Infrastructure Investment as the Next Economic Stimulus
Feb 15, 2021
With several federal issues getting a lot of attention and making a lot of noise – some for conflict, some for progress – an important one that’s building quiet momentum is infrastructure investment. The Economic Alliance is one of a long list of business entities to recently sign on to a new campaign called “Build by the Fourth of July.” The U.S. Chamber of Commerce initiative aims to get federal agreement by the Fourth of July this year on a massive investment program in transportation, energy, water and communications technologies. Key projects would ease gridlock in economic hubs in order to spur productivity, global competitiveness and quality of life. Investments also would aim “to decarbonize our economy in a meaningful way and close the digital divide by expanding broadband and internet access.”
Infrastructure investment often is a bipartisan cause. It’s an issue that can unite the most liberal Democrats with the most conservative Republicans and a whole lot of business moderates in between. It’s also something on which organized labor and business leadership often align and collaborate. Unfortunately, it’s also a topic that sometimes gets a lot of talk and not much action. It was touted as a key priority of the Trump Administration, but little progress has been made in recent years.
The price tag on proposals can be a barrier to approval, as even leaders in big business can have a hard time comprehending Trillion with a capital ‘T’. The return on that investment, though, is more real and more direct than with much government spending. With infrastructure investment, public sector funding creates private sector jobs. And if those investments are focused on the right projects, they can spur exponential additional development and economic impact.
Consider some potential investments in our region. Infrastructure projects at the Eastern Iowa Airport, for example, create hundreds of construction and contractor jobs and use hundreds of thousands of dollars of materials, almost all purchased locally. Expansion of capacity at the airport reaps huge economic wins with more cargo, more people, more commerce moving through our region. We’re seeing a major investment right now at the I-80 / I-380 interchange. If that investment would continue with capacity expansion of I-380, imagine the jobs that could be created from that project. Likewise, an interchange project at Tower Terrace Road would create both immediate economic impact in the form of construction jobs and long-term economic impact in the form of opening new areas for what will likely be rapid commercial development.
Those are just a few specific examples from the list of capital improvement projects our cities, counties and state have in their long-range plans. Our region is ideally situated for more logistics, distribution and transportation developments. Our neighbors to the east would add lock-and-dam investments on the Mississippi River to their list of infrastructure investments that can really drive economic growth.
While there are economic bright spots, there’s no question the pandemic has been a gut punch to our regional economy, and we’re still reeling with job losses and shelved development projects just like the rest of the country. The right infrastructure investment could be just the stimulus package we all need to get our economy back on its feet – both in the short term with jobs and economic activity and for the long-term with the kind of projects that ensure sustained and sustainable economic growth.
Doug Neumann, Executive Director