January 2010 | Commentary | In Perspective

Shaken and Stirred

Tags: Transportation Infrastructure, Legislation, Public Policy, and Regulations

Let's ensure infrastructure development is used for long-term economic growth, not short-term political gain.

Business and politics don't mix well, especially when it comes to critical infrastructure. In the 30-plus years I've been involved in logistics, manufacturing, and supply chain management as a journalist and communicator, the same story keeps repeating.

Politicians tout infrastructure projects they say will create jobs in the short term. The short term for politicians is the next election, and, consequently, they aren't looking for projects that require five years of research, planning, and evaluation, then another five years to construct. The measure of a project should be its contribution to sustainable job growth.

Congressmen approached the economic stimulus with a pocket full of "shovel ready" projects in their districts. From a logistics perspective, I have to ask why those projects have been on hold if they are so critical to the economy? If they are needed to facilitate the flow of commerce, they should have been a top priority before the economic stimulus was proposed.

U.S. manufacturers and retailers (and ultimately consumers) won't benefit much from short-term growth in construction jobs. The direction some politicians have chosen will hamper economic growth once construction is completed and those workers are again jobless.

A case in point is right in my own backyard at the Port of Cleveland. (Look in your own backyard or look in the backyard of your company's plants or distribution centers and you'll find your own examples.) The county government that operates the port has used its ability to offer bonds as a funding tool for projects that have nothing to do with port operations. Included are the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and parking for a Veterans Administration hospital located off the port site. Both worthy projects, but not port related.

A study shows potential for developing container operations at the port—it already handles bulk cargo for steel companies in the region.Whether or not container trade is realistic, talk of eliminating the port authority and developing some of the port property for condominiums could drive out some of the region's last steel manufacturing jobs. We'd be trading short-term construction jobs for the loss of long-term manufacturing jobs.

Port gentrification isn't a new threat to commercial infrastructure development. And the battle in Cleveland isn't the only place business leaders need to take an active role to promote sustainable economic growth and, with it, jobs. But without your solid support and credible arguments, misguided political interests will disable a vital economic engine.

The famous James Bond line implied his rugged character as he ordered his drink "shaken not stirred." In the case of regional politics and logistics infrastructure, we need to be stirring at an early stage because it's much harder to shake things up once the machine starts to gain momentum.

Part of my role, and part of my reason for joining Inbound Logistics, is to help identify those issues that need stirring and where we need to shake a little to make sure the supply chains that support our massive economic engine are the best in the world.