Pollsters often ask potential voters to rank issues based on importance. In these surveys, readers are asked to take multiple concepts which may or may not relate in any way, and discuss which seem to be prominent in their minds and which could be ignored for now. It’s a quick and clever way to determine what people are thinking about right now, but it could bring about misleading results. For example, in a Harris Poll conducted in 2008, 63 percent of those polled said economic growth was more important to their region, rather than the environment. In other words, these people were provided with a question that suggests that economic growth only comes about at the expense of the environment. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.
In Washington State, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation, about 90 percent of diesel engines are privately owned, and many of them are used in order to move freight. About 29 percent of the engines in use in commercial heavy-duty trucks were made before 1989. By raising emission standards, officials can encourage companies to replace these older engines that can do so much damage to the environment. As each engine is replaced, fewer particulates are emitted and the air becomes just a bit easier to breathe. The environment benefits, but the economy benefits too. Older engines like this aren’t typically as efficient as newer models, meaning that companies spend more in fuel and maintenance when they use older engines. By upgrading, they can reduce those costs and see an improvement in the bottom line.
This is just one of many examples of how strong environmental stewardship can translate into an improvement in a healthy bottom line. No matter what the pollsters might say, as examples like this make clear environmental policies don’t kill business potential. The two concepts are actually complementary.
Airports are designed to do one thing: Help people and cargo move from one place to another. While big boxes of computer parts or small envelopes filled with documents may not mind the time they spend in the airport, people have an altogether different experience when they travel. In fact, according to a recent survey of 1,000 travelers conducted by Fairfield Inn & Suites, a not surprising 16 percent reported feelings of stress while traveling.
Many companies make their employees spend a lot of time on the road in order to help them close deals or find new business. Unfortunately, employees who are stressed out are inefficient; distracted from the work they need to do on business trips.
The Port of Seattle recently unveiled a program that aims to reduce stress and increase revenues. When travelers enter the airport, they’re surrounded by the sounds of Seattle musicians. The music is relaxing, and it provides travelers with the opportunity to stop, listen and enjoy. Instead of bustling from one place to another, they’ll have a moment to stop and relax. It could be quite beneficial, and these travelers might also be tempted to spend a little money on the music they’ve heard, or travel into the community to experience some of this music on a firsthand basis at local bars or clubs. Programs like this that transform airports from stressful places to meditative spaces, could help to lower stress and increase revenue. They’re projects worth supporting.
The amount of freight moving on the nation’s roadways increases exponentially, each and every year. For example, according to the now-defunct National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Commission, the number of freight trucks in the United States increased from 5.8 million in 1980 to 7.9 million in 2002. During that same time period, the average distance traveled by commercial trucks climbed from 19,000 miles to 27,000 miles per truck. It has only grown further in the last decade. The rail and air transport industries have seen similar increases during that time period as well.
Keeping up with growth like this means ensuring that the country’s system of roads, rail lines and airports is maintained and improved on a regular basis. However, during these times of shrinking budgets and continuing financial concerns, infrastructure expenditures remain low, and are in danger of dipping even lower in the years to come. According to a report in the National Journal, the budget group Taxpayers for Common Sense proposed a $188 billion funding cut to transportation funding, and a $50 billion cut to the Airport and Airway Trust Fund. The group felt these projects could be adequately described as “inefficient, effective or wasteful use of taxpayer dollars.”
It’s hard to convince people that infrastructure is important, when we are also seeing education and social welfare programs at risk of funding cuts, but it is important to remember that infrastructure projects mean jobs. With an efficient network to distribute their goods, companies can lower costs and spend more money on hiring employees. More jobs in a community mean more tax revenue for local governments to spend on local needs, such education, emergency services or social programs. We shouldn’t cut back on these vital projects in the name of jobs, as the cuts will likely have the opposite effect.
In September of 2009, when the banking crisis was in full swing and the US economy reeling, the unemployment rate rose to an astounding 10 percent, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics Data. As of September 2012, the unemployment rate was much improved, having dropped to 7.8 percent. Still, we have a long way to go before we can consider the economy fully recovered. While there are many paths we could take on the road to recovery, I believe that investments in infrastructure projects might be one of the most productive solutions to the employment problems we’re facing as a country. It is also one that would serve us well in terms of long-term economic growth.
When people think of infrastructure projects, they often think of roads and bridges that we as commuters use heading to and from work on a daily basis. While it’s true that these projects do help to improve the lives of commuters, fix ruts and other maintenance issues in our roads that can lead to accidents, and reduce the amount of time that we are all stuck in traffic, infrastructure projects have a much larger impact on the economy as a whole.
Consider this: Most products that hit store shelves arrive via delivery trucks. Delivery or freight trucks also move needed parts from suppliers to businesses that use those parts to manufacture finished goods. Those trucks must also move along the same public roads commuters use, and delays caused by inefficiencies or needed repairs make products all the more expensive to produce, and all the more expensive to purchase. As the U.S. Department of Transportation puts it, a slow, inefficient system of roadways means more driver time spent on the road, which means increased labor costs. Poor infrastructure also means larger vehicles are needed, and repair and operating costs go up. When transportation costs increase to a level where businesses can’t compete, some may choose to go overseas as a way to reduce overall the costs of production, negatively impacting local suppliers.
Investing in infrastructure is just the right thing to do to keep our economy on track. It means lower costs, and more American jobs.