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Shovel-Ready Tech: Silicon Valley’s Role in Rebuilding Infrastructure

By Benjamin Shepherd on May 1, 2017

There’s no debating the sorry state of America’s infrastructure. The 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, a wide-ranging survey put together by the American Society of Civil Engineers, gives American roads, waterworks and energy systems a pathetic “D+.”

That’s no surprise, considering the frequent news stories about collapsing roads and bridges, contaminated water systems, deadly traffic accidents, and raw sewage on beaches. The crumbling condition of the country’s infrastructure makes the world’s largest economy seem like a third-rate banana republic.

Consequently, infrastructure projects typically figure prominently in post-recession recovery efforts. Not only do they address immediate needs, they also create jobs to help get the economy growing again. That’s also why the Trump administration plans to propose a package of tax breaks and other incentives to spur $1 trillion in new infrastructure spending. That spending won’t just benefit companies that build bridges, lay pipe and asphalt or design airports — technology companies would be getting in on the action too.

Like everything else, infrastructure is getting smarter. There are roadbeds now that include sensors capable of monitoring road conditions and traffic patterns and pipes that can detect leaks, just to name two emerging technologies. That data is then beamed back to a monitoring station in real time, so problems can be dealt with as they’re just emerging. All that data must be transmitted, stored and analyzed.

That’s a boon for companies that make microchips used in sensors to transmit data, makers of servers that store data, and producers of fiber optic network components. The trend also benefits “Big Data” companies such as Splunk (NSDQ: SPLK), whose technologies would mine all that data to find useful information. Even old guard technology companies such as IBM (NYSE: IBM) would benefit, thanks to its work in artificial intelligence.

Several battery makers and technology companies are encouraging Congress to include energy storage technologies in discussions about upgrading and improving American infrastructure. That would help “smooth” production for solar and wind farms and also help counteract grid failures.

What’s more, there’s a push to revive efforts to spread broadband access across the country. Broadband expansion was part of the 2009 recovery effort and more still needs to be done. Improperly vetted contractors, poor management and other bureaucratic hurdles resulted in as few as 200,000 people getting new broadband connections. Broadband has become the backbone of the modern economy, a reality that’s propelling a new expansion effort in Congress.

The upshot: An infrastructure program would not only boost the nation’s construction firms, but also technology companies, especially those that handle the nuts-and-bolts of our increasingly connected lives.

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