Imagine a major infrastructure build not in bricks, mortar and steel, but in terms that more precisely define our advanced economy such as proximity and velocity, increasing the speed at which we get things done.
That’s the opportunity we have before us – to transform our country by focusing on infrastructure that brings people closer together physically, emotionally and productively.
First, we need to focus on the right investment. A lot of old thinking focuses on pot-holed highways and collapsing bridges, but if we want to create a 21st Century economy with growth, wealth and possibilities for everyone, then we better think differently.
Listening to political candidates address the issue, whether Republican or Democrat, is depressing.
“It’s crumbling, it’s collapsing,” they say. We don’t need to know that our infrastructure is failing, what we need is a vision for how to seize a tremendous opportunity.
We also need to fund that investment. This is not going to happen without a National Infrastructure Bank, a bank that is big enough to make a difference, leveraging at least $1.5 trillion in private capital through 2025.
Additionally, we need to leverage technology and ingenuity to transform our infrastructure bureaucracies into innovation agents who are capable of incubating new technologies, managing performance of new initiatives, and driving radical reform in the permitting and approval process (which currently averages more than 9.5 years per project).
This is the defining moment for the president who assumes office on Jan. 20, 2017.
We stand at a true inflection point in the debate. Great infrastructure changes everything because it brings everyone together, takes us all somewhere together, and tells us – in the way that only public symbols can do – who we are as a country.
World class infrastructure investment bears the hallmark of an incredible competitive advantage that guides everyone closer into a new reality that we all envision, build and share.
How does my world change if the physical distance between New York and Washington, D.C. is reduced by the equivalent of 150 miles through high-speed maglev service; or if an autonomous vehicle takes an extra 30 minutes to reach my 3D manufacturing collaborator; or if my stake in waterways means that I can bring global markets 2,000 miles nearer, and in doing so increase profits and reduce carbon emissions?
This is the vision that matters, unleashing our savings, our imaginations and our incredible new technology to bring us closer in ways unimaginable in the last century. That old industrial model is exhausted and has been for more than 30 years. Investment in highways and bridges is no longer believable as a reliable source of progress. Ask the millennials if they get up in the morning thinking of new highways and bridges?
Here are the results that we’ll see, almost immediately, if we forget about the old paradigm and adopt a modern initiative:
First, a vigorous infusion of capital (doubling to 3 percent of GDP) will elevate us to global leadership in imaginative infrastructure, generating a whopping and sustained increase in national growth in the 4 percent range (since the recovery our average annual growth has been a measly 2.1 percent). New industries will emerge. It is a massive opportunity at a time when the cost of financing projects has never been lower.
Second, we’ll focus as a nation on ushering people together, a driver of extraordinary advantage. Everyone – from the people who use public transit to those who fly first class – is critical in a proximity economy. They matter for their participation, for inspiration and for their promise. In the words of the distinguished philosopher Dr. Seuss, a “person’s a person, no matter how small.”
Third, and most importantly, we’ll get our confidence back! Small wins lead to big wins.
A successful build – demonstrating to the world once again that we are capable of incredible undertakings and stand on the leading edge of the possible – will generate a countrywide, top-to-bottom, wind-at-our-backs sensation.
Sustained growth and mushrooming opportunities will be wonderfully inspiring, reengaging all of us with each other in the kind of creative construction that has always defined America and made reaching for greatness the only sensible life strategy!
Norman F. Anderson is the CEO of CG/LA Infrastructure, a strategy firm located in Washington, D.C. He is the coordinator of Blueprint 2025, a nationwide 100 CEO initiative to develop an infrastructure plan for the next administration. Learn more here.