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OPINION: A good year for jobs in Alaska

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As the president and assistant business manager of Laborers’ Local 341, I am celebrating a great year for jobs in Alaska. Just a couple of years ago, our construction industry was suffering from a lack of work, and many families from our state were moving out to look for new opportunities. This summer, thanks in large part to our congressional delegation, laborers and other construction workers are hard at work on infrastructure projects across our state. We’re rebuilding Alaska, with benefits for our economy, national security and blue-collar families across our state.

Today, laborers in our union are at work on job sites and we are recruiting and training the next generation of Alaskans. From the Seward Highway to projects in the Mat-Su, from pipeline work to infrastructure projects in rural Alaska, our members are working long hours and earning good wages and benefits to support their families. Equally important, even more work is on the way as the new federal infrastructure law turns from legislation into concrete, asphalt, ports, harbors, and broadband. It’s worth a quick refresher on the history: Sen. Lisa Murkowski worked with a bipartisan team of senators to write the federal bill known as the “Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act,” and Sen. Dan Sullivan helped pass it through the Senate. The late Congressman Don Young played a key role passing it through the House, where partisans on either end of the spectrum opposed it. Fortunately, pragmatism prevailed, and President Joe Biden signed this important bill into law.

Sometimes it can be hard to tell exactly how a federal policy from Washington, D.C., affects us in Alaska. In the case of the infrastructure law, the impacts are immediate and obvious. Where we had high construction unemployment just a couple years ago, now our members are at work and we are working hard to recruit the largest class of apprentices in years. There’s nothing more gratifying than seeing Alaskans go from low-wage work into middle class jobs with training and benefits. That’s the promise of apprenticeship, but we need the work, and today the work is here thanks to federal investment.

These federally funded projects and programs are huge for our state. At a time of Russian aggression, we’re finally getting underway with development of the Port of Nome, which will be our farthest-north deep draft port, a critical installation for our national security. With over a billion dollars in federal investment, this project will create at least 8,000-10,000 jobs along the way, and that’s a huge positive impact on our economy. Right now, locally owned and managed telecoms, local governments, and Alaska Native organizations are working to deploy federal broadband investment that will provide every single community with connectivity. This is a sea change for our communities, and will jumpstart economic development while supporting stronger education and health care systems across our state. Along the way, thousands of Alaskans will be at work installing fiber and building the associated infrastructure for broadband deployment.

Building and maintaining our roads is critical, and, thanks to Sen. Murkowski, Sen. Sullivan and the late Congressman Young, the federal infrastructure bill represents the largest investment in our roads and bridges since WWII. Alaska needs these roads for economic growth and safe travel, and our members will build good family-supporting careers while building the infrastructure our businesses depend on for commerce.

Plenty of politicians spend all their time posturing and talking. I’m proud that our delegation focuses on delivering results. When you see construction workers out on the job site this summer, it’s another sign our economy is strong, and it’s in large part thanks to our federal delegation.

Brandon Calcaterra is President and Assistant Business Manager of Laborers’ Local 341, a private sector union representing construction, health care, service, and long-term care workers in Alaska.

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