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Secretary Buttigieg Remarks at Gary/Chicago Airport

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Thank you Congressman, for your subtle advocacy for this district [laughter], really great to be with you… I'll have more to say about him in a moment. I want to thank the mayor; the job of mayor has only become more demanding since I wore the title. Whenever somebody says mayor, I think they mean me, and then I remember, that's not technically my title anymore - but I appreciate everything that you're doing, and everything that this community is doing to chart its path for the future. Commissioner Smith, I know we are keeping you and your colleagues at INDOT busy, and had great communication with the Governor preparing for this trip, and appreciate everything that you and the State of Indiana are doing when it comes to transportation infrastructure everywhere. And I so appreciate, Dan, the tour, and just the contagious faith that you have in the future of this airport… and we believe in this airport, in the City of Gary, in Lake County, in the region, and in the future of Indiana - which is part of why we're here. I'm likewise, [applause], amen, I'm likewise very glad to be reunited with a number of friends, old friends and familiar faces, and glad to be joined by former Congressman Pete Visclosky, who was very gracious to a young upstart political figure, back when I was very, very much the lesser of two Pete's in Indiana politics, but never made me feel that way, and I appreciate everything you've done to set this region up for success.

Okay. And now back to Frank Mrvan, who as you have all just witnessed, never misses an opportunity to advocate for the region. Just also want to make sure you understand, not just what he has done specifically for this airport, for this community, but the fact that we are here in no small part because he supported us when we were working to get this infrastructure bill through. It feels today like a no-brainer that the infrastructure law would pass, that President Biden's vision of a bipartisan infrastructure framework would turn into this trillion dollar investment that's happening around America - but it was not a given. Matter of fact, the political obituary of the bipartisan infrastructure law must have been written half a dozen times before we actually got it passed… but because we had steadfast support from leaders, like Congressman Mrvan, we did get it through.

And now we are seeing the benefits in every part of the country. We've just crossed the $200 billion mark in terms of projects that have been funded. And we're not even halfway out there. We just crossed 37,000 projects, ranging from water infrastructure improvements to new airport terminals, that have been announced or funded or launched across the country, thanks to that legislation. And I’ve got to say, I'm always having memories of being mayor… it would have been nice when I was mayor if there was a trillion dollar infrastructure wind at my back, but better late than never - we’re excited to be delivering those investments around the country.

And I've had the great joy of traveling to places, from Wheeling, West Virginia to Washougal in Washington State, that have been through a lot, that have been through economic ups and downs, that have sometimes felt like the center of the universe and sometimes felt completely forgotten, like so many communities in this region in Northern Indiana have been.

And I want to lift up the story of Gary because this is a community that kept the fires lit, that literally kept the furnaces going to supply the tens of thousands - tens of millions - of tons of steel that this country needed… but that has also felt not only the way that families thrive when business is booming, but the way that families hurt when business is hurting. And now we are making sure that there will be boom times again here and across the United States of America.

Since President Biden took office, and with support from Congressman Mrvan, we've made new investments to build that heavy air cargo apron and logistics center here at Gary/Chicago Airport; we're helping with that second track on South Shore, which will make such a difference for so many commuters and open up so much value in the land around those places that people are going to count on to get to work; we're making roads and railroad crossings safer in Hammond, here in Gary, in Munster, and in so many other places.

And of course that is generating a huge amount of work.

We are creating a generation of new, good, union jobs, around Indiana, around the country, and we're proud of it. [Applause].

I had a great conversation earlier today, we went to the United Steelworkers hall, and spent some time with workers there, including one that had been at it for 47 years and saw all of the ups and downs that this industry and this region have been through. And I'm so glad that the Iron Workers are here. To the leaders and to the apprentices, I hope you understand, first of all, how much this legislation is about you. We're excited about using the airports and driving on the bridges and having those trains… we’re also excited about the work that is being created building those bridges and fixing those airports and making those railroad safer. And we know that that is creating opportunity for you that you can plan a career around, that you can buy a house with, that you can educate your kids with. But having explained the extent to which this is about your success, I also want to make sure you feel that the success of this infrastructure decade we’re in also depends on you. We're not only excited to be creating opportunity for you; we are counting on you, because this will test the capacity of our country… not just the raw materials that our country can generate, but the workforce and the skill and the discipline that put this area on the national map in the first place, and that you are going to represent for the next generation. So, I'm already proud of you, excited for you, and we are rooting for you to succeed in every way. That's a big part of what this bill is about and what this Administration is about.

And look, this momentum didn't just come about on its own. We have been insisting on making sure not only that the dollar amounts, but also the fine print of the policies that come with those dollar amounts, are designed to benefit American workers.

We have stronger Buy America rules, requiring that if you're getting U.S. taxpayer dollars to build something, we expect you to build it with American-made steel and iron and construction materials.

And for the first time in 40 years, we have comprehensively updated the rules around the wages and benefits on federal projects, so that upwards of 1 million construction workers are getting much deserved raises, because community members, whether they've heard the words Davis-Bacon or not, are going to benefit from those good wages, those living wages that are going to come with these jobs.

And that's just the jobs from building the infrastructure. Then there are the jobs that are supported from having good infrastructure, which is part of how Northwest Indiana grew in the first place… part of how Chicagoland, and South Bend where I come from, and places like Elkhart where I'll be later today, grew in the first place. It's because when you have great supply chains, you attract industry. When you have good airports, you can build up those supply chains. And we've seen that with the cargo expansion happening right here. We're seeing it with the new energy vision and manufacturing plants that are taking root across this country.

And of course, better roads and passenger train service create jobs too. I saw firsthand in South Bend, the difference that it made, in terms of people's ability to live and in terms of businesses growing, when we had a smarter, better approach to transportation in the heart of our city. And now in Munster we’re helping to deliver a similar transformation on Ridge Road, an area where there were 600 vehicle crashes just in a five-year period. Across the country, we're seeing that when people have access to a reliable, efficient, safe, passenger train service, that their opportunities grow… which is what the Double Track with South Shore is all about, and the extension to Dyer. It opens up so much opportunity. It means that people can get to jobs in areas that otherwise just would have been too far away, or people without access to a car, or with a disability, or for whatever reason did not or could not drive, aren’t going to be cut off from opportunity.

So all of this is adding up to a community where fewer people wonder if success means getting out of the community that shaped them. I grew up absorbing that message in my hometown. We did everything we could in the last decade to change that; we're changing that here too. Success ought to come closer to home, and we're making sure that is possible by building the literal foundations of economic prosperity. That's what we're about. We're about building bridges, we're not interested in banning books. We're about accelerating construction, not culture wars. We're getting stuff done to make people better off, and that, more than anything else, is the spirit of this Northern Indiana region and the communities that shaped me, that I grew up in. And I know that's the spirit you're going to take, as you grow this airport, grow the city and county, grow this region, grow this economy, and make the most of this infrastructure decade that we are working to deliver in the Biden-Harris administration. Thank you again for having me and we wish you every success on this project, and on the road ahead.