While the Trump administration is divisive, the one plank of the president’s policy platform that has been widely welcomed is his vow to improve US infrastructure. At the SelectUSA investment summit in Washington, DC in June, I canvassed US business executives about their views on Mr Trump’s economic agenda and all expressed enthusiasm about potential tax cuts, regulatory reforms and, last but not least, infrastructure. So much does the US business community covet this trio of policy goals that many executives are doing their best to ignore the president’s glaring personality flaws and political missteps.
This points, among other perhaps more depressing conclusions, to the high priority placed by companies on infrastructure. The subject is as important to business as it is for citizens and commuters. In fact, apart from access to talent it might be the single most important element necessary for attracting investment. Most places do not have the luxury of ignoring infrastructure.
Efficient transport infrastructure is essential for moving goods and people: export-driven investment projects need easy access to ports, airports, roads and rail lines while all companies need their employees to be able to get to and from work easily. International executives also need to get in and out of the various locations where their companies’ offices are located without too much hassle. Good transport systems enhance quality of life, thereby aiding talent attraction and retention. Some popular investment destinations can get away with having inadequate or ageing infrastructure – such as the US – but only when the scale of opportunity is big enough and the other location attributes are strong enough to outweigh this weakness.
And, of course, IT and communications infrastructure is every bit as essential. Even the most seemingly basic business functions require a certain level of technology, and young, skilled workers that are so much in demand consider good wi-fi to be as essential as oxygen.
So it is no wonder that trillions of dollars are sunk into infrastructure projects globally each year. As these projects are an easy magnet for corruption, waste and mismanagement, they are very often controversial. Spiralling costs and endless delays are the norm for large-scale hard infrastructure projects. Many a government has been brought down by malfeasance or incompetence related to delivering such projects. The difficulty of seeing them through is no excuse to avoid necessary infrastructure upgrades, and the massive population shift to cities, especially in the developing world, means the importance and urgency of good infrastructure will only increase.
There is no one single solution to getting infrastructure right, as our cover story reveals, but most examples show that the public and private sectors working together gives the greatest chance for success. Each project is different, but through the combined efforts of governments, investors, financiers and multilaterial institutions, solid foundations for infrastructure development can be built.
Courtney Fingar is editor-in-chief of fDi Magazine. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org