Rebuild with purpose. Kip Eideberg, Sr. Vice President at the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), joined the podcast to talk about infrastructure and manufacturing. He shared results from AEM’s recent Infrastructure Vision 2050 report and the need for federal infrastructure investments to be targeted at States and local governments. He also discussed rural broadband and building the manufacturing workforce.
Host: Kirsten Wyatt
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Kirsten Wyatt 01:16
Coming to you from Portland, Oregon, this is Gov Love, a podcast about local government. Gov Love is produced by ELGL, the Engaging Local Government Leaders network, we engage the brightest minds in local government. I’m Kirsten Wyatt the ELGL co founder and executive director, and today I’m joined by Kip Eideberg from the Association of Equipment Manufacturers. Kip, welcome to Gov Love.
Kip Eideberg 01:41
Hey, Kirsten, great to be with you. Thank you for having me on the show.
Kirsten Wyatt 01:45
Today, we’re talking about infrastructure funding shortfalls, and what President Biden’s infrastructure and family’s plan may mean for towns, cities, counties, and districts. But first, let’s get to know Kip in a lightning round. So what is your most controversial non political opinion?
Kip Eideberg 02:05
Well, that’s probably the easiest question I’ll get during this conversation. Fenway Park is way, way better than Wrigley Field. No contest.
Kirsten Wyatt 02:13
Wow. Okay. Okay. I think that that’s the first time someone shared a baseball opinion. response to the question.
Kip Eideberg 02:21
I’m glad that I’m the first at something.
Kirsten Wyatt 02:25
All right, who is your celebrity look alike? Or which actor would play you in the biopic about your life?
Kip Eideberg 02:32
Let’s go with a blonde Paul Rudd.
Kirsten Wyatt 02:36
Kip Eideberg 02:38
That’s because I challenge everyone to name an actor who is aged better than Paul. Right.
Kirsten Wyatt 02:43
Very good point. Very good point. If you could only eat one thing for lunch for the rest of 2021, what would you choose?
Kip Eideberg 02:53
Hmmm, bourbon, does that qualify?
Kirsten Wyatt 02:56
It has to be a food.
Kip Eideberg 02:58
I think it’s almost all of the five food groups.
Kirsten Wyatt 03:01
You’re right. You’re right. But I would kind of worry about your work performance in the afternoon.
Kip Eideberg 03:08
Well, if I can’t pick bourbon, how about a nice cheeseburger then?
Kirsten Wyatt 03:12
Perfect. Great answer. And last lightning round question. If you could give your 22 year old self some advice. What would it be?
Kip Eideberg 03:22
Kirsten Wyatt 03:25
Isn’t that’s that, that’s a famous graduation speech?
Kip Eideberg 03:29
Yeah, I believe so. Baz Luhrmann. But I think he said he was onto something and see my earlier answer about Paul Rudd not aging. Right.
Kirsten Wyatt 03:40
Exactly. Oh, maybe his secret is sunscreen.
Kip Eideberg 03:43
I think it is.
Kirsten Wyatt 03:45
Alright, before we begin today’s interview, a quick reminder for our listeners that ELGL pop up tickets are now on sale. We’ve created five regional agendas for you to choose from, where you can select an all access path and attend them all. This event is all virtual on May 21st and tickets are $40. You can sign up at ELGLPopUps.com. The theme this year is honoring essential local government workers. And so that means that you should attend. Let’s get things started. So Kip, tell us about your career path.
Kip Eideberg 04:18
Oh, boy, Kirsten, that means that I am getting old because young people never get this question, right.
Kirsten Wyatt 04:24
Let’s hear it.
Kip Eideberg 04:25
So I started my career working in in Brussels in Belgium, first on the staff of what is called the group of policy advisors, which provides the President of the European Commission with strategic policy advice. And then I worked as a consultant advising clients on how to navigate the European institutions. And that all set me on a path for a career advocating for companies and industries and helping them navigate government, both in Canada and now in the United States with a stint in the United States Senate somewhere in between, but as I listen to myself telling you all of this boy do I wish that I’d been an archaeologist instead or or anything else because that would sound a lot more interesting.
Kirsten Wyatt 05:07
And did you grow up in the US or in Canada or just have a chance to work in both countries?
