Concrete, steel, and fiber-optic cable are the backbone of a healthy economy enabling trade, powering businesses, connecting people, and creating opportunities. Few issues enjoy such broad bipartisan support as the need for modern, efficient, and reliable infrastructure. Business-friendly policies and major tax reforms that eliminated major barriers to growth have contributed to our rapidly growing state economy. Unfortunately, long-term continued economic success will only be possible with robust leadership, decisive action, and the foresight to plan for our high-growth state’s infrastructure needs. Increased, long-term, and consistent infrastructure investments are going to be needed at every level of government.
Leaders in our community have demonstrated that they are serious about achieving an infrastructure system fit for the future by prioritizing the expansion of water, sewer, electrical, fiber lines, and roads. The U.S. 421 Water and Wastewater Utilities Expansion Project enabled the extension of water and sewer services to nearly 1,000 developable acres across the U.S. 421 corridor from the Isabel Holmes Bridge to the Pender County line. More recently, leaders in New Hanover County carved out $3.6 million from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds to add water and sewer lines in a new business park off of Blue Clay Road. New Hanover County also plans to wisely invest nearly $5.7 million of their ARP funds to connect around 8,000 homes to broadband, focusing on households with children who qualify for Medicaid or Food and Nutrition benefits, for two years in order to increase access and affordability to reliable high-speed internet for students and families. I applaud our leaders’ vision and determination to invest in infrastructure investments that will enhance our community’s ability to attract and retain businesses.
Infrastructure investments support workers by providing jobs for everyone from truck drivers and construction workers to maintenance workers, and electrical power line workers. These opportunities have a low barrier of entry and are projected to grow over the next decade. The investments also support workers of the future by encouraging continued job growth in our region.
I am hopeful that we will continue to see the bold tenacity from our city leaders who took on a bond issue that ultimately became our city’s flagship Riverfront Park. In 2013, our city purchased a simple 6.6-acre tract of land near the Isabel Holmes Bridge. That park now includes a large concert venue, festival space, playground, and interactive water feature, aas well as green space and gardens. The Live Oak Bank Amphitheatre at Riverfront Park is already drawing media attention from Raleigh and Charlotte and will no doubt help our local employers attract in more top talent to this community.
At the state level, deteriorating infrastructure threatens to impede North Carolina’s ability to compete in an increasingly global marketplace. We know that our state’s schools have an estimated capital expenditure gap of $660 million, that driving on North Carolina’s roads cost each driver more than $500 pear year in repairs, and that 9.3% of bridges are rated as structurally deficient. Our elected officials in Raleigh must prioritize strategic investments dedicated to improving and preserving roadways and bridges that increase public safety and account for funding changes as electric, connected and autonomous vehicles become more prevalent.
Continued delays in infrastructure investment have only increased the urgency of commonsense solutions to modernize our local infrastructure. Locally, our Cape Fear Memorial Bridge is estimated to only have a ten-year life expectancy given its age. There are limited, and expensive, ways it’s life could be extended.
I urge policy makers and business leaders to be more unified in advancing policies that are focused on delivering world-leading infrastructure that meets our continually evolving needs. We must work together to improve infrastructure planning and decision-making. We can work to streamline regulatory burdens and modernize processes. We must be willing to utilize new approaches, materials, and technologies to ensure our infrastructure can withstand or recover quickly from severe weather and other natural disasters.
We must take BOLD action to ensure we invest in the infrastructure needs of tomorrow to maintain the growth we already know is coming. Our economic success depends upon it.
The Wilmington Chamber of Commerce is the largest membership-based business association in Southeastern North Carolina. The Chamber’s mission is to ensure economic prosperity throughout our region. This is accomplished by: creating a diverse, inclusive organization that serves as a strong voice for businesses in the Greater Wilmington area; offering unique membership benefits, services and education; and challenging government officials to address long-term community and business interests.
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