We must continue to invest in Northwest Indiana

2010-02-14T00:00:00Z We must continue to invest in Northwest IndianaBy U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind. nwitimes.com
February 14, 2010 12:00 am  • 

A headline in The Times a year ago today proclaimed Congress' passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, legislation designed to jumpstart our economy and retain and create jobs while addressing some of the nation's greatest challenges. At that time, the country was losing 600,000 to 700,000 jobs a month, and Northwest Indiana was not immune to the economic collapse.

Shortly thereafter, in a column in last year's NWI Now section, I recognized the need to get our economy back on track quickly. And taking the longer view, I argued that we needed to ensure the continued economic vitality of our steel industry, but we could not depend on steel alone to fuel our economy-we needed to rebuild Northwest Indiana. That in large part remains the case today, and we have made progress in the last year.

Nationally, economists agree that the Recovery Act -- which gave 95 percent of American workers one of the fastest and broadest tax cuts in history and made key investments in areas such as energy efficiency, science innovation, and education -- helped preserve and create jobs and grow our gross domestic product in the third quarter of 2009 after four consecutive quarters of contraction.

One of the key components in the Recovery Act was that it provided $111 billion for infrastructure improvements. I am pleased the Buy American provision I offered in the Appropriations Committee was adopted. The final law mandates that all goods and products bought for those infrastructure projects have to be made in the United States.

Since we are investing American taxpayer dollars to save and create American jobs, it makes sense to maximize the use of those funds by buying American. The provision has helped, as a number of Northwest Indiana's steelworkers are being called back and, according to data from the American Iron and Steel Institute, steel shipments are up from a year ago.

Locally, outside of the steel industry there have been Recovery Act benefits as well. For example, the Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission advertised bids for 40 infrastructure projects in Northwest Indiana in December and those projects continue to advance. Meanwhile, eight municipalities have received grant money for wastewater treatment and sewer projects, four more have used stimulus funds to keep police on their streets and both Lake and Porter counties received grants for energy efficiency and conservation initiatives. Clearly, the Recovery Act is having a positive impact throughout the region.

But much of the Recovery Act monies will be expended by the end of this year and, as always, we have to look after ourselves in Northwest Indiana.

It is one of the reasons why I sought money for the Little Calumet River Flood Control Project. The levees will be completed by the end of this year, affecting more than 9,500 families and businesses and helping to prevent $11 million in estimated annual damages.

I am also committed to our institutions of higher learning, which play an integral role in our local economy. They prepare people for good-paying jobs. They help attract bright faculty to our area. And they spawn alumni who work and invest in Northwest Indiana and create additional jobs here.

For those reasons, I sought funds for Valparaiso University, for its nationally recognized meteorological program. I also supported Ivy Tech's program in Gary for logistics, distribution and transportation because I believe it is important to educate individuals in those skills.

Lastly, we must be committed to investing in transformational projects of regional consequence so Northwest Indiana children can have the same economic opportunities as our ancestors gave us. I remain committed to pursuing projects such as the recapitalization and expansion of the South Shore Line to Valparaiso and Lowell, as well as the Marquette Plan for lakeshore restoration.

While progress on South Shore expansion has been difficult and not without controversy, I am pleased that the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District received $13.9 million under the Recovery Act to continue the recapitalization effort. The roughly 80,000 people who have visited the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk Park since it opened under the Marquette Plan attest to the value of opening our lakeshore to retain and attract talented people to Northwest Indiana and engender economic opportunities and job growth nearby.

Progress has been made in the last year to advance the region's recovery.

However, there are a lot of families in Northwest Indiana that continue to struggle. The work is not complete. From my perspective, the recession continues to exist in Northwest Indiana, and as we proceed I will continue to work hard to bring jobs to the region and revitalize the national economy.

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