Buttigieg: We need more workers to build billion-dollar projects
The United States needs more workers and tradespeople to fill all the jobs tied to massive, newly announced infrastructure investments, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg tells Axios.
Where is stands: "We need to be a country that puts the right level of focus and respect toward those educational tracks that may not have anything to do with a college degree but that do require a lot of talent and skill, and lead to great pay as well," Buttigieg says.
Driving the news: President Biden announced nearly $5 billion in funding for major transportation projects during a visit Thursday to Superior, Wisconsin — part of an effort to tout his administration's investments in long-overdue infrastructure projects.
- The largest is a $1 billion effort to replace the Blatnik Bridge, a major connection between Superior, Wisconsin, and Duluth, Minnesota.
- Nearly 40 projects were announced, including a new bridge between Vancouver, Washington, and Portland, Oregon; an offshore wind terminal off California; and a new container terminal for the Port of New Orleans.
Between the lines: What all these projects have in common, Buttigieg says, is that they're large and complex and couldn't be built without dedicated funding.
- Until the passage of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure law in 2021, such projects had been neglected, causing bridges and roads to decay, straining regional economies and even putting safety at risk, he adds.
Where it stands: The Biden administration has so far announced more than $400 billion in funding under the program for more than 40,000 projects — but there's immense demand to fund long-neglected projects.
- For the latest round of grants totaling nearly $5 billion, for example, the DOT received more than 300 applications seeking more than $50 billion.
What they're saying: "Part of what we're doing is setting up a pipeline of projects, from the ones that are already in physical motion to others that we're funding now, but it'll take a couple more years to get them out of the engineering and design phase," Buttigieg tells Axios.
- "But what it adds up to over the span of this decade is I think the biggest infrastructure decade for America since the Eisenhower era."
The economic payoff will take time, Buttigieg adds.
- "We're only beginning to feel it. I think it is reflected in the highs that we've seen in terms of construction employment in the U.S."
- "But again, the bulk of these [projects] are only now beginning to move into the construction phase."
Yes, but: "There's no question that the proportions of this package will test the productive capacity of the country," Buttigieg says.
- "It's true in a lot of areas: supply chains, raw materials, but the biggest of all is our skilled workforce."
What's next: States have so far invested $39 million of infrastructure law money to train workers for construction jobs and other transportation-related occupations.
- Construction unions have also begun gearing up to train skilled workers, Buttigieg says.