Kip Eideberg 05:13
You know, I grew up in France, mainly in France, with a few years spent in Sweden, some in England, and so a little bit everywhere in Europe, and then slowly but surely made my way back to the United States with about five years in Canada somewhere in between, so.
Kirsten Wyatt 05:33
Nice. Tell us more about the Association of Equipment Manufacturers. Who are your members and what is your organization’s purpose?
Kip Eideberg 05:43
You bet. The Association of Equipment Manufacturers or AEM represents off road equipment manufacturers and suppliers. With more than 1000 member companies and more than 200 product lines in the agricultural construction related industry sectors worldwide. Our member companies range from large multinational corporations such as Caterpillar, John Deere, Volvo, Komatsu, that will be very familiar to your listeners down to smaller, many of which are family owned manufacturers of parts and components but but also equipment. As a whole, our industry supports about 2.8 million jobs. That is one out of every eight US manufacturing jobs and contributes roughly $288 billion to the economy every year. But to put it differently, Kirsten, the men and women of the equipment manufacturing industry make the equipment that builds powers and feeds the world, something that we are very proud of.
Kirsten Wyatt 06:39
So obviously, paying close attention to the potential for infrastructure spending is something that you keep your eye on and is obviously very important. So tell us what you’ve been working on lately related to infrastructure, especially related to local government work?
Kip Eideberg 06:57
Yeah, absolutely. Well, let me start off with something that we are very excited about. And that is a new report that we partnered with, with the Brookings Institution on in is titled, Rebuild with purpose: An affirmative vision for 21st century American infrastructure. We unveiled this report last month, and it outlines how investment in infrastructure can continue to drive long term American competitiveness. And I should say, and I think this is important for your listeners, that it is not tied to current political cycles, not tied to legislative calendars, or which elected officials fill the country’s legislative chambers and executive mansions. The purpose of the report, Kirsten is to recommend shared priorities for forward looking national vision to justify them with rigorous research, something that is often poorly lacking in this debate, and to use those priorities to craft high level strategies to inform a policy change. And let me give you a quick example that I think is directly relevant to your listeners. And that is that we cannot modernize our infrastructure systems if state and local governments do not have the fiscal resources that they need. The United States lags behind its global peers in infrastructure spending. Many states spend below 1%. That’s 1% of annual expenditures on deferred maintenance, leaving an estimated $870 billion maintenance gap in state capital budgeting. So federal lawmakers and this is important. Federal lawmakers must help states and localities overcome these ongoing fiscal barriers, or we will never rebuild and modernize our infrastructure.
Kirsten Wyatt 08:38
Amen. I mean, you’re this audience right now there are people listening to this podcast, and they’re doing fist pumps and high fives. So thank you for that. share with us how you work with local governments, local stakeholders. And then what are some of the issues above and beyond just the money piece that you think local governments care the most about at this point in time?
Kip Eideberg 09:00
Well that’s a great question. And if you watch the Sunday morning talk shows you could certainly be forgiven for thinking that the federal government is solely responsible for all infrastructure investment and your listeners know, that is not true. In fact, state and local governments are the primary owners and operators of up to 87% of the roads, transit systems, water systems, and other assets in need of investment. state and local governments are also responsible for more than three quarters of public infrastructure spending each year. And while private energy utilities and Internet Service Providers make the vast majority of investments in those systems, there are increasing calls for the public sector to improve broadband and energy services. So infrastructure is a local issue. And not just because of the role of state and local governments, but because the impact of infrastructure is felt most acutely at the local level. And let me share an anecdote with you that I think is relevant to this question. A few years ago. I think it was perhaps during infrastructure week, so no jokes, please. I had a conversation with my friend, Steve Benjamin, who’s the mayor of Columbus, South Carolina. And one of the points that he made perfectly sums up why decisions about infrastructure are best made at the local level. He said that not only does he know, every pothole, every Wi Fi Blackspot every water main break in his city, but he hears about it all the time. He hears about it in the grocery store checkout line, he hears about it in church and at the community barbecue. So infrastructure is a local issue. It’s why state and local governments are best equipped to solve our current challenges and to capture future opportunities. And I think that as a national association, our role in all of this is probably to remind lawmakers in Washington of critical role the state and local governments play in this debate every chance that we get.
