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Congressman Peters wants transportation projects to stay local

Michigan Senator Gary Peters.
U.S. Representative Gary Peters

A half-dozen major transportation infrastructure projects are in the works for southeast Michigan, and Congressman Gary Peters wants to make sure local workers get the jobs that come along with them.

Peters convened a transportation jobs summit to push that objective Monday.

“If we’re bringing federal money into the state of Michigan, I want people from the state of Michigan working on those projects," said Peters. "And if the project is in the city of Detroit, then I want Detroiters working on those projects.”

Peters says those federal funds often come tied to thousands of local employment opportunities—but that doesn’t always work out.

“What can happen is that contractors say there aren’t enough skilled people in that local area to actually work, and then they look outside," he said.

Peters says the point of the summit is to make sure local workers know what the job opportunities are—and how to qualify for them. Some will be temporary jobs associated with construction, others permanent. They include positions as welders, electricians, engineers, and truck drivers.

Peters says the ultimate goal is to take advantage of Metro Detroit's strategic location to make it "an international economic and transportation hub." He and others predict the projects will create thousands of jobs, though they admit any hard numbers are still estimates at this point.

Michael Richard is with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 58 in Detroit, which hosted the summit. He says there shouldn’t be a big problem filling those immediate electrical and communications jobs with local workers--but they're looking toward the future.

“We’ve got the members right now that live in the city to man the jobs. Our big thing is increasing that, and making sure that 10-15 years down the road we maintain that level," Richard says. He notes it's important there's a mindset shift needed to emphasize that jobs in the skilled trades are good career paths--and that training for them is a form of higher education.

The six projects include: the new international bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor; the M-1 streetcar line down Woodward Avenue in Detroit; and upgrades to the Detroit Intermodal Freight Terminal.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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