There are Many Reasons to Invest in Infrastructure. Competitiveness is One.

Roxanne Brown of the United Steelworkers testifies before a House Ways and Means subcommittee on Thursday. | Photo courtesy United Steelworkers

A robust infrastructure package will create jobs AND make America stronger on the global stage.

A strong infrastructure investment is long overdue – and it is vital that our future infrastructure is Made in America, too.

Witnesses went before a House Ways and Means subommittee on Thursday to give testimony on the state of America’s infrastructure and how it impacts our global competitiveness. As witnesses pointed out, U.S. infrastructure lags behind much of the world when it comes to infrastructure – the American Society of Civil Engineers gives it a D+ rating – including our roads, bridges, rail, public transportation and more.

This is nothing new. But what many people might not realize is that because of weaknesses in our infrastructure, the United States has left many sectors vulnerable to global intercession.

Let’s look at China, for instance. For years, China’s state-owned, controlled or subsidized enterprises like Build Your Dreams (BYD) and the China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation (CRRC) have made headways into bus and railcar manufacturing in America. China’s predatory trade practices – including gargantuan subsidies, industrial overcapacity and lax labor and environmental standards – are the reason why. The United States has lost 3.7 million jobs since 2001 as a direct result of lopsided trade with China, for example.

It’s tough, if not impossible, for American manufacturers to compete with the Chinese government.

But America’s own underinvestment in its infrastructure also is to blame. A 2014 report by Duke University found that the current piecemeal policy approach to infrastructure is leaving 900,000 jobs on the table, roughly 97,000 of them in manufacturing. The erratic, project-by-project way of funding infrastructure means that companies can’t count on a steady stream of work… and opens the door to China to swoop in and nab the contracts that pop up.  

Plus, it’s harder for American companies and workers to do their jobs when there are logistical challenges posed by decaying roads, bridges, railways, airports, ports, and more. Roxanne Brown, International Vice President At Large of the United Steelworkers, testified at Thursday’s hearing:

“We are already one of the most productive workforces in the world, but enabling that productivity to compete globally requires not just fair-trade rules that ensure global label standards rise to domestic standards, but also the infrastructure necessary to facilitate export trade. The last thing American workers should have that impedes their ability to compete globally is our country’s infrastructure inefficiencies.”

Greg Regan of the AFL-CIO echoed Brown’s remarks:

“We fight to ensure good manufacturing and service jobs – the kind that prop up communities and ensure a chance at a middle-class life – are not sent overseas. We fight to ensure those jobs are not undercut by unfair or unenforced labor practices in countries like China or Mexico. We work tirelessly to claw back against false promises that opportunity and American competitiveness will trickle down to working families while wealthy CEOs sit in corporate boardrooms counting their profits.

“But if we are serious about increasing U.S. trade, about bolstering our economy, and prioritizing America’s workers, we need to be just as serious about investing in ourselves as we are about setting up international trade agreements. Investing in America’s infrastructure is a real down payment in American competitiveness and America’s workers. A down payment that we know will deliver results to our members and your constituents back home.”

It’s pretty simple. In order for America globally compete with its counterparts such as China, our government must properly invest in our infrastructure.

The good news is that it’s a win-win. Strengthening American infrastructure (and making sure it is made locally) will help create millions of new American jobs, boost our trade capabilities, and make the United States more competitive on the global stage.

“American manufacturing should be the first priority in an effort to improve export infrastructure facilitation. Our union, and U.S. workers everywhere, want to supply and build our trade infrastructure,” Brown said. “Domestic preferences in iron, steel, and manufactured goods, otherwise known as Buy America, have long been established, are consistent with our international obligations, and provide a critical slice of business for American manufacturers. … Utilizing domestic manufacturers for infrastructure procurement shows a commitment to American workers, and to the planet, and to our environment because U.S. manufacturers are among the cleanest in the world.”