Kirsten Wyatt 10:53
Wonderful point. And, you know, we know so many local governments are facing infrastructure funding shortfalls. And we and we had to reschedule this interview, actually, because last week, you were in meetings and briefings about the infrastructure bill being debated and proposed in Washington. What does what does that bill mean for local governments? And and what should local governments be looking for, as we follow coverage and and the path of that bill?
Kip Eideberg 11:23
Well, first of all, to your point about budget shortfalls, infrastructure projects are always vulnerable during fiscal shortfalls, right? And state transportation agencies, they rely heavily on motor vehicle fuel taxes and other dedicated user fees. Most local governments use the same general tax revenue to fund their transportation budgets as they do other critical services such as education, housing programs, Protective Services, something that your listeners are very familiar with. And as a result, it is it is very easy to delay transportation projects to reserve funding for other annual operations. And I think, in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, municipalities had no choice but to halt or canceled plans to repair roads and water systems and, and many other key investments. And the money simply was not there. Kirsten, I’m sure you’ve had conversations about this, with many of your other guests. Now, the good news is that the American jobs plan, at the plan that President Biden unveiled on March 31st in Pittsburgh, calls for significant spending on infrastructure, including $115 billion on roads and bridges, $85 billion for public transit, $80 billion for passenger and freight railways and $25 billion for airports. And while we still have to wait and see what makes it into the final legislation that Congress is working on, and what the final funding levels are going to be, there’s no doubt that the President is trying to help state and local governments address both the COVID-19 and the persistent long term infrastructure funding shortfalls. And that is good news. And I say one final point, to your question here. You know, whatever that final bill looks like, whether we’re talking $1.3 trillion, whether we’re talking $900 billion, whether we’re talking $500 billion, something more aligned with what the republicans proposed a couple of weeks ago, the vast majority of that money simply has to go to state and local governments or it will not be effective. And that is the point that we’ve been making over and over again, with the Biden Harris administration.
Kirsten Wyatt 13:20
For our listeners who, you know, want to help convey the importance of infrastructure funding, what what is the best way for them to tell Congress and the administration that these critical infrastructure projects need to get back on track? I mean, any recommendations for the best way to tell those stories, to make those cases? Any successes that you’ve seen that that local governments could replicate?
Kip Eideberg 13:46
Yeah, absolutely. There’s a huge workforce piece, but maybe we can get to that a little later. Yeah, I think it starts with it starts with a local impact. And what I mean by that is, we all rely on infrastructure, right? Whether you are a large equipment manufacturer, making excavators in rural Illinois, or whether you are a large retailer producing t shirts in Arkansas, or whether you are a food producer, you know, out in the northwest, in Oregon, for example. We’ve all relied on infrastructure, and we as Americans all rely on infrastructure. You know, I took for the first time in a long time, I took the metro into work today. That’s infrastructure. Last year, you know, both of my children relied on a high speed, reliable broadband to get their education, that’s infrastructure. And you know, when when we order, you know, food through a delivery service, or if we go to the local grocery store, that’s infrastructure. And so we all rely on it. We all depend on it, but we take it for granted. And so I think communicating those local examples of how infrastructure not only makes a difference in our lives, but how it can also disrupt our lives to state and local and and federal lawmakers is critical. They need to hear from us, the people, about why this is important. And so whether that is, you know, I hate to distill this down to the most basic level, but whether that is sending a letter to your elected official, whether it’s going back to that story about Steve Benjamin, the mayor of Columbus, whether it’s talking to your your mayor or city council member, you know, while he or she is in the line at the grocery store, whether it’s going to a town hall with your member of Congress, whether it’s talking to you know, a neighbor, who may be politically engaged in the community, we simply just got to keep talking about infrastructure, and reminding our elected officials that they cannot punt on this issue anymore. It is critical. So that’s where I would start.
Kirsten Wyatt 15:51
I was pleased to see that AEM is very interested in workforce development and vocational education and issues. Talk to us about this issue. And what does the workforce of the future look like? I know that often with the ELGL, we’re thinking about the local government, leaders of the future, so maybe department heads, elected officials, but talk to us about how you’re looking holistically across the entire workforce and planning for the future in the 21st century.
