A Smart Infrastructure Plan for New England
As originally appearing in The Boston Business Journal

By James T. Brett

Across New England, there is an increasing recognition that improvements must be made to our infrastructure to maintain and grow the economic vitality of our communities. A recent report by the New England Council and Deloitte provides the framework for a new brand of “smart infrastructure” — one that is more than the traditional highways, airports, railroads, telecommunications, and energy systems. Smart infrastructure also includes skilled human capital and access to financing.

Our report, “Smart Infrastructure in New England,” suggests that in order to build a 21st century infrastructure that can enable economic growth, public and private stakeholders must collaborate to take several key steps:

1. Exploit New England’s structural advantages to achieve a responsive supply chain, operating economically with less congestion, by taking advantage of lower cost “home-shoring” sub-regions in support of dominant industries.

2. Connect its regional networks and industry clusters to leverage their inherent economies with the appropriate infrastructure technology and management. New England must invest in the smooth movement of people and products into, out of, and around the region as it is an integral component of the supply chain of current businesses, and an enticement for potential business operations. This covers a broad swath of priority upgrades, including greater access to direct international flights to emerging markets as well as better traffic congestion management.

3. Develop workforce skills in a “learnings with earnings” collaboration, following a new apprenticeship model that can bring together the interests of business, education, and government in a way that matches education with the demands of the market.

4. Finance strategic opportunities creatively, using a range of innovative options to match affordability with productivity and speed to market. In a tough economy, creative alternatives to scarce tax revenues are critical. Possibilities include an infrastructure bank, a variety of bond proposals, and usage fees such as congestion pricing.

There are numerous economic benefits of infrastructure investment in the New England region. Research indicates that a $1 billion investment could create 22,000 to 27,000 jobs and grow the region’s GDP by $8.5 to $9.7 billion. An investment of $1 billion over five years beginning in 2013 could see approximately 135,000 new jobs through 2020.

James T. Brett is the President & CEO of The New England Council.

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