Despite severe budget challenges, investing in infrastructure is US mayors’ top immediate and long-term priority for economic recovery from the pandemic, new research finds.
The survey from the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM), in partnership with technology supplier Siemens USA, was carried out in late August by The Harris Poll among 124 mayors of US cities with a population of 30,000 or more.
While the majority (94 percent) agree that their city’s economic recovery depends on containing and preventing community spread of COVID-19, mayors also said that their immediate top investment priorities for economic recovery are investing in infrastructure to generate jobs and for economic growth (69 percent) and expanding delivery of virtual/online city services (63 percent).
In addition, 89 percent say that cities need to implement smart technologies to help employees return to work with confidence.
Two-thirds of mayors (67 percent) believe that now is the best time for their city to invest in transit-related capital projects to address longer-term needs, and 92 percent agree that updating roads, signalling, sidewalks and tunnels/bridges will help bring back jobs and revitalize their city’s economy.
More than nine in ten mayors polled agree that investment in technology to change or adapt how commercial buildings are being used is necessary for the future of their city (97 percent) and that investment in buildings/facilities is still necessary for their city despite some activities being conducted online during the COVID-19 pandemic (94 percent).
Paying for it
However, funding these investments will be a challenge, with 98 percent of mayors expecting their city’s operating budget to decline over the next 12-18 months. Two-thirds attribute all or most of the decline to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Separate analysis from Kagan, a research group within S&P Global Market Intelligence, concluded recently that the number of US smart city deployments is expected to fall seven percent in 2021 due to COVID-19.
Of the mayors surveyed for the USCM poll, 94 percent believe that the federal government should provide emergency fiscal relief for cities to mitigate the budget shortfalls resulting from COVID-19’s impact. Further, 86 percent say that without financial assistance from the federal government, the ability of their city’s economy to bounce back will be “significantly delayed”.
All mayors surveyed said they believe that corporations have a role to play in helping to rebuild and revitalize their city’s economy, most commonly through capital investments (69 percent).
“Mayors know that few things can revitalize an economy and a city like investments in modern infrastructure and technology,” said USCM President and Louisville (KY) Mayor, Greg Fischer. “Rebuilding our infrastructure has been a consistent priority for mayors in cities large and small, but our need is made only more urgent by the COVID-19 pandemic.”