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Secretary Buttigieg Remarks in Elkhart, Indiana

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Well, thanks, thanks very much, Tony, first of all, for the work that you are doing, and that your colleagues are doing, to prepare the next generation and to make sure that they are safe as they are going to school. Mayor, thanks so much for welcoming us to the community. It has, I know, only become a more difficult and demanding job since I wore the title of mayor, and you’ve got a lot to be proud of here in Elkhart. And we want to be supportive of your work any way we can.

The job has become more demanding—but I will say, it would have been nice, when I was mayor, to have a trillion-dollar infrastructure package coming from Washington to help us along the way. And so I’m proud to be able to be here to celebrate good work, and the ways that the federal government, under President Biden’s leadership—[train goes by]

I assume the mayor had that on remote control! [laughter]

As if to punctuate the point that the Biden-Harris Administration is determined to be there with communities across America for whom supply chains are personal. And the question of goods movement and railroad safety is not theoretical—it is very much in our faces, and in our backyards, and in our lives. And that’s exactly why we’re here. And I want to thank all of the leaders and businesses who are joining us here as well.

I also want to make a point of recognizing the memory of Congresswoman Jackie Walorski, because I know she cared about this project a great deal, and she cared about this community a great deal. She and I worked together often. We came from very different places politically, and we didn’t always agree about national politics. But I always found that she was prepared to team up when there was something we did agree on, and I know there was a lot of bipartisan cooperation with the mayor and his office. And I also want to mention that I had a good conversation with Rudy Yakym as we were preparing for this trip. He couldn’t be here today, but I know that he is also passionate about getting good results for this community.

So, with that, I am really excited to be back here in northern Indiana. Back when I was mayor, I kind of was allergic to the term, “Michiana.” I liked to just call us the South Bend region, back when I was the mayor of South Bend. But I’ll say, now that I’m a Hoosier native who lives across the state line in Michigan, I think “Michiana” actually has kind of a nice ring to it. And it’s good to be back here in Michiana.

And when you’re in this part of the country, certainly when you’re in this part of Indiana, you know how important manufacturing is. You know how important supply chains are. They are critically important to the economy and the way of life of this region.

As a matter of fact, if you look at the history of Elkhart—whether we are talking about the economic history of this state, and what the manufacturing history is that led to the RV economy now that creates so many jobs—or whether you’re thinking about the cultural history here, the extraordinary music

tradition that now has its legacy in things like the jazz festival. All of that traces back, in some way, to these railways. Anything that needed to move between the middle of the country and the eastern half of the country had to come right through here.

I would feel it looking out the window of the mayor’s office in South Bend, at where those railroad lines come round, just about along where the bypass is to the southwest. And of course, you can’t spend a minute in Elkhart without thinking about just how important railroads are.

This is very much in the DNA of this community. And we know that when we do invest in supply chains, when we invest in freight rail, when we invest in ports and airports, when we invest in roads and bridges to get products where they need to be, we are investing in the future. When Elkhart first became the band instrument manufacturing capitol, that was largely because of its positioning along these railway lines. And that was true even before RVs existed, let alone when that RV economy came about.

But what we also know is that the design of a key section of the Elkhart & Western Railroad no longer works for the community that is here now. And it no longer works for the way that the economy has grown, or for the vision that the mayor and the community have for the future of this city. I love hearing about this ambition to turn and face the river, that was once regarded as something in between a conveyor belt and a sewer in a lot of cities in the country. And we’ve been going through this—we certainly went through it in South Bend—recognizing that the river can be a great source of value.

But your infrastructure has to be compatible with that. Your development plans have to be compatible with that. And the way that railroad runs right now is not. The mayor just showed me the intersection just next to the high school. You can see what it means when trains that might need to change lines are delayed and the roadway is blocked for about 15 minutes. You can imagine what happens for students trying to get to Elkhart High School. And there are hundreds of students of students every day who count on being able to safely get to where they’re going on foot, who are effectively cut off any time a train is blocking them.

