October 22, 2021

Axne: Iowa’s future depends on modernized infrastructure

The definition of infrastructure has changed, our economy’s reliance on good, reliable infrastructure has not.

Dependable infrastructure gets us to work in the morning, transports the crops, goods and services we grow and create, and allows us to communicate with our customers and colleagues around the world in real time.

Dependable infrastructure is more than the roads and bridges we drive on each morning. It’s the lights we turn on when we’re the first person to get to the office in the morning, or last to leave at night — and where the power for that light comes from. It’s the connections and networks we need to talk to our customers, teachers, and suppliers. It’s the schools and daycares where we drop off our children, and the water they drink while they’re there.

Dependable infrastructure allows us to learn, grow, and thrive without worrying that the strength and safety of our surroundings will keep us from success. It’s truly the key to building a strong economy.

The United States used to invest almost 2.7 percent of our gross domestic product to build and maintain dependable infrastructure. But now we invest only a quarter of that.

My colleagues and I in Congress are committed to reversing that trend — and as we begin to work on a robust infrastructure bill that would provide for more than a decade of improvements, I’m focused on securing the investments that will ensure Iowa gets what it needs to be competitive.

Lack of investment in dependable infrastructure has hit rural Americans particularly hard. More than 35 percent of people living in rural areas lack reliable high-speed internet. Bad internet connections have been increasingly frustrating in the last year for all of us who have had to work from home and for the kids who have had to attend school from their kitchen tables – or even from a parking lot because it’s the only place they could get WiFi. We’ve learned it’s impossible to get much done when you’re solely focused on whether you’ll lose the connection to your digital meeting.

The lack of internet access has also made rural areas less attractive to businesses that need a connection to compete in the 21st century. And, it has made it harder for farmers to modernize their operations as they work to implement the newest technology to increase their yields.

Just as access to electricity and a telephone line were key to participating in the modern economy in the 20th century, universal access to affordable, reliable internet needs to be a key priority in the 21st century.

With more and more commerce taking place on digital highways, lack of access to an affordable high-speed internet connection can be the same barrier as a bad bridge used to be for an entrepreneur, a student, or even an older Iowan trying to access essential services to live here.

Iowa is at the forefront when it comes to innovation in biofuels and clean energy. We have the capability to show the world what modern farming looks like. But, to do that, we need to invest in the basic infrastructure that will allow farmers to be successful.

When I’m in Washington, I often tell my colleagues how every ball bearing that supports every single Ford Explorer made in the Midwest comes from Iowa. I think it illustrates how interconnected our nation’s economy is, and shows why Iowa can’t be left behind when we’re considering how to foster decades of economic growth to come.

Iowa makes the products that feed and fuel the nation.

It’s long past time that we invest in ourselves again — in our middle class, in our agriculture community, in our small businesses, and in our future to show the world what we can do. We owe it to ourselves, and to the next generations of Iowans who will need dependable infrastructure that can make their futures bright.