Owners, contractors and other industry participants joined in Washington, D.C., to preview and debate market prospects and how risk-taking and value creation are key connections for the the industry's future.

Michael Shapiro, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency deputy assistant administrator of water, emphasized to the Sept. 11-12 conference, sponsored by ENR and owners group Construction Users Roundtable, the agency focus on sustainability. Infusing traditional infrastructure techniques with green steps can help build "21st-century urban stormwater management systems … to achieve the most sustainable use of water," he said.

Rayola Dougher, senior economic advisor for the American Petroleum Institute, gave a bullish overview of prospects for natural gas-related work spurred by the growth of exploration using hydraulic fracturing in shale deposits. She claimed shale exploration could add 100,000 jobs in construction by 2015.

Industry lobbyists debated the effects of what Congress has and has not accomplished so far this year.

Panelists in one session focused on how risk-taking on projects and business ventures generated value. HDR Vice President Sam Abi-Samra, recounting the design firm's role in an unconventional but award-winning energy biomass project for onion producer Gill's Onions, said owners could "turn potential risk on its head by thinking outside the box."

In sharing views on work-life balance and future issues, five young industry professionals sparked a lively exchange in the audience, which clearly skewed older.