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Dulaney: America Needs to Be 'Smarter' About Infrastructure

Construction crews work on a freeway overpass along Highway 101 in Novato, California.
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Construction crews work on a freeway overpass along Highway 101 in Novato, California.

Last week, President Obama used his State of the Union speech to address the importance of a robust infrastructure for America.

It's simple: Our country is fighting 21st century global competition with roads, bridges and ports from the early to mid-20th century and pipes and rail lines from the 19th century.

It's one reason the American Society of Civil Engineers graded the US a "D" on its infrastructure and why our country now ranks 25 out of 139 countries in its quality of infrastructure — a drop in years past and a dubious distinction that inspires little confidence.

President Obama highlighted several important concepts in his speech: Not bigger. Smarter ...worthy of our children.

This last phrase in particular struck me. Just earlier that day, I listened to a panel of former administration officials, one of whom made an impassioned case for "building buildings that are worthy of the American people." Great, memorable buildings. Buildings that motivate Americans and represent who we are.

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As I listened to the President make his case to the American people, I realized that we needed to broaden this concept, and build an infrastructure that is worthy of the American people. One that is smart, innovative, energy efficient and more resilient to today's growing challenges. One that will help us mitigate the unexpected events that throw our cities off track — whether they be weather-related or otherwise. We need an infrastructure that will keep resilient for our future generation's growing electrical, data and security needs.

We need to cement America's rightful place at the head of the global competitive playing field.

There is funding available for infrastructure. Unfortunately, it only gets released during emergencies or disastrous events. No one is advocating that this emergency funding should not exist. But, there is a case to be made that investing in state of the art technology will better mitigate future challenges and actually lessen the increasing costs of fixing something that's "broke."

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That's what we mean by "smarter not bigger." It can help companies perform more competitively. It could put our city budgets back onto a more predictable financial road map.

If we're going to make the necessary improvements to support a growing manufacturing and industrial sector that requires roads and railways to transport their goods, to provide the nation with reliable power during storm or calm, or to handle more export cargo through our aging ports, there needs to be more of the collaboration we're starting to see between the public and private sectors.

While Washington, D.C. remains at a standstill on many critical political issues, local governments and companies are finding more ways to work together. Multinational corporations consistently list infrastructure as one of their top four concerns when determining where to build a new facility. But the private sector also knows that it has to come to the table with something more than it has in the past. And we're doing that by sharing our technology, helping do more workforce training, making increased investments, building domestic supply chains and providing more financial solutions.

No more "just fix it it" mentality. We need to build and invest in infrastructure that is going to be high tech, integrated, reliable and resilient. We need an infrastructure that will make us more competitive. One that allows us to be smarter. One that will take us into the next century. It has to support new, growing industries and manufacturing. It has to be worthy of America.

Daryl Dulaney is the head of Siemens Infrastructure and Cities sector.

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