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Infrastructure improvements essential to global economic competitiveness

Congressman Bill Shuster, chair of pivotal House committee, addresses BUGC Annual Meeting

Cleveland, Ohio – Congressman Bill Shuster (R-PA) today told nearly 300 public and private sector leaders that improving and maintaining the American transportation system is critical to staying competitive in the global marketplace, and that a broad education process is needed to improve awareness of infrastructure needs.

The Pennsylvania congressman is chairman of the U.S. House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, which has jurisdiction over all modes of transportation including aviation, maritime, roads and mass transit.

Shuster was the keynote speaker at the annual meeting of Build Up Greater Cleveland (BUGC), the Northeast Ohio coalition of private-sector and public agencies involved in infrastructure issues. BUGC is managed as a program of the Greater Cleveland Partnership (GCP), which is one of the largest chambers of commerce in the nation.

Since its inception in 1983, BUGC has assisted in more than $6 billion in infrastructure improvements in Greater Cleveland. Prior to his keynote address, Chairman Shuster met with representatives from local and regional organizations dedicated to stoking job creation and economic vitality in the Great Lakes region.

Chairman Shuster called Ohio “the crossroads of the U.S. transportation system” but his comments were focused on the significant needs of infrastructure across the country. “Without safe and efficient transportation, we can’t be competitive.” Shuster said. “We philosophically are connected by freedom and family, but we are physically connected by the transportation system. We need to do it smarter and we need to maintain it.”

Shuster said the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee is planning to consider the WRRDA bill (Water Resources Reform and Development Act) upon Congress’ return in September. The WRRDA bill is intended to strengthen water transportation networks and processes. “This is a jobs bill,” he said. ”We believe this bill is about competitiveness, economic growth and trade, which equates to jobs – not just the construction jobs that will result from the bill, but long term jobs that are created by the economic benefits of moving forward.”

He said that he is cautiously optimistic that Congress will pass the bill, noting that “transportation is not inherently partisan” – but he said it will require an education effort. Nearly half of the current members of Congress were not in their House seats in 2007 the last time the bill was passed. And he said that there needs to be a broader awareness effort across the nation so that the public and its leaders understand the investments that are needed to maintain and improve our infrastructure assets.

“An education process needs to take place across the country so that people better understand the interconnectedness of the American transportation system,” he said. “An efficient system will allow us to be more competitive in the world economy.”

Later this fall and into next year, the Committee will also be reviewing bills dealing with rail and highways.

Ohio Congressman Bob Gibbs also attended the meeting. Gibbs is chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water and Environment. Both Shuster and Gibbs recognized the Great Lakes region’s driving role in the economy with its water assets.

The Great Lakes region has 20 percent of the world’s fresh water, makes 30 percent of U.S. merchandise exports and provides 40 percent of U.S. manufacturing employment. The region is an economic powerhouse that is a prime driver of the U.S. economy. Maintaining and improving infrastructure that assists in transporting goods is crucial.

Debbie Berry, chair of BUGC, said there have been $924 million in infrastructure-related capital improvements throughout Greater Cleveland in 2011 and 2012, yet more must be done.

GCP President and CEO Joe Roman said having a constructive dialogue with the two congressmen can only help Greater Cleveland and the Great Lakes region.

“We very much appreciate Chairmen Shuster and Gibbs coming to Cleveland and listening to our concerns,” Roman said. “Infrastructure needs are crucial and can be costly. The GCP – through BUGC – helps us to identify our most important needs and then helps lead regional cooperation to give us a unified voice. The bottom line is that maintaining and improving infrastructure means jobs and economic vitality for Cleveland, Ohio and the nation.”

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About the Greater Cleveland Partnership

The Greater Cleveland Partnership mobilizes private-sector leadership, expertise and resources to create attractive business conditions that create jobs, grow investment and improve the economic prosperity of the region. www.gcpartnership.com.