How Reclaiming the U.S. Infrastructure Advantage Will Help Bridge the Urban and Rural Divide

By Kip Eideberg

Kip Eideberg is Vice President of Public Affairs & Advocacy at the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM).

It doesn’t take a political scientist to take note of the profound divide on many policy issues between residents of rural communities across America and city-dwellers across the country.

While the 2016 election might have highlighted the apparent widening gap between urban and rural communities, maybe it’s time to turn this narrative on its head. What if we focused less on what divides us and more on what we can do to bring every corner of America together? In other words, which issues can help bridge the urban and rural divide?

Study after study – including a poll AEM commissioned last year – has showed that Americans from communities across the country agree on at least one core issue: the need to invest in America’s infrastructure.

Over the past several years, leaders in the equipment manufacturing industry have led the conversation on the need to reclaim the United States’ infrastructure advantage. Our infrastructure used to be the envy of the world; businesses chose to invest here in part because of the advantages of America’s infrastructure versus that of our global competitors.

Unfortunately, several generations of elected leaders have squandered our infrastructure advantage. The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report ranks U.S. infrastructure as 9th in the world. The infrastructure advantage we inherited thanks to the vision – and significant investments – of earlier generations has slipped away while America’s competitors around the world continue to make unprecedented investments in their own infrastructure.

So if everybody agrees that there’s a problem, how do we work to develop a policy solution that is acceptable to Democrats and Republicans alike?

The answer lies in strengthening every type of infrastructure across every type of community. We need to develop a comprehensive strategy that connects every part of the country in a meaningful way.

If the United States invests in strengthening its infrastructure, it can restore the critical bonds that allow Americans to freely and efficiently move goods, ideas and workers through every type of community. The U.S. equipment manufacturing industry understands this better than most. We support 1.3 million jobs across the United States, and maintain manufacturing facilities across every corner of our great nation. You can find our member companies’ equipment hard at work everywhere from construction sites in major cities to corn fields in the Midwest.

Our infrastructure is outdated, overused, chronically underfunded and in desperate need of modernization. Infrastructure stands apart as the number one policy issue where most Americans find common ground. A national poll conducted this past summer found that eight-out-of-ten Americans believe that investing in our infrastructure will improve their quality of life, create jobs in their communities and strengthen the overall economy. This opinion is shared by Americans in urban and rural parts of the country.

This is about more than recreating a shared sentimentality among urban and rural America. This is about physically uniting the two as well. Linking transportation infrastructure networks, food and products logistics routes, telecommunications channels, and energy grids provides a physical connection between urban and rural America that opens economic channels and, by extension, enhances the country’s global economic competitiveness.

Rural and urban communities enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship when we invest in infrastructure.

For example, cities are often the incubators for infrastructure innovation and are a valuable source for best practices for rural communities. Consider the contributions made by urban transportation projects and their present and/or future applicability to their rural counterparts. A multidisciplinary report by the Northwestern Transportation Center entitled Mobility 2050 outlines valuable lessons learned by American cities when it comes to congestion pricing, parking economics, toll and managed lane practices, public-private partnerships, freight movement, and airport facility management. Most recently, cities have also been at the forefront of autonomous vehicle testing and smart infrastructure integration. How effective and quickly rural America is able to integrate autonomous technology and smart infrastructure depends in large part on the lesson learned from their urban counterparts.

In turn, rural infrastructure provides tangible benefits to cities. Critically, rural America has leveraged its infrastructure advantage to feed communities across the country, delivering agriculture products in a cost-effective and time-efficient manner to food manufacturers and consumers. Manufacturing across all subsectors continues to be a major part of the rural economy and urban consumers depend on the delivery of these products through a well-maintained and connected network of roads, highways, waterways, and rail systems.

Despite what the talking heads on television may lead you to believe, we are still one United States. We need infrastructure that works for every American, and public policies that help to unite us. At a time when our nation is riven by political divisions, our elected officials should focus on strengthening the physical bonds that hold us together—our infrastructure. It is a challenge worth taking. And for the sake of future generations, it is a challenge they must overcome.

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2 Comments

  1. As a retired architect/planner. I wholeheartedly agree.!

    Reply
  2. While I agree with the main premise, there are a few problem terms or missing thoughts in an article that is really trying to unite Americans. “Rural” means more than food production getting to market – consider transportation for tourism, forestry/mining and the many regular needs of small town residents (vans like Metro Mobility, medical transport, good food at stores, fire/police/first responder access). Your term “talking heads” on TV seems destined to alienate and label hard-working reporters who do their best with whatever gets said by business owners, agency appointees or elected officials who, on purpose, are biased toward their particular entity. Don’t blame the reporters. Jan Heinig Mosman, Emily City Council member, Minnesota (small town).

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