Each and every day, newspapers report on important infrastructure development in cities and towns across the country. Headlines may read “[Insert your favorite development company] lands multimillion dollar deal with [insert your favorite city].” The article will probably feature exorbitant cost figures and foreign industry acronyms, stock prices and fancy renderings. And this is all well and good for investors and industry professionals. Sure, it’s helpful to know who is building in your area, what it’s for, and how much it costs.

But what’s too often left out of the rhetoric of these public-private partnerships is the answer to why the projects are happening. The specs of development only tell half of the story, and it’s likely the reason why much of the community is either disinterested or upset about the construction happening in their neighborhood; because the stories we read are frequently business oriented and not people oriented. The rhetoric behind these truly important projects should tell the why story. After all, the partnership here is the willingness to work together to make our communities better.

Corporation or individual, big or small, rich or poor, urban or rural, there is no excuse to obfuscate that responsibility we have to our community.

On the 2012 campaign trial, President Obama got some heat for a poorly phrased term that was taken out of context and played on every conservative talk show in the country: “You didn’t build that.” [1]

What he really meant was that our success does not exist alone. Without safe roads and bridges, our country’s businesses could not transport product. Without public schools, companies would be devoid of an educated workforce to run businesses that turn profits and allow our country to prosper.

These are important lessons and valuable perspectives on what government can do for us. What President Obama failed to mention, however, is the unmistakable impact private businesses of all sizes have on the functionality of our government and our country. Our private sector, from farmers to developers to scientists, is as integral to our success as the laws and liberties that govern this country. Our nation of 360 million people cannot always be best served solely by its government.

Public-private partnerships serve as a reminder that we can accomplish a great deal by acting in concert; that “working together” is not merely a platitude or a headline or a photo opportunity, but at least part of a solution for education and employment and health nationwide and a keyword for tangible change that positively affects our lives every day.

It is not one or the other, public or private, which allows us to thrive but a delicate balance of the two. For the sake of generations of Americans that we will never meet, it is our duty to attempt to bridge the gap between public and private. In order for us to succeed, companies need forego “my way or the highway,” for “our way… and a highway.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that “it is one of the most beautiful compensations of life, that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.” To live by those words means to collaborate as often as possible in order to move forward for ourselves and for others. Cooperation is a cornerstone of true progress, and if we are patient enough, we will be the beneficiaries of those dividends.

 

[1] Obama, Barack H. “Remarks by the President at a Campaign Event in Roanoke, Virginia.” The White House. The White House, 13 July 2014. Web. 31 July 2014.