U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker Delivers Remarks at the Infrastructure Investment Summit

Sep092014

AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY
Tuesday, September 9, 2014

I want to thank Jeff for inviting me and for his leadership on the Build America initiative.

I also want to recognize Secretary Lew and Secretary Foxx and their teams for hosting this summit and for bringing such terrific public and private sector leaders to the table today.

As a former private sector business person, I know we have a desperate need to invest in our infrastructure. And we cannot do it by public sector investment alone.

Therefore, it is imperative that we seek out creative financing solutions for infrastructure projects and build partnerships that can bring those projects to fruition. To meet this task, we must match investors with local and state leaders.

From day one, President Obama has known that infrastructure investments are imperative for business expansion, necessary for economic growth, and have the added benefit of creating jobs.

A strong transportation infrastructure means manufacturers can move goods to market on our roads and railways; products can be shipped overseas through our ports; and commuters can get to work on public transit and highways.

A strong communications infrastructure allows businesses to connect to their suppliers, customers, and even their own employees, while also giving entrepreneurs the ability to create innovative, globally connected companies.

A strong travel infrastructure enables more businesses to export their goods to the 95% of customers living abroad, makes foreign direct investment easier, and, in general, allows for the development of human connections across borders and oceans.

And a strong energy infrastructure literally powers industry, keeping the lights on, systems working, and businesses’ doors open.

This Administration knows that infrastructure investments are essential. All of us know that the need in our country is dire and urgent:

* According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, we need to invest nearly $3.6 trillion by 2020 to upgrade our infrastructure.

* According to the World Economic Forum, the United States ranks 16th worldwide in overall infrastructure quality.

* According to the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, the value of the stock of all public infrastructure was almost $10.8 trillion in 2012. If we do the math, assuming the 30-year depreciation for these assets, the investment required just to maintain the status quo of our infrastructure would be $360 billion per year.

Since coming to office, I have spoken with more than 1,200 business leaders and one-third of Fortune 500 CEOs.

All of them have told me about the pressing priority of the need for infrastructure investment.

All of them have reiterated that a stronger infrastructure will help their businesses expand and hire, help create new businesses, and help our economy grow and prosper.

Traveling around the world, I have seen firsthand that our competitors and trading partners are investing in infrastructure – not just as a way to promote prosperity, but as a competitive differentiator.

The fact is that they have made private sector partnership and infrastructure investments a priority:

* For example, China’s commitments to infrastructure have increased by an average of 20 percent per year since 2004.

* The Philippine government has centralized the infrastructure process, streamlining the financing and approval for new projects, including establishing a $625 million private equity fund to finance their investments.

* In India, which I visited in July with Secretary Kerry, the new government has committed to $1 trillion of investments in infrastructure, with key contributions from the private sector.

Make no mistake: the rest of the world is investing in infrastructure – because the rest of the world wants a competitive edge in the 21st century economy. And we cannot afford to be left behind.

In addition, foreign leaders are asking for the help of American companies to fill their infrastructure needs.

In fact, I have led trade missions to Africa, the Middle East, and East Asia, bringing some of our nation’s leading infrastructure and energy companies to offer their assistance and help these nations address their infrastructure challenges.

These foreign governments have come to recognize what we have long understood: that their economies not only need a sturdy and robust infrastructure, but that American companies can be critical providers of expertise, the latest technologies, superior engineering, and the most creative solutions to their problems.

We must take that same message to heart here at home.

For the United States, expanded funding for infrastructure is not only about laying the foundation for our future economic growth; it is also a matter of catching up.

For too long, as a nation, we have neglected our urgent need to rebuild our roads and bridges, modernize our ports, extend broadband, and construct the foundation needed to stay a step ahead in the global economy.

To lead the world once again – in both expertise and quality – we must increase cooperation between industry, investors, and government. Updating our infrastructure demands public-private partnership.

This is not a substitute for federal funding; we need Congress’ help to keep up our end of the bargain. But these partnerships are a necessary supplement to meet our 21st century goals.

Given our relationships with the business community, there are several ways that the Department of Commerce plays a central role in this effort.

First, SelectUSA, run by our department, is the first-ever government-wide program to promote, attract and retain investment in the United States. SelectUSA is working to connect current and potential investors with local communities interested in attracting investment, including infrastructure investment.

The program offers primarily foreign investors data and guidance on doing business in the United States, and helps them navigate federal rules and regulations. Infrastructure opportunities will be a focus of the 2015 SelectUSA Summit, which will bring more than 1,000 foreign investors to the Washington, DC-area next March.

Second, to promote regional competitiveness and innovation, grants from the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration help communities across America rehabilitate infrastructure after disasters and attract capital for new public works projects.

Third, to strengthen our digital infrastructure, the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration has invested more than $4 billion since 2009 to increase broadband access to underserved communities in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

These efforts represent just some of the ways the Commerce Department is stepping up to the plate. But our country needs to expand our approach to financing infrastructure to include local, federal, and private contributions.

For decades, our nation’s commitment to infrastructure has not kept up with the speed of business or changes in the global economy.

We are here today to help reverse that trend: to lay the concrete foundation that will bring our infrastructure up to speed today and keep our country competitive into the future.

Meeting our goals requires the leadership and persistence of everyone in this room – and our colleagues nationwide.

From investors to business leaders to local and federal officials, each of us has a role to play.

This summit must only be a beginning a concrete – a call to action – developing new financing tools, new investments, and new partnerships.

Together, we must, and will, forge and deepen our public-private partnerships – so we can rebuild America and keep our country “open for business.”

Thank you. And now I would like to turn the floor over to Jeff to kick off the next session.

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