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Meet AECOM Senior Consulting Manager Toni Horst

Meet AECOM Senior Consulting Manager Toni Horst

 December 01, 2022

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AECOM’s People Spotlight series provides an inside look at the company's technical experts around the world.

AECOM highlighted Toni Horst, Senior Consulting Manager from the Transportation business line in the U.S. East region - and provided insight into her inspiration and work.  

As the leader of AECOM’s national economics infrastructure practice, Toni supports its clients with economic analysis to bolster their decision-making, as well as making the case for project investment. She and her team help clients with the development of grant applications and implementation strategies, as well as grant administration and grant manual development.

Since the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), also known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), was enacted in 2021, Toni has played an integral role in helping AECOM clients develop and implement funding strategies and position their projects to attract IIJA funding through multiple discretionary programs.

Toni holds a doctorate in Regional Science from the University of Pennsylvania and a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Government from Oberlin College, Ohio. 

An interest in cities and infrastructure 

Toni was always interested in why cities and regions exist, and what makes some grow and prosper while others decline. "Consider the region of the United States once known as the Rust Belt, for example. Some cities recovered and are thriving, while others are still struggling due to an industrial decline that started over 40 years ago. Why do some places succeed while others don’t?" says Toni. 

Toni's interest in cities led to an interest in infrastructure, since transportation and infrastructure are key to helping cities thrive. She explains, "I specialized in urban and regional economics in graduate school, and wrote my dissertation on how people find jobs, and how your location within a city often influences not only your access to transportation but also your social access, and how that affects your ability to find jobs.@  

After finishing her doctoral degree, Toni worked for a small startup called Economy.com, now known as Moody’s Analytics, as a senior regional economist. "When I saw that AECOM was looking for someone to focus on how highways can be used to spur economic development in impoverished and rural areas, this was like catnip for me, and the rest is history. I’m lucky to work with a group of extremely talented people that make up our economics team here at AECOM," explains Toni.

Different projects offer different rewards 

"Different projects have different rewards," explains Toni. "I love working on big projects that have huge impacts, but it’s also extremely rewarding to work on smaller, local projects or help more rural communities that have fewer resources. It’s fun to help them move their projects along by connecting them with AECOM’s capabilities. The variety of perspectives that our economics team brings to these projects is key to this forward movement."

"In Willmar, Minnesota we helped develop a rail project that decreased the number of trains that needed to pull into the rail yard downtown. Every single part of the community — residents, the city, county, state and economic development authority, as well as the BNSF Railway and other private businesses — pitched in to move the project forward. When we needed pictures for the grant application, somebody called the newspaper, and the newspaper photographer came out and took some pictures for us," reflects Toni. "Our application secured funding through the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) competitive grant program, and we did the downstream work, adding a rail connection between two existing BNSF railway lines and modifying surrounding roadways to better move freight through the city of Willmar."

Positively impacting the community 

Looking at how her work positively impacted the community, Toni shared that through the team’s economics work, they collaborate with communities to gain funding for their projects.

"Helping people move their projects forward and then seeing those projects come to fruition is extremely rewarding. One example is in Lexington, Kentucky, where the city wanted to build the Town Branch Commons trail. The trail connects many parts of Lexington, sewing them into a loop and closing the gap between the downtown parks and two major trails. The city had tried and failed to get project funding on its own. We were able to help them make the case to the United States Department of Transportation for the project by tightening up the details and explaining the importance of the project for the city — why it represented more than just recreation. AECOM was part of the team that designed it, incorporating green infrastructure for improved water quality. The trail opened in October 2022, and I’m looking forward to spending a long weekend in Lexington to see the project as it’s been realized," says Toni.

A great platform for learning new things 

Toni shares a piece of career advice: "Say yes! Be open to assignments, even if they’re unusual, because you’ll learn something useful through the assignment that you can bring back to your main course of work. You may discover a new interest that you didn’t know you had. AECOM is such a great platform for learning new things and doing multidisciplinary projects. Find every opportunity to take advantage of that."

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