KANSAS CITY — In addition to being the two leading US states in terms of gross domestic product, California and Texas have another issue in common — both states have endured catastrophic events during the past 12 months that crippled infrastructure statewide. Such devastating events are occurring more frequently throughout the country, and food manufacturers and their representative trade groups must advocate for investments that improve and harden infrastructure systems nationwide.
In California, extreme heat sent energy demand soaring while high winds forced electricity providers to shut down parts of the state’s electrical grid to prevent wildfires. The lack of power temporarily shuttered many businesses in the state, and, despite initiating rolling blackouts to prevent wildfires, 2020 was a record-setting year for wildfires in California that disrupted the supply chain.
The more immediate recent debacle occurred when cold temperatures in Texas led to a spike in energy demand and froze power generation assets. In addition to leaving millions without power in frigid weather, just about every part of the supply chain in Texas was adversely affected by the bitter cold, from an inability to distribute product to the shutdown of operations due to power or water outages.
And while recent events may focus on the disruption of the electrical grid, flooding in numerous parts of the country, particularly the Midwest and Southeast, has become worse. Each flood event in the short term disrupts operations and distribution, and in the long term adds to the gradual degradation of roads, bridges and rail tracks.
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has been blunt about the state of America’s infrastructure for many years — it’s failing. The trade group’s Infrastructure Report Card is published every four years, with the next installment to be released this year.
In 2017, American infrastructure rated a D+, according to the ASCE. Of the assets food and beverage manufacturers use most, the grades were mixed. Rail infrastructure received a B, America’s ports earned a C+, but inland waterways, roads and energy infrastructure rated a grade of D.
That investments in upgrading the nation’s infrastructure are a necessity is a matter of agreement among political and business leaders. The Biden administration’s No. 1 priority is pandemic relief. No. 2 on the agenda is infrastructure investment.
“It’s time to stop talking about infrastructure and to finally start building an infrastructure so we can be more competitive,” President Joe Biden said in January.
Lobbying groups like the US Chamber of Commerce that represent the nation’s business community agree, advocating for infrastructure investment that solidifies the nation’s foundation and improves global competitiveness.
Past efforts to build bipartisan political consensus around a national infrastructure investment plan have been bogged down in the politics of the moment. Progress, when there has been some, has come in fits and starts.
Compared to the pandemic, the US infrastructure crisis is unfolding in slow motion. Dealing with the crisis should be thoughtful and careful to avoid waste and ensure success but should not be endlessly plodding. Politicians, business leaders and those charged with evaluating and safeguarding the country’s infrastructure agree upgrades are crucial. Proactively advocating for investment now will reduce the opportunities for greater disruption in the future.