Is there a CEO among the roles?
I want to thank and commend those involved in putting on York County Day this year. I also want to thank the South Carolina Senators and Representatives and Secretaries who attended and spoke. As I came to understand, the York County Day event took place during a stressful time for legislators because of the filibuster of the transportation bill happening concurrently in the Senate. Though, they were glad to have a break from it surely.
Sometimes when you’re working hard on the specifics, regardless of what it is, it can be difficult to step back and look at big strategic ideas. I felt like this was the case for the legislators who participated in the York County day event. I can relate to this, of course, in my business. It’s tough to discuss big creative ideas for strategy and to work “on the business” while dealing with urgent “in the business” issues. It’s tough to talk longterm vision while putting out a fire.
And there definitely is a fire with Infrastructure and Transportation. We have a $1.4 billion shortfall annually to even have roads in “good” condition, as opposed to “fair” or “poor” as they are rated now. Everyone knows it’s a major issue, and we discuss it every year. It’s like we’re in a sink hole with a pending doom. This year though, there was sharp and meaningful action taken by the House to create a bill to fund infrastructure (at least partially). It is, as of this writing, stuck in a filibuster in the Senate. I appreciate the work that is being done on the transportation issue by those who are doing productive, meaningful work. Listening to our representatives speak in that large room in Columbia, I felt their frustration.
I was particularly impressed with a presentation from Christy Hall, Secretary of Transportation, and Gary Simrill, Member of the House of Representatives. Secretary Hall spoke about SCDOT. She seems to be doing great things in the areas of efficiency and transparency. This is great COO work. So, when it comes to infrastructure, I see Secretary Hall as the COO.
Representative Simrill spoke about some really innovative funding plans. These plans seemed well thought through, practical, appropriately levied, and empathetic to the many sides and complexities involved. Not only did he and his group design a good plan, it seems, but he also was able to champion the plan in a way that got 87 votes in the House. This is a significant achievement, it would seem. This is great CFO work and great leadership. I see Representative Simrill as the CFO of Infrastructure.
Any organization/effort needs a great COO and a great CFO. We seem to have these in approaching Infrastructure in our state. That’s good news for us. So, my question, then, is more for a CEO of Infrastructure, if you will. My question is about vision.
As for infrastructure, we have an insurmountable deficit each year just to get up to par level on where we’ve been and how we’ve done things for the past 50 years. Instead of scrambling to even catch up to the past, why don’t we implement the future now to solve our current problems in a way that we will do things for the NEXT 50 years?
What if we didn’t try to catch up on fixing all the roads in the way we’ve always done it? What if we quit thinking that we can scoop water with our buckets so fast that we can eventually get down to wood and then plug the holes of this sinking boat? What if we instead designed a new vessel – a totally new way to approach infrastructure that meets our future needs, not our past needs?
Here’s an example of what I mean:
Secretary Hall talked about roads in poor condition out in the rural areas that have so little traffic that it’s hard to justify spending the budget to pave them. But we need to be equitable in our state’s resources, so these few people need safe roads as well. This is a tough spot to be in as a COO. “The peanut butter only spreads so thin,” said the Secretary.
But what if we paved those roads with solar panels instead of asphalt? What if our rural roads were part of an energy network for the state. Then, we’d be happy that not many people drive on them because that would just extend the life of the road as an energy source.
In this example, we would get the energy and the roads. Right now, there seems to be an “or” kinda paradigm in Columbia. Are we going to fully fund education or infrastructure? We can’t do both, is what I hear said. The wonderful truth, though, is that the “fact” that we “can’t fund both” is more a product of our thinking than it is an inability to generate revenue. We, as a state, definitely generate a lot of revenue. So, what do we do with it? Right now, we see the money as a pie from which everyone wants a piece. There’s only so much pie to go around, right. Well, what if we changed the metaphor? We need to not think that infrastructure and innovation and education are all separate things. We need to find synergy among our silos. We need to align our public initiatives (education, jobs/innovation, infrastructure, and more) to the same efforts. This lets us spend money toward achieving multiple goals across multiple initiatives all with the same efforts.
With solar roads, we can use money that would be for energy sector investments – because it’s that too. Solar roads are also exactly the type of innovation we are investing in with higher education. Let’s put students to work on solving our state’s problems in energy and infrastructure. Let’s invest in job growth in the energy and infrastructure arenas (we’re investing in this anyway), and look for collaborations in these areas in public/private partnership.
So, instead of education and infrastructure and workforce development all tugging in different directions on the same money. We are spending the money in a coordinated way that benefits all three and creates a synergy among them that generates an even larger gain than the sum of its parts.
When you start thinking this way, you see there is no pie. There is instead a body of water, and it will take any shape that we see it in. This kind of thinking, this kind of alignment, this kind of change… This is the job of a CEO. We need a CEO at the helm of this. Is someone driving this operation from the top with this kind of thinking, vision, and alignment in mind?
Therein lies a great challenge and a great opportunity.