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Building Relationships that Advance Innovation

State Transportation Innovation Councils (STICs) across the country use different approaches to select and deploy innovations. Sharing, learning, and borrowing from these different approaches is the heart of the National STIC Network.

During a National STIC Network meeting in January, representatives from Ohio described how they reinvigorated their STIC to increase participation, and Idaho representatives detailed partnerships that have produced a successful workforce development program. Ohio and Idaho were also recognized during the meeting as two of three States, along with New Jersey, to receive a 2022 STIC Excellence Award for their efforts to foster a culture of innovation.

FHWA Executive Director Gloria Shepherd, who was appointed in October 2022, opened the meeting and noted that innovation and technology are among her top priorities. She encouraged participants to continue networking and sharing ideas and innovations in science and technology as well as policy and program implementation.

Ohio Reboots Its STIC

Ohio’s efforts to reenergize its STIC began by benchmarking STICs in five other States to gain best practices. The benchmarking categories included membership, meeting structure and frequency, connections with outside groups, leadership, and outreach. Richard Winning, Executive Financial Advisor and Innovation Coordinator for the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT), said this effort resulted in strong working relationships with peers at the STICs in those States and new ideas to borrow and apply in Ohio. It also led to expanding and diversifying the Ohio STIC’s membership to bring in members from the State’s rural transportation planning organizations (RTPOs) and higher education institutions.

Another result was revising Ohio’s STIC Incentive funds application scoring process to increase transparency and objectivity. The STIC’s previous process for selecting projects for funding involved an informal small group at ODOT. In revising the process, Ohio borrowed and customized a STIC Incentive application form from Utah, created an objective scoring criteria template, and established an application review subcommittee consisting of FHWA, ODOT, county engineers, RTPOs, and metropolitan planning organizations.

“We had a very successful venture right out of the gate,” Winning said of the new process. “We opened it up to locals and all of ODOT, and we had 11 applications for STIC Incentive funds our first year.”

Ohio’s STIC rejuvenation aligned with ODOT’s One Red Lion savings initiative, which focused on achieving $100 million in operational savings over a 4-year period that could then be reinvested into the State’s transportation network. Winning said that as of January, ODOT had received more than 2,000 suggestions overall and saved more than $113 million dollars, and hundreds of ideas are still being evaluated.

ODOT Chief Engineer David Slatzer said one of the things they have tried to stress in Ohio is that the STIC should not be thought of just as an opportunity to seek funding, but as a forum to foster the innovation necessary to move the organization, and the profession overall, forward. “We’re viewing this as an opportunity to collaborate with academia, local governments, and our industry partners to really tackle issues that are important to all of us,” he said.

ODOT Director Jack Marchbanks added that their current transition from a mindset of being infrastructure stewards and owner-operators to providing mobility as a service to all of Ohio requires innovative thinking across the enterprise.

“We are in the midst of a paradigm shift when it comes to transportation, and it is as monumental as the time, over 120 years ago, when we were going from horse and buggy to combustion vehicles,” said Marchbanks. “So it is absolutely necessary that innovation not only be something that the STIC does, but that it becomes part and parcel to our DNA—that innovation is ingrained into everything we do.”

Worker in Idaho using a Catepillar for road work. Large rocks in the foreground.

Idaho partnered to expand the reach of workforce development training.

Credit: Idaho Transportation Department

Idaho Partners for Workforce Solutions

In 2014, the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) undertook a partnership program to address the challenges of attracting people to work in heavy highway construction. The result is a workforce development program called Idaho Career Opportunities—Next In Construction (ICONIC).

ICONIC ran as a heavy equipment operator training program in 2014, 2017, and 2020. The 2022 program was different in that it was offered at sites in three different parts of the State—a geographic approach that took the training to where the need and participants were located. The 2022 program also expanded training offerings to include concrete cement masonry and welding and ironwork.

The 5-week program includes additional trade skills such as forklift operation and flagging, and it boosts employment readiness through resume and cover letter writing pointers and mock interviews. In addition, ICONIC offers support services to help break down the barriers students may face when trying to seek training and enter the trades. This has included help with short-term housing and fuel and childcare costs. The program has also purchased personal protective equipment for students such as hard hats, hearing protection, vests, and safety goggles.

The 2022 class saw an increased interest from female students, with 40 percent female participation. Also, after moving the training from fall to spring to coincide with construction season, the program’s employment rate increased. To recruit the spring 2023 class, ITD Workforce Development Program Manager Jessika Phillips took a new approach to reaching potential participants by using an online form accessible with a QR code to help increase the number of applicants.

“This program wouldn’t be possible without the number of partnerships that we have built,” said Phillips. Partners have included the Idaho Workforce Development Council, Idaho Associated General Contractors, colleges, technical and trade schools, and local highway construction contractors. They’ve also partnered with Idaho’s Tribal Nations, who help identify students and fund some of them, and with the International Rescue Committee, an organization that assists refugees in applying their skills to jobs here in the United States.

“Two unique things that I think have made this a great program,” said ITD Chief Engineer Blake Rindlisbacher, “is this is a huge partnership, not just ITD and not just the State of Idaho. This is across our State and has a lot of people engaged. Also, changing the program as the dynamics require has been very good because it needs to be fluid. We intend to keep the program going—it’s a great way for us to continue to attract, interest, and invite people into the highway industry.”


Listen to the January 2023 National STIC Network Meeting webcast.

Contact Sara Lowry of the Federal Highway Administration for more information on the STIC Network and STIC Incentive program.

Notice: The U.S. Government does not endorse products or manufacturers. Trademarks or manufacturers’ names appear in this article only because they are considered essential to the objective of the document.

Recommended Citation: U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration - Washington, DC (2023) Innovator Newsletter, March/April 2023, Volume 16 (95). https://doi.org/10.21949/1521904