Can Erie build the economic future of our region?

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The US Jobs Plan proposed by President Joe Biden will specifically target infrastructure and address much more than just repairing roads and bridges. Things like access to lead-free water and high-speed internet are not a given for all Americans, especially those in the lower income brackets.

PResident Joe Biden has pledged he will be the White House partner communities like Erie need to build an inclusive 21st century economy. His draft US Jobs Plan will pay a substantial down payment on that promise if Congress passes it. Erie is a vibrant and talented city that was once an economic magnet for people from across the region and indeed around the world. Today too many Erieites are forced to look elsewhere for the opportunity. Some of those who cannot or do not want to leave find it difficult to find decent work to support their families. In recent years, local leaders have mobilized to lay the foundations for urgent progress. The American Jobs Plan will make forward-looking investments on the scale necessary to achieve their vision.

It is necessary to consider whether a major national investment plan will benefit the people on the ground in Erie. Will such a plan create jobs in communities like Erie? If so, will there be jobs readily available to current residents of Erie? Evidence strongly suggests that the US Jobs Plan is well suited to our local needs. From 2019, more than 70 percent of Erie County residents did not have a bachelor’s degree or higher education. According to a recent to study from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, 75% of jobs created by President Biden’s infrastructure bill will not require an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, and 53% will not require any training formal or professional beyond a high school diploma. What else, researchers predict that the plan will create more than half a million jobs in Pennsylvania alone.

Infrastructure isn’t just about roads and bridges. Providing high-speed internet to every American is just as important to education and economic development as electrification was a century ago. While most Erieites north of I-90 have broadband access, only 25 percent from the southern rural part of the county was covered from 2020. The US jobs plan will invest $ 100 billion to make broadband access universal and affordable.

The continued presence of lead in our water supply is a moral disaster that disproportionately affects low-income Erieites, especially people of color. As candidate for Erie City Council, Kendrick Tate recently noted, a special report by Reuters 2016 find that up to 40 percent of children in some parts of the city have been exposed to high levels of lead. President Biden’s bill includes funding to replace 100% of the remaining lead water and service lines in the United States. The U.S. Jobs Plan will help hire residents of Erie to modernize our water infrastructure and end the injustice of lead contamination.

There is no going back to the Erie of past generations. Even if we could revive the old economy, we shouldn’t want to. For all the Erieites who enjoyed good jobs and vibrant communities, many more were left behind. The US Jobs Plan can help lay the groundwork for a more prosperous, equitable and inclusive Erie. The bill contains investments in the jobs of the future, such as the production of green energy, the modernization of electricity grids and the construction of technological infrastructure in public schools and community colleges. This too provides funds to reconnect neighborhoods that have been separated by past infrastructure projects; and incentives to eliminate exclusionary zoning laws and promote new housing.

A new approach to urban planning will encourage economic development and make Erie more livable for all of its residents. The American Jobs Plan can help fund such a transformation. Its provisions understand $ 20 billion to fund local plans and improvements that will help make roads safer for cyclists and pedestrians. The bill too offers $ 5 billion to transform old industrial sites into economic hubs. Such investments will encourage residents and visitors to stop, shop, dine and spend more time in the community, which will benefit both new businesses and the neighborhoods in which they are located.

Erie’s forward-looking leaders and activists envision a community where workers of all levels of education can find well-paying jobs to build the economic future of our region. What we need now is a substantial federal investment in this vision. Most Republicans in Congress, including Erie’s Representative Mike Kelly, have previously expressed skepticism of President Biden’s infrastructure bill, citing their opposition to increased taxes on large corporations. But America’s jobs plan is well worth the cost of higher taxes for the rich. Erieites should call on Congress to support communities like ours by adopting this plan.

Andrew Dolan is a native of Erie and an international trade specialist. His writings have appeared in the Erie Times-News and the Falls Church News-Press.


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