Kip Eideberg 16:24
Yeah, that’s a great question Kirsten. It’s something that we don’t talk enough about, I think both as an industry but certainly as a as a country overall. And I think it has probably become even more important and relevant, as you know, a lot of American workers right now struggle to find economic opportunity, particularly in light of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic downturn that we’ve seen. And, you know, we believe that a career in manufacturing, let’s let’s start with our industry first, but I think it you know, it, it’s relevant to a lot of industries, a career in manufacturing offers a, offers a lot of great opportunities for for anyone, you know, it’s a family sustaining wage. It’s an interesting, challenging career, you know, it is not the manufacturing job that your father or your grandfather would have had, you know, it is a very advanced, technologically sophisticated industry, and in the case of our industry pays 35% above the national average. Now, you’d think that with with all the opportunities that there are, and in fact, our numbers suggest that between 2018 and 2028, we will face overall as manufacturers, a shortfall of 2.4 million jobs. So how do you square the great opportunities in manufacturing with the fact that, you know, it seems that that young men and women aren’t interested in a career in manufacturing? That’s something that we think a lot about, and I think, you know, it starts with starts with a lot of things, but it starts possibly, you know, at home, I don’t think that enough parents are talking to, encouraging their children to pursue careers in manufacturing or to pursue any career that does not require a four year liberal arts degree. So that’s, that’s a challenge, right? And then I think, you know, it goes on to your high school, where a lot of kids are, are encouraged, sometimes quite aggressively, to pursue four year degrees. And then you look at the broader community, there’s a lot of pressure, right, success is far too often equated with having a college degree. And then it ends with the business community, I don’t think we have done a good enough job, you know, the past decades talking about these great opportunities, the fact that you could have a wonderful career, raise a family, put your kids through school, and retire comfortably if you work in manufacturing. So we all have to do our part to not only encourage young men and women to pursue degrees, or sorry to pursue careers in manufacturing, but we also have to make it easier for them.
Kirsten Wyatt 17:47
Kip Eideberg 19:08
And, you know, what does that mean? Well, it means it means a lot of things. It means greater access to career technical education. One of the things that we’ve been pushing for really hard is to expand Pell Grant eligibility for for education, that is not a four year degree that is maybe a-
Kirsten Wyatt 19:23
Oh, that’s wonderful
Kip Eideberg 19:25
six month program, right. To, to make it more affordable. Broadband, we haven’t talked about broadband but broadband comes into this discussion to a lot of our member companies are located in rural parts of the country where broadband is not readily accessible. It’s really difficult to convince a young person to move to rural fill in the blank for a great job in manufacturing if they don’t have access to broadband. So there’s a lot of things that we got to work on. But I think first and foremost, we just got to talk more about these careers and what what they can bring to a young man or woman.
Kirsten Wyatt 20:00
Well, and speaking of high speed internet and improving broadband, and fixing that digital divide, I mean, that has absolutely been something that, you know, especially in the last year or so, ELGL members have been so concerned about, especially in communities where, where this is an issue, especially as they were trying to, with everything closed down, move to digital services. And sometimes it’s not an option. You wrote an op ed recently, and I’m going to quote it here. “Rural America is still waiting on reliable broadband infrastructure, over 30% of rural roads are in poor or mediocre condition. And farmers have been battered by low commodity prices, the trade war with China, and mounting bad bankruptcies.” So talk to us about where rural broadband impact comes from on manufacturing communities, and why it’s something local governments need to be prioritizing when they think about infrastructure.
Kip Eideberg 20:58
Yeah, you bet. I, look, roads and bridges tend to be in the spotlight whenever the topic of infrastructure comes up, right? We’ve seen that, you know, the past couple of months ever since the President unveiled his plan, a lot of the conversation focuses on those key pieces of infrastructure, but they’re not the only ones and access to affordable and reliable high speed broadband is is critical to economic opportunity to job creation, education, and civic engagement. We talked earlier about how can you make your voice heard and tell you your elected official that we need to invest more in infrastructure? Well, you know, today, most people are probably going to send an email, right, they’re not going to write a letter, if they don’t have access to high speed broadband, that makes that a whole lot harder. So right, you know, for something as simple as contacting your elected official, that is jeopardized if you don’t have access to reliable high speed broadband. And millions of Americans, Kirsten, do not have that access, leaving too many hardworking Americans at a disadvantage. And so in order to ensure that all Americans can participate in the digital economy to utilize critical telehealth services, remote learning opportunities, we’ve we’ve all seen that in the past year and a half, we have to make a long term investment in high speed broadband, I think for for a state and local government, who is looking at, you know, all the different needs that they’re facing in terms of rebuilding and modernizing their infrastructure, you know, whether it’s those roads and bridges, locks and dams, waterways, the list is long, and the funds available are not what they need to be. We’ve got to figure out a way in partnership with the federal government to allocate more dollars to rural broadband, I think a lot of other problems will be solved that way. So think about an investment in high speed broadband is also an investment in education. It’s also an investment in healthcare. It’s also an investment in civic engagement, right? So if we can think about it less, in terms of just, you know, being able to log on and check your email or, you know, maybe check the local baseball scores, and more in terms of critical to the quality of life that we’ve come to expect, maybe it’ll become a little easier to to prioritize it. But But regardless, we just have to make an investment, you know, in order to, to make sure that Americans can can fully participate and take advantage of all the benefits that come from from the digital economy that we live in today.
