year the department invites to the luncheon county commissioners, the county manager, the deputy county manager, and all of the staff who participated in the information displays at the mall.

“Last year we had three commissioners and our county manager at the luncheon,” Herr said. “Of course, we also had our entire staff. We do a lot of celebrating and promoting, because we view National Public Works Week as an opportunity to improve morale and help keep our people pumped up. After all, it’s tough working in government.”

According to Herr, it was an honor to have three commissioners attend the luncheon. “To have three commissioners there shows the respect they have for our program,” he said. “Also, it was an opportunity for us to communicate with three elected officials about what we do, why we do it, and what our needs are. Because, let’s face it, they appropriate money. So that was a great opportunity for us.”

This year the department is going to take advantage of something that is common in many malls across the U.S.—the multiplex movie theatre. “There is a large theatre complex at the mall with four or five auditoriums,” Herr said. “This year we are going to rent some time on the screens and communicate what National Public Works Week is all about. For the people who may have come to the mall just to see the movie, maybe we can catch them while they’re there.”

“How To” guide will help
The Polk County Transportation Department is just one example of the many celebratory events that were conducted last year during National Public Works Week. We’d love to hear how you are planning to celebrate NPWW in 2003. Just go to the National Public Works Week website ( and click on “Tell us about your NPWW outreach.”

APWA headquarters is providing chapters with material to help publicize NPWW. A “How To” guide for planning your National Public Works Week is being sent to public works departments across the U.S. and Canada (if you haven’t received yours in the mail, please contact us at 800-848-APWA to request one, or go to In addition, APWA marketing staff are working with world-renowned illustrator Gary Kelly on the 2003 NPWW poster, which will be available for purchase in early February.

A major highlight of NPWW will be the disclosure of the “Top Ten Public Works Leaders of the Year” for 2003. A panel of knowledgeable judges will examine the accomplishments of the nominees who have contributed so much to the entire public works field. They will narrow the nominations down to the ten winners, who represent all public works officials.

Individual ceremonies will be held for the winners in their hometowns, at which they will receive attractive plaques. APWA will release the winning names and information of their accomplishments to newspapers, magazines, radio, and television stations. A feature article announcing the winners will appear in the May issue of the APWA Reporter.

If you have questions regarding the promotion of National Public Works Week, please contact Jon Dilley, Manager of Marketing and Graphic Design, at 1-800-848-APWA or at