National Retail Federation President and CEO Matthew Shay Friday emphasized the importance of infrastructure to the retail industry and in turn its impact on the national economy, in a keynote address to the Valley Industry and Commerce Association's 23rd Annual Business Forecast Conference in Los Angeles.

The speech was the first in a series of planned events, panels and discussions dedicated to underscoring the role retail is playing in powering the U.S. economy.

Shay spoke to nearly 600 attendees from the Los Angeles and San Fernando Valley business communities. This year's conference theme is "The Big Economy That Should."

In his speech, Shay described three critical measures that the country and Congress could focus on immediately to help the economy: investing in infrastructure and transportation, opening new markets to trade and investment and reforming and streamlining the tax code.

Infrastructure vital to the supply chain

"The world's largest economy needs a national commitment to infrastructure improvements," said Shay. "We must update and upgrade our vital supply chain links, be it our near-dock facilities or highways, to ensure our nation's central role in the global economy. New public and private initiatives and creative funding mechanism are essential to address our unchecked infrastructure deficit."

The supply chain is critical to the economy, Slay explained. Yet unless we revamp our transportation grid, he said, some analysts predict a loss of more than $300 billion in growth over the next five years.

"It is clearly time to upgrade America's infrastructure," he said. "The world's largest economy needs world-class roads, ports, and airports. We need to develop a federal freight policy and make other critical investments that have been deferred for far too long. In the short run, these investments will give our country a much-needed boost. In the long run, they will serve as the foundation for enduring economic growth."

Slay called for finding new innovative ways of financing infrastructure, such as he 30/10 Initiative, known as America Fast Forward. This program, pushed by LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, is designed to help communities accelerate their transit and infrastructure projects by using federal loans to leverage local taxes.

"Not only has this initiative turned traditional infrastructure financing on its head, it has done so with the support of both the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National AFL-CIO," Slay said.
"And it is a reminder for leaders across our country: Our national deficit is no excuse for ignoring our infrastructure deficit."