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Investing in Infrastructure Key to Economic Recovery

As history has taught us, during periods of economic downturn, the most effective way to create jobs, stimulate the economy and pay down debt is to invest wisely and build for the future. I am encouraged that this is a lesson President Barack Obama fully understands.

A single stimulus package, although a good start, is not enough to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself. We need to develop a broad vision, strategic priorities and the will to make them a reality as we plan the construction and funding of a new infrastructure for the 21st century. [IMGCAP(1)]

The initial investment has been made and steps have been taken toward that goal, but it is only the beginning. We must engage in a national dialogue that brings private and public sectors together with industry experts to find solutions. A conference being held in Washington, D.C., in March, titled “Rebuilding America’s Infrastructure for Global Competitiveness” will be the opening salvo of that discussion and serve as a precursor of events to come.

At the darkest point of the Great Depression, it was extensive investment in public works, building construction and infrastructure projects that helped put Americans back to work, rebuilding the nation’s confidence one brick at a time. Many of the infrastructure and public works programs initiated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s continue to have an enduring influence on the United States and the world today, laying the foundation — often quite literally — for industry and commerce for subsequent decades of growth.

Unfortunately, as innovation and technological advances have changed the way the modern world travels, communicates, conducts business and operates in a globally interconnected marketplace, that foundation of roadways and so much more of the marketplace has become neglected here at home.

As the chief executive officer of a global manufacturing company, I have watched as my company’s equipment has helped to build the infrastructure of China, Brazil, the Middle East and others in the developed and developing world while roads and bridges in the United States have fallen into disrepair.

When it comes to infrastructure, my generation has been using transportation and commercial systems of earlier generations. We have forgotten that the imaginative infrastructure investments from the Erie Canal to the interstate highway system were the catalysts of their times, past economic success and proof that public spending has a lasting public benefit.

From Hurricane Katrina to the collapse of the Interstate 35 bridge in Minneapolis, the dangers of infrastructure deterioration have become tragically clear in recent years. It is unacceptable that as the richest nation in the world, we are more than $1.5 trillion behind schedule in road, bridge, port and rail repair.

However, for the sake of the nation’s long-term economic health, the president, the Congress and state governments must understand the difference between painting a bridge, which provides temporary jobs and temporary solutions, versus undertaking projects that promote lasting economic growth and prosperity.

We must do more than “fix” our crumbling infrastructure with short-term solutions. To be competitive in the global market of tomorrow, we must rethink, rebuild and overhaul our infrastructure system — today.

To regain our standing in the world as a manufacturing leader, we must put our people and our knowledge to work — building in ways that are not only better, but smarter. We cannot be constrained by 20th-century conventions and instead must embrace the potential of a sustainable ecoinfrastructure, more efficient public buildings, power transmission, roadways and rail networks.

In the next 40 years, the U.S. Census Bureau predicts the American population will reach 439 million. Maintaining the most basic services Americans rely upon — power, water and roadways — will depend on decisions we make now.

The administration, Congress, state and local governments and the private sector must band together, put politics aside, and make the hard choices, embrace new technologies and not shrink away from the responsibility we have at this moment in time to build a lasting infrastructure that can support a robust economy.

Ron DeFeo is chairman and CEO of Terex Corp.

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