WASHINGTON (CN) – American business is falling behind China and other competitors as a result of its outdated infrastructure, representatives for Coca-Cola Enterprises, Caterpillar Constructions and others told Obama administration cabinet members Monday. “The United States is ranked as the most competitive nation in the world, but from an infrastructure standpoint we are number nine on the list,” said Deloitte Financial Consulting Vice Chairman Craig Giffi.
“A third of U.S. manufacturing executives cited infrastructure as a main obstruction of competitiveness,” he said. “We have huge deficits in terms of infrastructure spending.”
The assembly, which included representatives from Coca-Cola Enterprises, Cisco Systems, and Caterpillar Construction, was organized by business groups, including the Council on Competitiveness, to highlight the importance of infrastructure in the economy.
Caterpillar Construction Group President Douglas Oberhelman cited train congestion around Chicago, slow traffic around Los Angeles, and consistent delays at the Port of Long Beach as significant problems. The company, he says, has delivery deadlines it needs to make, but it has trouble calculating travel time.
Oberhelman told of when he visited a Danish shipping company, which he learned does not ship to the United States. Oberhelman’s tour guide explained that American ports aren’t big enough, they don’t want to modernize, and they don’t want to expand.
In China, he said, they have exceptionally efficient ports.
Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, $48 billion has been allocated to transportation infrastructure, but Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said, “The recovery act will not by itself revitalize our supply chain network.”
The United States will need to spend $1.6 trillion over the next five years, Giffi explained, if it wants to bring infrastructure investment to where it should be.
In that endeavor, members of the panel expressed approval of the recent surge in construction spending. Oberhelman said every billion dollars spent on construction stimulates about 15,000 jobs. “They should have called it a jobs bill,” he joked.
Many of the participants agreed that our infrastructure drives business to other countries. For example, the United States is one of the leaders in solar panel research but other countries are beating us in developing them, Giffi said.
Since 2006, ten North American solar-power companies have moved to Germany, investing 300 million euros.
“Everyone in the world is competing all the time for everything. Work is being shipped around the world,” President of the Council on Competitiveness Deborah Wince-Smith said.
“We cannot compete in the 21st century if with 20th century infrastructure,” said Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke.
Most of the panel agreed that education and healthcare were also priorities in deciding where to develop their companies.
“Our competitors don’t have to pay a single dollar for healthcare,” said Oberhelman. “It makes it very difficult for us to compete.”