The Next Economy: Transforming Energy and Infrastructure Investment

Bruce Katz
Bruce Katz Founding Director of the Nowak Metro Finance Lab - Drexel University

February 4, 2010

In early February, Bruce Katz touted his vision for America’s next economy, chiefly driven by an increase in exports. Fueling innovation and building on an emerging green economy are also tenets of the plan, which can help the country maintain prosperity in a global economy.

It is great to be in California with a group of individuals who are at the cutting edge of economic transformation, our topic for the day.

The “Great Recession” has been a wake up call for the nation.

It unveiled an economy dangerously out of whack: frenzied with consumption, wasteful in its use of energy, more adept at increasing inequity than sharing prosperity, more successful at exacerbating rather than easing divisions between Wall Street and Main Street.

It is time to get back on track and lay the foundation for a radically different kind of growth in our country.

In that spirit, I make the following proposition:

First, as Larry Summers and other respected economists have intoned, the shape of the next American economy must be export-oriented, low carbon, and innovation fueled.  This is a vision where we export more and waste less, innovate in what matters, produce and deploy more of what we invent.  This is the kind of productive and sustainable economy which must emerge from the rubble of this recession.

Second, the next economy will be led by metropolitan areas.  They are the hubs of trade, commerce, and migration and the centers for talent, capital, and innovation.  They contain the infrastructure to move people, goods, ideas, and energy efficiently and the institutions to educate and train the workforce of the future.  Metropolitan areas are the engines of national prosperity.

Finally, to build the next economy, the United States must connect the macro vision to metro reality, the macro to the metro.  We need to leverage the market energy and creativity found in our metros with smart, game-changing federal and state actions.  And we need a full court press on delivering an educated and skilled workforce, which can drive the next economy and must benefit from it.  The next economy must be opportunity rich as well as export oriented, low carbon, and innovation fueled.

All this will not be easy.

We compete in a fiercely competitive world where established nations like Germany and rising nations like China, India, and Brazil are moving forward.  These and other countries are making seismic and ultimately transformative investments in renewable energy, in modern ports, in high speed rail, in metropolitan transit.

And America? We seem stuck in political polarization and hyper-partisanship.

Our challenge is to convert the dynamism in this metropolis… and others like it… into solutions that are pragmatic, far reaching and critical to this moment.  We must move as quickly as possible to change the mental map of our nation from a constitutional union of 50 states to an economic network of highly connected, hyper-linked, and seamlessly integrated metropolitan areas.

The most important action we take in the aftermath of this recession is to build for the future.  The stakes could not be higher.