A Publication of WTVP

In 2003, local Peoria leaders gathered to develop a network of business executives, policymakers, and scholars from around the globe to discuss topics related to the construction field. With the help of chairman Dr. Amir Al-Khafaji, the 2004 International Construction Innovation Conference (ICIC) became a success. On October 30 and 31, the second ICIC will take place in Peoria once again. Al-Khafaji is the executive director of the Center for Emerging Technologies in Infrastructure (CETI), the organization that hosts the conference.

“In addition to the ICIC, the CETI continues to host two annual conferences: the Asphalt Pavement Innovations Conference, and the National Traffic and Transportation Conference,” Al-Khafaji said. “The CETI has also organized and hosted special seminars and workshops, such as helping minority business enterprises. It’s our expectation that the CETI will evolve into a major organization recognized around the world as a leader in infrastructure partnership development and business alliances.”

The first ICIC consisted of 37 members from seven different countries who met in Peoria to discuss specific topics chosen at a previous planning meeting in Chicago. During this meeting, subcommittees were formed and charged with the task of identifying specific topics and speakers for the conference in predetermined areas of construction innovation. Later, through the implementation of “ideation sessions” (a continuing process developed by Caterpillar, Inc. for exploring new ideas in equipment), specially invited ICIC attendees were able to participate in and offer insight to Caterpillar. In these sessions, a brainstorming process was used to identify future products, services, and research needs to help in their future planning.

“At first, many weren’t convinced it would be possible to bring quality people from around the globe to Peoria for networking opportunities,” Al-Khafaji said. “Fortunately, we had a few believers who relished the chance to contribute to this novel conference and to our community.”

Another difficulty when planning the conference was that Peoria—while ahead in many areas of construction and innovation—wasn’t exactly at the center of international travel. “The biggest challenge was convincing executives to participate in an international conference in Peoria,” Al-Khafaji said. “As many have advised, if you want a major conference, you need a major city with a major airport. I’ve always believed that a person of character bends circumstances to his or her will. Needless to say, we prevailed in convincing many CEOs to become active members of our ICIC network.  During our planning meeting in February 2006, a scholar from England told Mayor Ardis that he saw more CEOs at our planning meeting than he’d seen at any other international conference!”

At that meeting, 62 worldwide ICIC members, including Mayor Ardis, provided suggestions and insight that ultimately developed the ICIC 2006 program content, speakers, and topics. Some of the changes implemented in this year’s conference include the addition of a conference DVD and Construction Innovations 2006 book, along with $2,000 in grants for students and scholars. Also, the ICIC has expanded to 311 members from 21 different countries, all coming together for the conference’s mission: “Partnering to Build a Better World.”

Al-Khafaji said that a network of business executives, policymakers, and scholars such as this seldom has “the opportunity to interact in formal or informal settings, yet are always involved in making decisions relative to major infrastructural projects. The objective is to promote business alliances and joint ventures, pursue basic and applied research, align and leverage new partnerships, and secure new funding sources through the interaction of these entities.”

The conference will begin on October 29 with a riverboat dinner cruise hosted by Caterpillar Inc., where invited guests can begin to socialize and network. Caterpillar will also hold an equipment demonstration. “Each day of the conference is packed with informative sessions that impact the industry,” Al-Khafaji said. “Topics ranging from the O’Hare modernization effort, to worldwide innovations in materials and products, to specific opportunities like the business opportunities in Iraq will be presented.”

Al-Khafaji noted that two “Ideation Sessions” on the topics “Heavy/Highway Construction” and “Building Construction” will be sponsored by Caterpillar Inc. and follow the informative sessions. “Additionally, we hope to hold special group meetings for some of the VIPs attending this conference and pursue possible joint ventures,” he continued.

This year’s ICIC appointed honorary chairs include Chicago mayor Richard Daley, Caterpillar Inc. Chairman/CEO Jim Owens, and Bradley University President David Broski. The conference also has an impressive list of speakers and committee members. Because of its extensive group of attendees, the 2006 ICIC is expected to be unlike any other conference in the field. “Most other conferences are academic in nature, where professors present scholarly papers on research conducted,” Al-Khafaji said. “Other conferences are geared more towards a seminar, in which a specific topic is taught in a continuing education format. There’s  no conference that has this global network of the three entities consisting of government officials, academic scholars, and construction industry leaders. We believe that the ICIC is truly giving our community unparalleled opportunities to shine and lead across the globe.”

Future plans for the ICIC include possibly transferring leadership of the event from Al-Khafaji to an international board that will help make decisions relative to location, logistical issues, and conference themes. Also, the event may be moved to another venue. “In order to broaden the international aspects of the conference, it’s anticipated that the conference venue won’t [continue to] be in Peoria,” Al-Khafaji said. “The next conference may be held at  major transportation hub such as Chicago, and future conferences may even be held in international cities around the world. We expect the network to continue to grow to more than 1,000 executives from government, education, and industry.”

Al-Khafaji hopes to make future conferences more available to students as a research tool to help develop them as future leaders in the field. He also has great expectations for the field of construction in the future with the help of the contacts made through the ICIC. “We believe the next 10 years hold significant promise for the development of new partnerships between universities, industries, and governments represented on our ICIC network,” Al-Khafaji said. “We see significant alliances developing in the areas of temporary and prefabricated housing, online construction management initiatives, total quality management, technology transfer, workforce training, and other research. Such alliances could provide leadership and technical expertise to regions affected by natural disasters and war devastation.”

However, many people have misconceptions about the ICIC, often thinking it’s funded by the government or organizations such as Caterpillar or Bradley University. “I take these as compliments, because they reveal the degree of success we’ve achieved in such a short time,” Al-Khafaji said. “The true heroes are individuals who have faith in the original vision and support it with hard work to make the dream become a reality.”

Other examples have to do with the construction field itself. “One relates to the image people have of the construction profession— having to work with a pick and shovel or hammer and saw,” Al-Khafaji said. “The managers of construction today need to retain skills in almost all areas of life—people skills in leading and managing, business skills in accounting and marketing, computer skills for estimating and scheduling, knowledge of safety and legal issues, political and community activities…the list could go on and on. We have much we can learn from others.”

While Al-Khafaji is an important part of the ICIC, he claims that without the help of many others, the conference couldn’t be as successful as it’s come to be. “Although it’s my responsibility to handle the day-to-day planning and strategizing of the ICIC, many fine people from around the world helped bring this conference to fruition,” Al-Khafaji said. “I’m proud to say that through the process of building the ICIC network, we’ve connected with many exceptional individuals from across the globe. I’ve always maintained that nothing great can ever be achieved without the help and support of good people, and I’m good at finding them. A conference of this stature couldn’t be implemented without the help, support, and encouragement from an understanding family and faithful friends.”

For information on the ICIC, visit IBI