Weeks after the hurricanes have come and gone, Houston (and other parts of Texas), and cities and towns extending across Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, remain a blend of humanitarian crisis and recovery. Trash removal continues but mountains of trash still dominate the landscape. Power is coming back on line, but outages endure. The storms’ combined death toll continues to mount by ones and twos, as workers die from flesh-eating bacteria and other causes in the post-hurricane cleanup here on the mainland. Polluted waters are taking lives in Puerto Rico (the humanitarian crisis there has only just begun). Tuesday the U.S. Congress gave final approval to an aid package forgiving $16B of FEMA National Flood Insurance Program debt and targeting $18B for hurricane and wildfire recovery across the U.S. and its territories. This is the most recent tranche of funding, but by no means the last that will be needed.
Tragedy, growing suffering; daunting losses, of a magnitude (judging by the Congressional debate to date) that intimidates even the leaders of the world’s largest economy, still-larger cleanup bills coming due – a gloomy picture indeed. Easy to get discouraged.
But that would be a mistake. Reframed – viewed differently – these regions and their peoples aren’t just recovery efforts – they’re demonstrator models on America’s showroom floor.
Here’s the idea.
Showrooms? For displaying goods and merchandise? Every shopping mall, every downtown retail district has them. But for me – and perhaps for you as well – two brands stand out: Apple, and Tesla.
Electronics stores and ISP service outlets from Best Buy to Verizon are ubiquitous, and by-and-large share the same look and feel. But Apple’s stores are a breed apart.
Car dealerships along suburban thoroughfares – and for even the priciest makes are a dime a dozen. But Tesla locates its showrooms in high-end shopping plazas, and even in that heady atmosphere of wealth and glitz, Tesla creates buzz.
To walk into such showrooms is to leave behind, at least for the moment, the present world with its problems, dysfunction, and reminders of past and developing failure, and to enter a future world, brimming with possibility. This is not accidental but by design. Every feature, every detail of these showrooms contributes to the effect. And what makes it work is an underlying integrity to the technology and quality behind the product. The special attention to marketing is an extension of the special attention to the basic products and services. To be in this environment is to want a Phone X, or a Tesla Model 3 – and know why.
The U.S. can achieve the same outcome in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Florida, Texas, and the Napa-Sonoma Valley of California. How? Simple. Instead of flinching from the task of cleanup and seeing the goal as minimal recovery – something patched-together and falling short of the pre-existing state – the U.S. can more generously pour in resources to these areas and bring them to far superior condition – more productive, vital, viable, resilient. When people ask why, we would answer, because that’s the way we approach things in here the U.S. We’re not going to condemn our people to repetitive loss – this must never happen again. When people ask how can you afford it? we would answer, we can’t afford not to.
We would say this, because we’d have in mind our social contract that we’re all in this together. We’re not in the business of creating two Americas — an America of affluence and another America of poverty – side-by-side. That’s unsustainable. And we would also know that if nations of the world saw us dealing effectively and positively with our in-country $100B problem, they might connect the dots. They might realize our companies and government agencies have just the expertise, experience, spirit, and ethos needed to help them with their own disaster recoveries. Significantly, these are individually smaller, but aggregate to hundreds of billions of dollars in an average year – several times our own losses. Get the picture? The profit and opportunities for learning to be had from that larger book of business would more than repay our efforts domestically. Our own disasters aren’t catastrophes so much as they’re learning opportunities for doing much better the next time around.
Speaking of Apple, and Tesla, and other high-tech firms, they understand this – even with respect to the opportunities inherent in disaster recovery. Apple, Tesla, and other high-tech firms are responding to the Puerto Rican crisis not just with donations, but with high tech, innovative approaches to rapid-stand-up of cellphone communications, using ballon-borne platforms,
batteries and renewable power sources, and more.
Let’s end on this note. The option is not whether or not to view these vast recovery projects as demonstrators on America’s showroom floor. That’s not the choice we’re given. Seven billion people from 200 nations worldwide are watching us every day, to see what America does, to see how things are going. The only choice we can make is what they find as they enter America’s showroom. What will they see? Unity? Or bickering? Progress? Or its lack? Positive, can-do energy? Or dispirit? And based on what they see, our international potential customers and partners are making their choices.
Seek help from and collaboration with the U.S.? Or look elsewhere… to China, say?