Kirsten Wyatt 23:27
Of course, is high speed broadband, is that a partisan issue? Or has it become one? Because you know, in looking at some of these spending areas and infrastructure plan, you can kind of see how some of these may not, they may not be well loved on both sides of the aisle. But where does broadband fall? And what is what has your experience been?
Kip Eideberg 23:49
Well, I, infrastructure overall has always been a bipartisan effort. It is unfortunate that in today’s today’s Washington, everything seems to be a partisan issue, even if it shouldn’t be, I would say of all the different infrastructure assets that are being discussed, broadband is probably the most bipartisan issue.
Kirsten Wyatt 24:11
Kip Eideberg 24:11
Republicans and Democrats alike agree that we need to upgrade our conductivity we need to close the the the conductivity gap. And if you think about it, you know, there are still today, both Democrats and Republicans that represent rural communities. And so, you know, that’s why I think broadband is less of a Democratic or Republican issue. It is it is an American issue. And so the good news is that there is agreement and not just at the federal level, but at the state local level, too, right. The problem, of course, is that, you know, in in, in today’s highly partisan environment, perhaps more so in Washington than in state capitals, but increasingly across the country. our elected officials will find any excuse to make any Issue partisan and that is what is so frustrating about this whole infrastructure debate, they just have to set aside, you know, the petty political squabbling, they have to put policy ahead of politics. And they’ve got to figure out a way to do this. And I will tell you one thing that we haven’t touched on, Kirsten, but which I think is all important when it comes to not just infrastructure, but all of our policy challenges. State and local governments often find a way to get things done without the federal government Right?
Kirsten Wyatt 25:31
Kip Eideberg 25:31
Because they are, you know, they are at the very thing, they are feeling, you know, these issues most acutely, they are the ones who are interacting with their constituents on a daily basis, they live in the communities that are feeling, you know, the lack of broadband connectivity, the crumbling roads, whatever the issues are. And so I think that they are increasingly tired of the federal government not doing anything, so they’ll find a way, they’ll move forward without the federal government, and that’s a problem too, right? Because it has to be a partnership. So, you know, I hope that that state and local maybe could lead on the issue of broadband, and maybe convince their colleagues in Washington, you know, to stop fighting and get down to work.
Kirsten Wyatt 26:12
Well, and again, looking at some of these spending areas, you know, things like roads and bridges and water systems and airports, I mean, you can just make a straight safety argument. And on some of these others, you know, obviously, some issues or debate around climate change may be coming into play, or, you know, whether, you know, housing is something that is as important as other items. And so, I love what you’re saying, though, about, like finding these issues that we can unite around, and especially at the local level, tell those stories about, you know, it doesn’t matter if you’re squabbling in DC, we need to fix this road so it’s passable, otherwise, you can’t get to the grocery store, or whatever that might be. So that kind of storytelling piece that I’m hearing you talk about at the local level just remains so important to not lose focus when the politics seem to dominate the headlines.
Kip Eideberg 27:03
Yeah, I think that that’s spot on Kirsten. And one other quick things, since you talked about, you know, climate change. We have found through some some local polling and focus groups that we did that it also depends on how you frame the issue. So if you’re talking to Republican voters, and you’re asking them, if they would be willing to pay a little bit more in taxes, to address some of the challenges caused by you know, a changing climate? The answer is almost always No. However, if you ask them, if they would be willing to pay a little bit more in local taxes, to make our infrastructure more resilient, the answer is, surprisingly, perhaps, yes. Right? So, it also depends on how we frame the debate. And too often, we start off by saying, you know, I’m right, and you’re wrong. And that isn’t conducive to to civil discourse, you know, about how to solve some of our biggest challenges, and take advantage of some of the opportunities that are out there. So hopefully, you know, state and local could lead the way in that too, I find that you know, the discourse at the local level, because people are far, you know they’re neighbors, their friends, you know, it’s it’s a little bit more civil, that maybe they can actually inspire Washington to be a little bit more civil too.