So you don’t have to be a train enthusiast, or a transportation policy wonk to see why this matters. And we heard a lot from the community as this application was coming in. We heard from Easy Shopping Center, talking about how they often have customers blocked off by the railroad crossing. We heard from a cardboard manufacturer dealing with shipping delays that are exacerbated by the flaws of the current design. So I want to commend this community for putting together a strong project, a strong application, in what I have to tell you is a very competitive round, where we weren’t able to say yes to all the applications—even the really good ones. But you got across that difficult bar largely because we saw cooperation and support from the city, the county, the state, and the private sector.

I have often said that the ideas and the projects are not going to be generated by Washington. The solutions aren’t going to come from Washington. But more of the funding should. And that’s what we’re trying to make good on with this.

And that’s why I’m delighted to be here to formally celebrate the Biden Administration’s award of federal funding to upgrade this Elkhart railroad line. [applause]

What that means is that we are modernizing the railroad to class 1 track standards. We’re expanding the siding capacity. We’re rebuilding the road crossings on Apple Road and Cedar Trail, and relocating the

interchange where the trains switch lines, moving it to an industrial area that’s not so close to the city center where people need to be able to walk safely.

So for kids, that means a safer route to school every day. It means not so much having to deal with the loudspeakers saying to not count the students on bus 20 tardy because they were delayed at the train tracks—we heard a lot about that!

And also, for folks who are looking at the news and who are part of a country that is finally waking up to the fact that railroad accidents and derailments happen far more often than people realize in this country—about a thousand a year, and it used to be more than that. And for everybody who has not wanted to be the next community affected—especially knowing that a lot of hazardous material has to move along these lines because of the manufacturing industry that’s here—this means increased safety on those rail lines.

And for everybody who’s involved in the manufacturing side, whether it’s the RVs, the medical devices, the building materials, the petroleum or chemical products, the rubber and electrical equipment, and more, that means goods getting where they need to be more efficiently and more reliably.

And the timing couldn’t be better, because we’re in the middle of a manufacturing renaissance here in the industrial Midwest, under President Biden’s leadership. In South Bend, Verbio is investing $230 million to expand and modernize biorefinery capacity. There is, of course, the huge announcement in New Carlisle with GM and Samsung investing $3 billion to build a new plant that will create over 1,700 jobs. In Cassopolis, Hydro Aluminum building a $150 million plant for the auto supply chain. And we know that there’s more where that came from.

Everywhere we go around the country, we are seeing safer, more modernized supply chain infrastructure made possible through this infrastructure package, and we’re seeing more of it built by American hands, with American-made concrete and steel, because this administration is also committed to the principle that when taxpayer dollars are funding improvements, the materials that go into those improvements should be from right here in the United States of America. And we’re going to stand on that, and we’re going to grow on that. [applause]

We had a great conversation this morning in Gary with the Steelworkers there who are so proud that they are generating the materials that we’re going to use for this work. But even if you don’t work on infrastructure directly, you’re going to benefit from the economic strength that comes from having good infrastructure. That’s why we’re so proud that there are over 37,000 projects and counting underway, made possible through that infrastructure package. Ones right around here, like the investments we’re making into airports in South Bend and in Elkhart. Some are further away—some are all the way in the Port of Los Angeles, but they’re still going to benefit Elkhart County, because of what they mean for supply chains to get goods in the area. Or the other end of this state, like Tell City, Perry County, on the southern tip of Indiana, where we’re improving the port there. Or the improvements we’re making on truck parking in Colorado, or Wyoming, or Florida, or anywhere in-between.

These are the supply chains that American manufacturers count on. And they’re such an important part of people making a living back here in northern Indiana. And I couldn’t be more excited to be back to celebrate what it looks like in practice. And again, I want to congratulate this community on the hard work that went into earning this award.