Americans want their first real estate developer president to get cracking on infrastructure.
They fully expect $360 billion of President Trump’s promised $1 trillion upgrade of the electric grid, cities, roads, airports and more will be spent before they have to pick another president. More than half expect the bulk of the work to get started next year. Just 4 percent expect a full $1 trillion effort.
These are some of the overarching conclusions generated by a survey this spring by The Industry & Infrastructure Group of Informa’s Business Intelligence Division, parent of the Energy Times and its sister information channel, T&D World.
The group reached out to a sampling of its 3 million member data base of workers, managers and executives to gauge their take on Trump’s infrastructure initiative.
The British-based Informa, a content and intelligence company, is heir to scores of venerable American business-to-business magazines and content channels that drive deep into the American economy, an audience we tapped to gain a detailed, ground level view of how the president’s infrastructure program is perceived – something that would not be readily apparent to twittering social media, a headline-chasing national press corps and the talking heads of cable.
Our first spring survey touched a nerve, eliciting 1,000 responses within an hour as transmission linemen, machinists, contractors, heating and cooling engineers, foundry operators, machine designers, data center denizens, microwave technicians, rental equipment business people, LED lighting experts and more scrambled to vent on the topic and their president.
Fully 49 percent of the 6,900 respondents want the Trump administration to deliver on its promise to invest $1 trillion in America’s infrastructure.
In far distant second place was tax reform, which has 23 percent support; continuing to address health care reform, 15 percent; immigration policy, 10 percent; and building a wall on the Mexico border, 4 percent.
Respondents are in a dead heat in their views of Trump, with 44.7 percent thumbs up and 45 percent pinching their nose. Our sample of professionals and workers view the president more favorably than recent national polls that show his favorability under water.
More than 2,100 of our respondents offered written comments on his job performance – many of them incendiary; 1,200 commented on the infrastructure effort. The army of respondents dwarf samples respected polling organizations use to project national attitudes.
Newly retired pneumatics product manager Tim Perry in Littleton, Colorado, said Trump has a shot at morphing into our next Eisenhower. With a massive infrastructure spend the president can kick off a boom unlike anything the nation’s has seen since the paving of our interstates, the sprouting of suburbia and the launch of America’s global industrial dominance.
“$1 trillion is a fraction of what is needed,” he said. “This is Donald Trump’s big opportunity to bring America together.”
Investment in U.S. infrastructure was a policy priority for 45 percent of those in construction, 54 percent in education, 54 percent in energy and power, 51 percent in engineering, 54 percent in government, 47 percent in manufacturing and supply, 40 percent in mechanical systems, 50 percent in technology and 57 percent in transportation.
From a low of 60 percent – registered by technology workers – to a high of 76 percent – for transportation sector employees – a preponderance of respondents believe the effort will have a moderate to significant positive impact on their business. Overall, two-third expected to be buoyed.
Just the possibility that Trump and Congress may move on this front is already producing a positive impact on 18 percent of businesses.
In effect, they say that they want to tell their president to start building up our crumbling nation first and worry afterwards about how we can collectively best pay for it.
“Some sort of tax increase will be required to fund most of it,” wrote Al Mirolo, a senior manufacturing engineer in Vandalia, Ohio, who for 23 years has made electrical components.
The halo effect of building up our national assets will be profound, says Rosemary Health, of Brooklyn. “Adequate infrastructure is necessary to conduct business in a profitable manner,” she wrote. “If we do not have appropriate infrastructure, then manufacturing in this country is not possible.”
Roads and bridges represent the lowest-hanging fruit for national repair, with 86 percent of respondents believing they should be queued up first. The emphasis should next be focused on the electric grid and renewables, 73 percent; water and wastewater facilities, 67 percent; schools and universities, 40 percent; high speed railroads, 30 percent; and airports, 28 percent.
Some worry about footing the bill. Karl Walter Dietrich, of Cherokee Nation, warned, “Don’t do it! We are already $20 trillion in debt.”
James Hay, at Wilson College, in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, argued for a nuanced approach for funding infrastructure. “The source of funds should vary by category – electricity and electric grid should be more private, roads and bridges more public. The key to any government spending needs to be increasing productivity and decreasing costs. The government at all levels gets more than enough money today to do what needs to be done.”
The question of public versus private initiative led me to call John Hoffman, a former top lawyer at Sprint and its predecessor companies when the decision was made to embark on it legendary $2 billion, four-year effort to deploy 26,000 miles of fiber-optic lines, pushing telecommunications and our economy into digital mode.
Paul Henson, the company’s avuncular leader, was a big admirer of Eisenhower’s interstate buildout and was ready to pull off an equally grandiose feat as a private company.
Hoffman and a good many of those we surveyed are convinced the time is right for government and the private sector to get bold and resourceful once again.
“Corporate America must assume some responsibility for this because they have not done their part taking care of the country’s infrastructure, wrote Paul Ainsworth, with a heating and air conditioning company in Millsboro, Delaware. “I would like to see a well-thought-out comprehensive plan that details what will be tackled first so money is not just thrown at a bunch of projects with no clear objectives or oversight.”
When it comes to funding, 42 percent say that it will take mostly federal funds with some private capital to get the job done; 33 say it would take equal contributions from both; 17 percent say entirely federal funds should be used and 9 percent say mostly private capital with some federal funds.
What is wanted is something vast.
“Go big or go home,” wrote Larry Cagle, an engineer in Manchester, Tenn. “This is our one chance. Another may never come.”
Martin Rosenberg is content director, energy, and editor-in-chief of the Energy Times, a part of the Industry & Infrastructure Group of the Business Intelligence Division of Informa PLC.