Kirsten Wyatt 28:23
Such a great point. And a couple of years ago, we had the mayor of Indianapolis, who was a republican at the time, come out and speak to a group here in Oregon about the environmental sustainability measures that he had implemented in Indianapolis. And it all came down to language, the stories that he was telling was not about going green, it was about, you know, it was about this long term investment that made sense in a changing world. So, you know, thank you for reminding me of that. And again, reminding our listeners that words matter, especially when we’re trying to advocate for these highly important topics.
Kip Eideberg 29:01
Yeah, they sure do.
Kirsten Wyatt 29:03
So this question is a little bit out of left field. And so, but I’m just interested to know your thoughts. Two years ago, at our annual conference, we had a professor from Iowa State University, speak about her research about the shrink smart movement or project. And it was this idea that in rural America, as communities are shrinking, does it make sense for them to consolidate because of infrastructure costs, and because of how expensive it is to run your own water utility, when you could partner with the next door city and consolidate. Any talk or any consideration in the manufacturing industry about that concept of as our smaller communities are shrinking, there are some efficiencies that might be gained by looking at our infrastructure systems and figuring out if any sort of consolidation or change is necessary.
Kip Eideberg 29:57
Well, that’s a that’s an interesting question. In fact, we hosted this as a few years ago, we actually hosted a roundtable discussion, a full day worth of debates and discussions at Iowa State on the future of rural infrastructure. So it is something that we spent quite a bit of time thinking about. And I think the answer is yes. We’ve talked about budget shortfalls, we’ve talked about lack of, of general funding for things such as high speed broadband improvements to where we haven’t even started talking about clean water, right, which is another issue that is important to these. And so we have certainly seen a movement towards the pooling together of resources in rural areas to better meet the needs of the of the communities, including some of our member companies who are located in, in rural communities. And there’s also an ongoing discussion about how companies, employers can help local government meet some of these needs. You know, I mentioned it earlier, right? It is really hard for an equipment manufacturer to attract top talent to rural communities, if you don’t have the infrastructure there, you know, whether it be broadband, roads and bridges, just the ability to access an airport, you know, that has flights to destinations outside of the state. And so for us, it is it is a matter of partnership. But yes, I think I think this, this movement is absolutely on to something at a time when resources are sparse, when there is actually efficiencies to be realized, if two or three communities come together to fund, let’s say, the deployment of high speed broadband or to improve their shared infrastructure, I think you’ll get more for your dollar. And then if if local businesses can kick in some money too, right? The P3 model, then I think, you know, by and large, those rural communities will be better off, and there’ll be more successful. So there’s a lot to that. And I think you’ll see a lot more of that in the years to come particularly with, again, local companies stepping in and being a partner, an active partner with government sharing some of the burdens and helping to close those budget shortfalls.
Kirsten Wyatt 32:11
For our listeners who’d like to read the report that you did with Brookings, can you tell us where we can find that? And we’ll make sure to link to it in the show notes.
Kip Eideberg 32:20
Yeah, absolutely. Anyone who’s interested in the report, and there’s 80 plus policy recommendations in there, many of them specifically geared towards state and local governments. You can find it at iv2050.org. That’s iv2050.org.
Kirsten Wyatt 32:35
Awesome. Thank you. And and I’ll just point out to our listeners, it’s a very well done, report lots of interesting figures relating to everything from, again, broadband, but to the rising costs of climate change, or climate disasters, obviously, for many of our listeners, who, over the years have heard us do episodes on anything from wildfires to hurricanes, severe storms, flooding, but interesting statistics in there about that as well. Anything else that you you think a local government audience should be paying attention to in that report?
