Growing Manufacturers and the U.S. Economy

Leading the way on infrastructure

By: Mark Sutton, Chairman & CEO, International Paper Company

May 18, 2017

As we mark Infrastructure Week 2017, it’s clear that our nation’s infrastructure, once the envy of the world, is suffering from years of underinvestment. Federal investment in transportation and water infrastructure has dropped by half since the mid-1960s. That should alarm all of us.

This inattention to infrastructure creates a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the current Administration and Congress to place infrastructure back into focus and support manufacturers like International Paper and the countless other American businesses that depend on a vital and well-maintained transportation system. We use multiple modes of transportation across the U.S. and global supply chain to make and deliver our diverse array of products, including corrugated packaging, pulp for diapers, tissue and other personal hygiene products, cups and food containers as well as printing paper. These products enable worldwide commerce, facilitate education and communication, promote health and wellness and provide convenience and portability for consumers around the globe.

In fact, International Paper is the nation’s largest boxcar rail customer, the third-largest waterborne exporter by volume and a leader in truckload shipping. We proudly export nearly 22 percent of what we manufacture in the U.S. Our 36,000 U.S. employees, our suppliers and our customers understand the vital role that each mode of transportation plays in driving our success.

We are encouraged to see the nation’s leaders stepping up to make infrastructure a priority again. The stakes are clear: Absent significant new investment, the challenges facing our aging infrastructure will only grow.President Trump and Congress have the opportunity to invest directly in the success of the U.S. economy and manufacturers by directing funding toward critical port dredging projects, key freight rail bottlenecks, and roads and bridges that will improve highway efficiency and safety. Public-Private Partnerships alone cannot move the needle for this monumental effort. Federal funding is both an essential and wise part of this infrastructure initiative. Prioritizing and expanding the TIGER and FASTLANE grant programs to fund critical freight transportation projects across the country would be a strong first step.

Federal investment in transportation and water infrastructure has dropped by half since the mid-1960s. That should alarm all of us.

It’s important to draw attention to the home of many manufacturing centers around the country: rural America. International Paper has the privilege of being the largest employer in many rural areas where we operate. Our facilities can employ nearly 1,000 people in a small community and we generate a significant economic multiplier effect for local suppliers, contractors and small businesses. These facilities manufacture products that are the best in the world but the supply chain infrastructure connecting these facilities to U.S. and global customers is in dire need of investment. Federal funding can drive these freight projects in rural areas. The ability for our facilities to meet customer needs is driven by supply chain efficiency and can mean the difference between winning business or losing to global competitors. Policymakers should set aside funding with rural job creators and communities in mind.

It’s more important than ever for the U.S. supply chain network to keep pace so that we can compete to win in the global economy. The Business Roundtable has developed a path forward for policymakers in Back in Business: A Policy Blueprint for Renewing America’s Infrastructure and we encourage Congressional action on their recommendations.