As President Trump and Congressional leaders continue talks on an infrastructure package, I strongly encourage them to make sure public-private partnerships are a part of their discussions. A public-private partnership is essentially an agreement or a collaboration between a private-sector company or industry and a government agency to help finance and manage a project that benefits a community.
While they are most commonly seen helping infrastructure projects, like housing developments, they can also be found in almost every industry. They are even expanding into our public school systems. Prince George’s County, just across the river from Washington D.C., is about to become the first public school system to set up a public-private partnership in an effort to help defray costs for the $8.5 billion worth of maintenance and construction they currently need.
One of the most successful public-private partnerships is an organization known as Brand USA. Brand USA is a public-private partnership that promotes travel to the United States by people abroad. With more than 80 million international travelers visiting our country and directly adding more than $150 billion to our economy in 2018 alone, it is incredibly important that we continue to attract legitimate foreign tourists and business travelers. But as travel between countries becomes easier and easier, we are in a serious competition to remain one of the top destinations for people all over the world.
And while overseas visitors are well aware of top destinations like New York and Los Angeles, Brand USA encourages travel all across our great nation. To do so, Brand USA partners with over 900 local destination market organizations that cover every state in the U.S. Through these partnerships, the program largely promotes smaller and lesser-known destinations off the beaten path, which benefits countless local economies in red and rural areas and shows our foreign visitors everything America has to offer.
Most importantly, and uncommonly for many public-private partnerships, not a single taxpayer dollar goes to fund Brand USA. Instead, this fiscally-responsible program is funded by a percentage of the $14 Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) fee paid by foreign visitors from any of the 38 countries that come to the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program. Private companies that benefit from the travel industry must match the money raised by this fee dollar for dollar, putting Brand USA’s budget at around $200 million annually.
In exchange for that, since 2013, Brand USA has created 52,000 American jobs and has stimulated $6.2 billion in federal, state and local tax revenue. Plus, it has added $47.7 billion to our economy – a 25 to 1 return on the investment.
Unfortunately, Brand USA is at risk of losing its funding. Because of recent budget negotiations in Congress, all of the money Brand USA received from the ESTA fee is now being diverted back into the Treasury. If Brand USA were to be dissolved, the loss of these real economic benefits would be felt in all of the far-reaching places that the program helps to promote across the country. Thankfully, there is a bipartisan group of Members of Congress standing up to make sure Brand USA can continue its important work of promoting our country to the rest of the world. Senator Cory Gardner from Colorado, Senator John Thune from South Dakota, and Senator Roy Blunt from Missouri are just some of the lawmakers who understand the important role public-private partnerships like Brand USA plays for the American economy and who have supported reauthorizing the program. Their colleagues, such as Senators Rob Portman, Josh Hawley, Lisa Murkowski, and Steve Daines, should join them in this fight.