Infrastructure is Critical to Nation’s Success, Says Aggregates Association CEO
Michael Johnson has a long and influential career in the trade association and advocacy arenas, from leading policy efforts for homebuilders and beverage wholesalers, to serving as president and CEO of the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA).
Across the United States, NSSGA members represent 90 percent of the volume in crushed stone and about 80 percent of the volume in sand and gravel. Having reached the peak of selling about 3.2 billion metric tons of material before the Great Recession of 2008, the industry is rebounding, but somewhat sporadically, according to Johnson.
There are some positive signs regarding infrastructure investment by private and public entities and in cityscapes of construction cranes, but Johnson knows there is a lot more work to do to shape a bipartisan infrastructure bill when the new Congress comes in.
“Not only are we big users of infrastructure, but our materials provide the basic building blocks of any infrastructure project. So for us, infrastructure investment is a natural issue as a consumer and user of infrastructure, as well as someone who participates in the construction of infrastructure,” says Johnson.
“The infrastructure investment piece — getting the federal government and state governments working together again to really build not just our infrastructure up to current needs, but to where it will meet future needs — is very important for the United States so it can continue to compete on a world stage economically,” he adds.
The Americans for Transportation Mobility (ATM) Coalition knows that voices as divergent as the World Economic Forum and Travel & Leisure, for example, have heralded the nations with the best infrastructure or ground transportation in the world. America did not make these lists, but countries such as Barbados, Luxembourg and Spain did.
When the ATM spoke with Johnson, he discussed impacts from equipment automation and the importance of vocational and technical training to address the gap of skilled workers in the construction sector, but he really wanted to focus on why improving America’s infrastructure is fundamental to its future global and economic power.
Johnson points out that the United States is only investing about 2 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in infrastructure while other countries are investing much more, and are highly proactive in this area.
“We have pizza companies creating ads where they are highlighting their ability to fill potholes so they can deliver a pizza that doesn’t get jostled on the ride. That should be embarrassing to us as a country,” notes Johnson. “That should be embarrassing to our policymakers because while we dither on infrastructure investment here, we see that the Chinese are investing a lot in infrastructure. They are not just building an amazing amount of infrastructure in China, they are building it around the world.”
The proper role of the federal government, Johnson notes, is to make sure we are funding, planning and building a nationwide system of infrastructure that allows our economy to function and flourish at the highest possible level. “That’s how, frankly, we make our economy great again. That’s how we begin to see our GDP grow. And that’s how we begin to see a recovery in good-paying jobs that will increasingly give people a better path forward and a better future than their parents have today.”
Johnson makes this observation during a historic time in which he says he has watched the decentralization of party politics and the media, and a president who has hugely influenced the election, information and communication paradigms.
He explains, however, that ongoing bad news on television, failure to move on increasing U.S. infrastructure investment and dysfunction or gridlock in Washington, D.C., can be frustrating for members of trade associations, making it more difficult to keep them engaged and excited.
NSSGA members continue to meet with elected leaders in their communities to help counter Washington’s inaction and keep transportation investment on policymakers’ minds, Johnson says. “Involvement at the local level and helping a member of Congress to put a face with a name toward the interest of your industry are incredibly important.”
There is tremendous value in an elected leader knowing and hearing from the constituents he or she was elected to represent: constituents who employ people in their Congressional districts, and contribute to causes, philanthropy and the betterment of the community, Johnson explains.
“That is the gold standard of this business,” he says. “That is the best way to drive a policy solution, and it’s even more important today.”
The Message to America
As NSSGA’s vision parallels the immediate and long-term needs to grow infrastructure funding, Johnson discusses some significant statistics: the anticipation of a 25 percent increase in vehicle traffic and a 65 percent increase in heavy truck traffic by 2030, and that 76 percent of the nation’s international exports move by waterway ports and about 70 percent of its imports arrive by water.
“We need to think about how those ports connect to inland roadways and inland ports that connect to our Interstate Highway System and connect to rail and to inland waterways so that our economy can continue to move in a way that allows us to be the No. 1 economy in the world,” notes Johnson. “It’s not just about American jobs and American roads and American bridges, and it’s not just about growing volume in American aggregates. This is about our ability to compete in the global marketplace and countering a trend that the Chinese have been engaged in for 2,000 years.”
“China is well on its way to connecting most of Europe with road, rail and natural gas lines to mainland China, and if we look at what they are doing in Central and Southeast Asia, they are into India and all the way down into the tip of Vietnam with road and rail,” he points out. “And in Africa, they are doing billions and billions of dollars of infrastructure investment and more than 49 countries have been the beneficiary of Chinese infrastructure investment and they are doing this because they do not want to take over the United States’ place as the No. 1 economy in the world; they simply want to capture what they believe is the Chinese destiny to be the only economy in the world.”
Because of global impacts like this, the NSSGA looks forward to working with Congress and the Trump Administration to help forge forward-looking infrastructure legislation that will help keep America safe and prosperous, and modernize the nation’s transportation network.
NSSGA is a member of ATM.
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