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Opinion

Creating the future

An Interstate 11 bridge under construction at Railroad Pass on Friday, May 19, 2017. (Photo by Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

By Norman Anderson

Nevada needs to think urgently about what the future should look like, and not in the kind of reactive way that a crisis tends to cause, but in a way that looks hungrily at working our way through the current crisis to the innovations that will bring us a bright future. How do we do that? To bring the state out of the worst economic challenge in its history, action has to be taken on infrastructure; it is the only option. 

Infrastructure investment does three things: it injects funds into the economy now, so that jobs can be created immediately; it creates the kinds of assets that symbolize a better future – these new assets attract high value investments, especially in innovative industries that require world-class infrastructure; and great infrastructure brings the state’s forgotten, the most fragile or the most at risk, into our opportunity economy. It’s this work of our imaginations, creating public goods (water, broadband, health clinics, transit and highways) that makes all the difference. 

Added to this mix is the fact that we need to take action, with unprecedented urgency. Fortunately Nevada – along with 30 other states – has an institution that is designed for that task, the new state infrastructure bank. First, let’s get one thing out of the way — this question of ‘what is infrastructure?’ We define infrastructure as strategic to economic growth and opportunities that include everyone in these areas: transportation; energy; water/waste treatment; broadband, and all digital innovation; and, finally, we include social infrastructure, both health and educational facilities. An infrastructure bank is an innovator, perfectly positioned to act strategically, bringing all of the various sectors into alignment with the state’s strategy – and to do so right now, urgently. 

Infrastructure creates jobs, generates economic productivity (critical to attracting investment) and creates fulfilling and leisure opportunities for a state’s citizens. It fills the gaps, and it can turbocharge action. An infrastructure bank is the right place to organize these discussions about the future. And now, during a crisis, is the right time to move as swiftly as possible. For example, consider Gov. Sisolak’s remarks during his first State of the State address in January of last year, highlighting that Nevada has “become ground zero for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.” Tesla, Blockchains LLC and other high-tech neighbors in Northern Nevada became part of what is now known as Innovation Park—a place to bring visionary thinkers and developers together to create our future.

An infrastructure bank does three things:

  1. Strategic Infrastructure Laboratory. It is where big, strategic, infrastructure decisions are made, as infrastructure leaders (including CEOs of infrastructure firms, technology visionaries, academics, elected officials and users) look at the immediate investments that will be useful for the next 30-40 years. Traditional and innovative funding decisions are also made here (state contributions, pension funds, federal funds, retail investors, etc. are brought into the bank, to finance projects). And most critically this is where innovation happens, because it is here that leadership creates a vision for the future, and decisions drive that vision. 
  1. Funding Critical Projects. In a crisis, an infrastructure bank is a tool for the state to put the pedal to the metal. The bank identifies high priority projects, can absorb funding from non-traditional sources, and gets that money quickly into strategic projects. For Nevada this would mean rapid investments in projects that produce the maximum number of jobs in the shortest period of time, while at the same time creating long-term value for the state. Think about an Inland Ports project tying Innovation Park and APEX Industrial Park, as envisioned by state leaders such as former Assembly Speaker and current Chair of the Clark County Commission, Marilyn Kirkpatrick. An infrastructure bank would take this vision and turn it into reality. 

With an unemployment rate above 20 percent, imagine if Nevada could get key projects up and running immediately, including: Projects to deal with the present crisis – broadband for rural residents (schools, telemedicine); investments to create growth – a high tech rail project, freight and passenger, to knit the state together from north to south; and visionary investments – like an intermodal facility to seize and shape the benefits of the upcoming reshoring revolution in food, critical minerals, health supplies, and industrial goods (all enabled, by the way, as highlighted in a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, by blockchain). 

  1. Creating a Pipeline of Projects. Even more critical to the long-run, but not urgent now, is the need to create a pipeline of ready to go projects, both public and private, so that when a crisis happens the future can be brought forward. Nowhere is this being done now, and it is a critical function of good governance. 

Institutions are critical for bringing people together to shape their future. They give people a forum, and they give people a voice. Even more importantly, if possible, institutions enable action – and action is what is needed right now. 

Nevada should see the timely advent of the infrastructure bank as an extraordinary gift, one that – with the right leadership – will organize funds, enable innovation around necessary and critical projects, and put large numbers of people to work. As Churchill said, in the teeth of another crisis, “I never worry about action, only inaction.” Nevada’s state infrastructure bank gives the people of the state of Nevada the chance to take swift and decisive action to create results now, and to do so inside a strategic envelope of a long-term vision for the future. 

Norman Anderson is chairman and CEO of a firm focused on global infrastructure project development, driving productivity across countries. He is a regular contributor to CNBC, Bloomberg, CBC and Fox Business News, discussing the U.S. and global infrastructure markets.

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