U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar
The Arrowhead region’s ability to compete in the global economy always has been tied to the strength of its people. But to do their best, northern Minnesotans depend on a good education system, health care and a transportation system that works for everyone. As we begin 2016, we need to build on our economic progress by making investments in our workers, transportation networks and broadband Internet services.
First and foremost, for the sake of our workers, we must crack down on unfair trade practices like illegal steel dumping so workers can compete on a level playing field. I’m leading a bill called the Trade Enforcement Improvement Act, which would strengthen America’s trade-enforcement capabilities and protect mining jobs. I’m also working to make sure that affected workers get the resources they need to support their families when work slows down. Just like investing in our roads and bridges, when we invest in our workers, we invest in our country’s future. In 2016, I’ll continue working to get our steelworkers back to work.
Another priority that brings jobs to the Northland and allows us to ship American goods to market is a strong transportation system. Whether it’s tourism, mining, manufacturing, agriculture or forestry, nearly every sector of the Arrowhead’s economy is affected by infrastructure, and the port of Duluth serves as the gateway for shipping our goods to the world. Every year, 38 million tons of cargo and nearly 1,000 vessels pass through the port of Duluth, supporting 11,500 jobs.
In the winter, those vessels can get bogged down in dense ice, delaying shipments and hurting businesses. The Coast Guard has only one heavy icebreaker in the Great Lakes fleet, making it difficult to combat close-to-record-breaking ice coverage of recent winters. That’s why I’m advocating for a new heavy icebreaker for the Great Lakes that will help keep our products moving even in the harshest conditions.
The global reach of Duluth’s economy further underscores the importance of investing in our infrastructure. That’s why I fought for the port of Duluth’s Intermodal Project to receive a major $10 million grant to improve road and rail connections, construct new dock walls, and make large-scale safety and security upgrades.
We recently built on that momentum by passing a long-term, bipartisan transportation bill. I worked hard to pass this legislation, which will ensure Minnesota receives more than $4 billion in federal transportation money over five years. In 2016, our state will see an increase of more than $36 million above current funding levels, with increasing amounts each year, culminating in a $107 million increase by 2020
While improved roads and bridges are important for the Arrowhead region, it’s also crucial that we improve access to the information highway. Today, you don’t need to live in a major city to find a good job, launch a new business or enroll in college courses. But without a reliable broadband connection, options are limited. For too many across the Arrowhead, access to high-speed internet remains out of reach. While 97 percent of Anoka County homes enjoy access to high-speed Internet, only 44 percent of the homes further north in Cook County can say the same.
To bridge that “digital divide,” I long have advocated making smart investments in our broadband infrastructure, particularly in the Arrowhead. I have led an effort with Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota to call on the Federal Communications Commission to modernize rules intended to ensure that Americans in rural areas have access to affordable broadband. Once the FCC acts, we should pass my bipartisan bill to reduce the costs of building broadband infrastructure. My legislation would require states and federal agencies to coordinate highway construction with broadband installation so we only dig once and lay the groundwork for broadband when we repair roads.
For many years, the Arrowhead Region has stood for opportunity and resiliency. Our workers helped build our country into what it is today. In 2016, we must continue to invest in our infrastructure and workers so the Arrowhead Region remains as strong as steel in 2016 and beyond.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar represents Minnesota in the U.S. Senate. She wrote this at the request of the News Tribune Opinion page.