Kip Eideberg 33:11
Well, I think you touched on, you touched on on climate change, which is a big piece of that report, perhaps somewhat controversial, but we cannot afford to ignore that piece. I think there’s there’s a big part in there on education, that I think that they will find, hopefully we’ll find interesting. We talked about the challenges of the workforce piece, we talked about the skills gap. And I think it’s not only setting back our industry in terms of realizing its full potential, but it’s also setting back many rural communities, smaller communities. But we’ve got to start thinking about investing in infrastructure, not just investing in roads and bridges, but education is a big part of it. And there are some interesting recommendations in the report specifically about how state and local governments can partner with community colleges. They do this already, right. But there are some new and innovative ways on how to do that in partnership with business to make sure that the students that graduate are trained on the technology of today, Far too often, they come out of a program, you know, they might be a machinist, they might be a welder. But they’ve been training on technology and equipment that was used 10, 20, 50 years ago. And so that’s increasingly a challenge for our industry, right? Because you might be a great welder, but you don’t know how to use the latest, you know, robotic welding machine, for example. So there’s some good recommendations there on grants and partnerships on how to address specific skills needs for for young people getting into manufacturing,
Kirsten Wyatt 34:46
And such an important time to be talking about that with community college enrollment down during COVID. So then how do we rebuild and retool those curriculums so they address modern needs, because I I was very impressed with the sections where you in the report where you spoke about, it’s not just about replacing the physical assets as they are now. It’s also updating them for digital capacity, and, you know, modern use or modern, you know, ways that we, you know that we check water meters or that we check, you know, sewer lines. And those are different. It’s different equipment now than it was back, you know, 30 years ago. So I appreciate that concept of it’s not just replacing, but it’s also modernizing.
Kip Eideberg 35:34
Yeah, and we absolutely have to do that Kirsten. And then the and the great benefit that will come from from that at least part of the benefit is that it will create new jobs, right. But we can only take advantage of those jobs, or young people can only take advantage of those jobs, you know, if they have the right training. And then that also brings us to what do we do with a lot of people who have lost jobs, and where those jobs aren’t coming back, you know, we need to make sure that we re-skill and up-skill them to meet the new jobs that our industry and other industries are created. And there’s some recommendations in there too, and how state local governments can partner with industry to make sure that that we provide a pathway for those people who’ve lost their jobs to no fault of their own. You know, our economy has changed. Our country has changed. You know, we got to make sure we don’t leave them behind.
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Kirsten Wyatt 37:45
What about the autonomous vehicle industry? And how is the manufacturing field preparing for autonomous vehicles. And then as it relates to infrastructure in equipping our cities to deal with EVs?
Kip Eideberg 37:59
Well, if you visit an equipment manufacturing plan today, chances are that you will already see autonomous vehicles or some type you know, at work on the shop floor, you know, a lot of our member companies are already there, you know, maybe not all at the same level, but they are increasingly relying on autonomous technology, you know, to move parts around the shop floor, or to you know, help improve the manufacturing process. Now, on top of that, many of our companies are building autonomous vehicles. Mining trucks, for example have been autonomous for some time. And, you know, that brings a lot of benefits to the mining industry, it improves safety, it improves efficiency. It brings a wealth of other financial benefits to the operators. And so we like to think that we were at the forefront of this, you know, way before it became popular to talk about, you know, the autonomous car that’s going to drive you to work every morning while you read the newspaper. Now, with any new technology, right, there always comes sets of challenges, both both on the regulatory side, but also on the financial side, how do you make it affordable? How do you make it safe? You know, how do you maximize, you know, all the positives of autonomous vehicles. And so, you know, we’re thinking a lot about this, we believe that when it comes to, you know, a more broader application of autonomous vehicles, there is an opportunity here that goes hand in hand with our infrastructure investment that we’ve been talking about. If we are going to see the the mass deployment of autonomous vehicles on our roads, we need to make sure that we retrofit our existing infrastructure to to adapt those to those vehicles, right. We need to put sensors into the roads to allow for those autonomous vehicles to operate safely and efficiently. And so yet again, here’s another opportunity. And another reason why we need to invest in infrastructure. We talk a lot about how to make the construction site safer for workers and more effective. And so you’ll start to see excavators you know, working on the side of the road or working in a downtown area or building a new building, perhaps, that are using a lot of autonomous technology already to make the more more effective and to, to reduce downtime to maximize output, and to make the project more successful. So, you know, lots of opportunities here. And this is something that, you know, we could work with the administration and the Congress as their crafting the bill, to incentivize state and local governments to adopt this technology, as they start to think about the infrastructure projects that they want to green-light in the near future.
