Opinion: High-speed rail an engine for economic vitality

The upcoming release of the California High Speed Rail Authority’s business plan on Tuesday marks a major milestone for the future of our state. With millions of Californians unemployed and the economy in a slump, the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce believes the state’s high speed rail project offers not only a common sense solution to help meet our transportation infrastructure needs, but a powerful force for creating jobs and economic growth that California cannot afford to pass up. Hispanic small businesses as well as all small businesses have much to gain from this opportunity.

California is now a state of roughly 38 million people, who live and work with infrastructure designed for about half that population.  Long-term forecasts project that our population will grow to nearly 60 million people by 2050 – with correlating needs for infrastructure. With our existing infrastructure crumbling, California will need to invest in a viable, long-term solution for the gridlock on our roads and at our airports, and high-speed rail is a cost-effective option.

Although much has changed in our state since Californians voted to invest in an innovative vision for the state’s transportation future and passed Proposition 1A in November 2008, the benefits of building high speed rail in California remain the same: the creation of good jobs; wide-spread economic growth; and improved connectivity between the businesses and regions of this state.

At a time when California’s small minority-owned businesses are struggling to stay afloat, the high speed rail project will spur both short-term and long-term economic growth. The project will create nearly 100,000 new construction-related jobs as soon as it breaks ground in 2012, with more than 100,000 additional jobs being generated each year the system is being built. According to High Speed Rail Authority policy, a minimum of 30 percent of the project’s construction contracts will be awarded to California-based small businesses.

Once construction of the first segment of the system is completed, an estimated 450,000 permanent new jobs statewide are expected to be created, with hundreds more jobs being added for suppliers, restaurants and other businesses along the route.  These are jobs that will stay in California for generations to come.

These jobs will in turn help businesses flourish and create connections that will bring together vibrant regional economic ecosystems. These centers will begin to form around transportation terminals, helping to revitalize the communities nearby. Over time, California small businesses will benefit from the dramatically improved movement of people, goods and services that high speed rail provides. The system will connect businesses to labor and other businesses and markets throughout the state, improving the flow of statewide commerce and providing significant economic value and potential for job creation. Facilitated by high speed rail, improved connectivity between businesses will make California’s economy more productive and competitive.

As California continues to weather the economic and fiscal downturn, comprehensive solutions remain elusive and our economic competitiveness is at risk. There are many issues yet to be resolved with California’s high speed rail project, but there is no doubt it will generate much needed economic growth, investment, and development opportunities for the state.

The question today is whether we take advantage of these opportunities or we do nothing and pass on the chance to create hundreds of thousands of jobs and invest billions of dollars in already-awarded federal funding into the future of our state’s transportation network.

Given its unprecedented size, scope, and complexity, it is inevitable that the high speed rail project will continue to face obstacles and be the subject of ongoing debate. But with the potential for hundreds of thousands of jobs and wide-spread economic growth throughout our communities, there is too much at stake to close the book on high speed rail just because there are some challenges ahead.

The release of the California High Speed Rail Authority’s updated business plan brings us one step closer creating a needed economic engine for our state, and it deserves to be fairly and thoughtfully considered and responded to in the months to come.

Julian Canete is the president and CEO of the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce.

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