NBED: One step closer to passage

17 years ago

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee just passed a bill that I authored when I was first elected to Congress. The bill would create a Northern Border Economic Development Commission to invest in economically distressed areas of Maine and the rest of the Northeast. Getting it passed in committee is the last crucial step in the process, and it leaves us ready to get the bill enacted by the House of Representatives in the very near future.    The Commission would bring investment, leadership, and focus to our region’s economic development efforts. It would be charged with investing $40 million per year – rising to $60 million per year by 2012 — in federal resources for economic development and job creation in the most economically distressed areas of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York.
As a longtime mill worker, I understand the particular challenges that the industries of our region face. We have seen a clear, persistent pattern of economic distress in Maine and across the Northern border — the loss of natural resource-based industries and aging, crumbling infrastructure.
If you look at the 36 counties that would become part of this commission, and that lie on the border or right next to the border between Maine and Cayuga County, N.Y., you find poverty above the national average, median household income that is more than $6,500 below the national average, persistent unemployment fed by constant layoffs in traditional manufacturing industries, and population that has grown by only 0.6 percent between 1990 and 2000 — while the U.S. population rose by 13.2 percent — showing significant out-migration and loss of young people.
A regional commission can help the Northern Border region invest in transportation, health care, agriculture, broadband, and alternative energy. It can help us create jobs for the long term.
I serve on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and so as we considered this bill, I explained from my own personal experience why this commission is sorely needed. Like my father and grandfather before me, I went straight to work in the paper mill in my home town. 28 years later, and two days after I was elected to Congress, the mill went bankrupt. My home town was devastated.
As many Northeasterners know, this situation is not unique. It has been repeated across our region. That is why we need better roads, airports and rail to make our industries more competitive. We must have better telecommunications infrastructure and broadband Internet connections so that our rural areas can attract new business. We should invest in innovative health care projects to provide for the people in our region who are losing theirs. We must provide for alternative energy research, so we can find new applications for our natural resources. And we need to support entrepreneurs so that small businesses can thrive and create jobs.
A Northern Border Commission would help us achieve these goals. That is why this bill has enjoyed the strong bipartisan support of members of congress across our region. It also has the united support of economic development district directors and major conservation groups.
We all know that no single approach can overcome every challenge we face — but by drawing on all of our strengths, and bringing in all of the resources we can muster, we have the capability to create a very bright future for Maine and the entire region. We must all keep working toward that future.