Our nation's aging, crumbling infrastructure has captured the spotlight in Washington. President Donald Trump met recently with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, with the three striking a commitment to move forward with a historic infrastructure bill. They are scheduled to reconvene on Wednesday to work through the details – most importantly, how to pay for it.
Seizing this bipartisan opportunity could have a profound impact on America's small businesses.
It's no secret that infrastructure in the United States is lagging behind. The latest report card published by the American Society of Civil Engineers gives our country's infrastructure a D+ rating, and 1 out of every 5 miles of highway pavement is now in poor condition. But you don't have to be an engineer to realize our infrastructure needs attention.
Americans now spend about 42 hours – nearly two full days – stuck in traffic every year, and our crumbling infrastructure costs the average family about $3,400 in disposable income annually, according to analysis by ASCE. From pothole-pocketed roads and collapsed bridges to limited cell service and poor broadband access, every American can see that this is a problem in dire need of a solution.
Less discussed but no less important is how America's deteriorating infrastructure is stalling small business growth and crippling our economy.
Small business owners' concerns about infrastructure
Through interviews with 1,000 small business owners last quarter, the MetLife & U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Index shed light on the impact infrastructure has on small business operations. Most business owners say that high-speed internet (64%), local roads and bridges (57%), and cell networks (55%) are very important to the success of their companies.
The problem is, 62% rate the quality of local roads and bridges as average, poor or very poor. Forty-three percent said the same about the quality of the high-speed internet in their area, while 41% reported that cell service is average, poor or very poor.
Overall, about half of small business business owners worry that U.S. infrastructure is not keeping pace with technological advancement in other nations, according to the index.
When asked where to focus improvements, 85% of small business owners put high-speed internet at the top of the list. That finding mirrors additional research by the Chamber Technology Engagement Center (C_TEC) and Amazon, which found that small businesses in rural America could experience more than 20% growth with better access to online tools and technology.
Why we must fix our infrastructure now
Our infrastructure challenges extend beyond crumbling roads and connectivity challenges, though. America's power lines are nearing the end of their life spans, while our inland waterways are managed with 100-year-old locks and dams. Meanwhile, the U.S. economy loses $9 billion annually due to flight delays – stemming in large part from aging airports and outdated air traffic control systems.
Continued inaction simply isn't an option. On our current path, America's infrastructure deficiencies will have cost businesses $7 trillion by 2025, the ASCE analysis shows.
Small businesses like Dagostino Electronic Services in Western Pennsylvania are eager to be part of the solution. What began in 1973 as a tiny company running cable in Pittsburgh is now a leader across the mid-Atlantic for integrated communication solutions. DES is one of 70,000 electrical contracting firms across the nation, collectively employing more 650,000 electrical workers.
Those workers and those companies depend on infrastructure to move safely and efficiently around the communities they serve – and they are poised to help rebuild our nation's infrastructure too. From projects that upgrade mass transit systems to broadband expansion efforts, every $1 billion invested in infrastructure creates 28,500 direct and indirect jobs in our industry, according to research by the National Electrical Contractors Association.
So let's fix our nation's infrastructure – now.
The discussions taking place between President Trump and congressional leaders are a critical step toward a commonsense solution. Our elected leaders know this is important. They want to get the job done. Now, they must come together to figure out how to pay for it.
If they rally around bipartisan funding solutions, we have a real opportunity to finally improve our nation's infrastructure – and, in the process, create more high-paying jobs for Americans, improve the quality of life and safety for those traveling on our roads and bridges, and unleash the potential of small businesses across the country.