SOTU PREVIEW: Investing in American Infrastructure

Posted by LDonia on 01/21/2014

We’re just one week away from President Obama’s 2014 State of the Union Address.

Back in 2012, the president made a promise on the campaign trail: to create 1 million manufacturing jobs in his second term. Your friends at the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) took his words very seriously, and since this time last year we’ve been monitoring his progress toward that goal.

We’re not going to sugarcoat things: The president's off to a slow start. To be on pace for 1 million, we should have seen 250,000 manufacturing jobs in 2013. Instead we saw 77,000.

There's a reason President Obama campaigned on a resurgence of manufacturing employment: They pay well, and they kept millions of Americans in the middle class for decades. But for the economy to create enough of those jobs to get to 1 million by January 2017, it's going to need some policy encouragement. We're going to need a (you guessed it) a national manufacturing strategy.

So how do we get to that point? We’ll, gentle reader, you’ve come to the right place.

Each day, from now until the SOTU, we’ll offer up a piece of what we consider to be the entire manufacturing puzzle. It is our hope that next Tuesday we'll hear President Obama offer ideas and plans on how we can fit these pieces into place to rebuild America's manufacturing sector.

Today: Investing in American Infrastructure.

You’ve heard us talk about this before and it should come as no surprise that we’re mentioning it in the context of the State of the Union.

A large number of America’s bridges and roads are structurally unsound. In fact, last year, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave America’s infrastructure a D+ grade.

It’s clear that many bridges (70,000 or so) and roads must be fixed, re-built, or replaced entirely. But we can’t stop at simply ordering their construction. The materials need to be American-made. Let’s not forget the cautionary tale of San Francisco’s Bay Bridge; its construction was outsourced to China, went billions of dollars over budget, and opened years late, to boot.

But bridges and roads are not all, because America also needs to ensure its infrastructure is ready for the next Super Storm. There’s no excuse for waiting days or weeks for necessary rebuilding supplies to arrive from foreign countries, especially when, lo and behold, those supplies end up being toxic and put beleaguered homeowners back at square one. Domestic manufacturing of necessary supplies isn't just important to our economy, but integral to a secure America.

And lastly, we must make sure we’re leveraging both public and private sector investments in large-scale projects including transportation and energy projects. One way to do this? Use creative investment measures, like a national infrastructure bank that delivers low-cost loans and emphasizes the use of domestic content.

It should also be noted, in the spirit of investing in infrastructure, that strong Buy America policies are a key part of this effort. Buy America laws ensure that if American tax dollars are on the table, preference must be given to American-made materials. Of course, such laws have been weakened through the years through exploitable loopholes. But if infrastructure repairs are supported through stringent Buy America requirements, we’ll see American jobs created on the supply chain side, and the construction side as well.

Win-win.

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