POINT OF VIEW: No community should be left behind in our economy

  • By U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer
  • Saturday, August 20, 2022 1:30am
  • Opinion

By U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer

I WAS A student at Port Angeles High School when the timber industry took it on the chin. Our community — and communities throughout our region — saw the impacts of mill closures. Thousands of workers throughout our region lost their jobs. Thousands of families struggled.

Sadly, the stories of job loss and economic struggle are tales that have been told in communities throughout our country. In far too many American communities, parents have had to fear that their town’s main export will be its young people as prospects for the future seem brighter elsewhere.

As someone who grew up on the North Olympic Peninsula and then worked professionally in economic development before serving in Congress, I know that our region has a lot to offer.

We have skilled workers, a top-notch community college, innovative local businesses, reliable and affordable electricity, a deep-water port, a quality of life that is second to none, and other extraordinary assets.

And I’m confident that — with some help — our region will see job growth now — and into the future.

Given that policies from the federal government have contributed to our economic challenges, we need federal action to partner with communities like ours.

Large metropolitan areas like Seattle have seen their economies brought to a boil — with growth so substantial it has brought with it enormous challenges related to housing and traffic. There’s an opportunity to solve each other’s problems — helping rural communities get in on some of the economic growth we’ve seen too concentrated in too few areas of our country.

Thankfully, there’s progress underway to address this. There’s a bipartisan understanding that we need to make things in America again — rather than someplace else. And most folks (even in Congress) understand that people should have economic opportunity — regardless of what zip code they live in.

That’s why I’m thrilled that Congress just passed, and President Joe Biden has now signed into law, a pilot version of a bill I co-authored to create more economic opportunity for more people in more places.

The bipartisan Rebuilding Economies and Creating Opportunities for More People Everywhere to Excel (RECOMPETE) Act would provide some flexible, long-term support to empower communities to grow jobs and strengthen their economies.

First, the bill would provide some direct support from the main federal agency tasked with supporting economic development (the Economic Development Administration (EDA) to work with communities to support their efforts to design, implement and carry out a comprehensive, long-term economic development strategy.

A lot of communities that have struggled economically have also had a hard time getting help to turn things around. It can be difficult for small towns to navigate a complex system of federal grants and loans, and communities shouldn’t have to employ an army of grant writers to get some help.

Second, while one-year grants are helpful, the struggles facing our communities didn’t arise in one year and can’t be solved in one year. With that in mind, the RECOMPETE Act would provide 10 years of support to help communities make the investments needed to revitalize their economies.

Third, for too long, the federal government has taken a one-size-fits-all approach. But we know that different communities have different needs.

In Aberdeen, for example, there are challenges related to flooding which have hamstrung economic development and new housing construction.

Some parts of Clallam and Jefferson counties lack internet access. There are communities that need help with workforce development to ensure that workers have the skills needed to participate in growing industries. And others need help with child care or support for small businesses.

So, the RECOMPETE Act proposes flexible grants that would empower communities to use the funding to meet their greatest needs.

Now, here’s the good news. Not only has this idea garnered bipartisan support, the House and the Senate passed a pilot version of this proposal as part of the American competitiveness bill (the CHIPS & Science Act of 2022) that was signed into law by President Biden on Aug. 9 to support economic development in about 10 regions throughout our country.

That’s a recognition that America can’t be competitive if it leaves communities behind. And it’s a recognition that we can’t wait.

I’m excited that we’re going to make this happen!

________

Congressman Derek Kilmer, a Democrat, represents the 6th Congressional District, which includes the North Olympic Peninsula. He is a candidate in the Nov. 8 general election running against challenger Republican Elisabeth Kreiselmaier.

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