Kirsten Wyatt 40:42
Such a critical reminder to of that tie between infrastructure and public health, and how critical it is, with some of the new technologies and the new approaches to you know, make sure that we have safe drinking water to prevent, you know, combined sewage overflows from our sewer systems, by monitors and sensors. You know, we’ve definitely had some great case studies coming out of communities, especially in the Midwest around, again, when you invest in your infrastructure, you are protecting public health, by preventing some of these, you know, truly tragic examples, like what we saw in Flint, but then also being able to, you know, adapt more quickly as it relates to, you know, other public health crises.
Kip Eideberg 41:27
Yeah, and wouldn’t it be great if you are, you know, if you’re a state DOT, and you are looking for grants from the federal government to help fund an infrastructure project, and if your dollars are going to get you know, stretched a little further, you know, maybe there’s a matching program where you know, they will kick in $2, for every dollar you put in, you know, if you are deploying smart technology on the construction side, because we know that it’s going to reduce the time it will take to get the project completed, it will make it a safer environment for the workers, you know, they will have some environmental benefits, not only will it be more affordable for the state DOT, but it will bring all those other benefits as well. Right. So I think these are the kinds of serious and substantive discussions we should be having about infrastructure rather than the the partisan bickering that we see too often, right.
Kirsten Wyatt 42:17
Talk to us about the concept of regional fragmentation, when it occurs, why it occurs, and what local governments can do to push back to make sure that doesn’t slow down progress or projects?
Kip Eideberg 42:31
Well, I think that’s, that’s an interesting, that’s an interesting question. And I think speaking broadly here, if you look at metropolitan regions that are that are fragmented, and that have many small local jurisdictions that are, you know, distinct and operate independently of each other, what what you’ll find is a lot of lot of inefficiencies right. Inefficiencies when it when it comes to, you know, how budgets are put together, and how money is spent. You’ll find inefficiencies in terms of projects, you know, when they’re green-lit when they’re completed. And you’ll find inefficiencies, when it comes to, you know, broader benefits to you know, all those people that live in the in the different regions, you know, being able to benefit from what it is that state and local governments are trying to do. So, I think, you know, whether you look at the Northeast, you look at the Midwest whether, you know, there there are quite a few fragmented regions, what we’ve seen, and again, this is the perspective more so from from our member companies who are located in these areas, is that it ends up hurting everyone and ends up costing everyone. And so I think what it comes to comes back to the point that we talked about earlier, is that we’ve got to find a way to look at problems through the lens of how can we best solve it? How can we solve it in a way that costs the taxpayer the least amount of money? How can we best solve it in a way that has the better and the greatest benefit for all the people in the community? How can we best solve it with a look towards the future anticipating future challenges, but also capturing, you know, future opportunities? And so I think far too often, you know, our decision making, and the way we approach problems is sort of limited by these, in some ways, artificial constraints and boundaries. Right? Right. So the more that state and local governments can, you know, look at maybe a larger regional challenge and say, Hey, if we work together, you know, we’re gonna be more successful, we’re gonna have to do things a little differently. We might have to change some of our our local rules and regulations on how to approach a problem. But by working together, we’re ultimately going to solve the problems that you know that our constituents put us in charge of solving and I think not only will we have better outcomes for everyone, but we’ll also be able to ultimately create stronger, more resilient communities. And that is, that is a positive, it’s something that isn’t happening enough right now, you know, the business community sort of struggles a little bit with how we could possibly help incentivize this or bring it about. But I think we’re just gonna have to start continue, I know this is gonna sound like a cliche, but we’re gonna have to start continue to think outside of the box and think more about what are the outcomes that we desire, right, rather than what are the processes that we are currently constrained by.
Kirsten Wyatt 45:35
It’s like the song, the more we get together, the happier we’ll be, which is, you know, huge ELGL concept of making sure that we break down these silos between our local governments, learn from each other, and then when possible work together as well. So a great reminder of how it’s not just about knowledge exchange, but it’s also about, you know, massive, important, impactful infrastructure projects as well. Anything else you’d like to share? Go for it.
Kip Eideberg 46:03
No, I was just gonna say, look, you know, we largely live and work by the rules that we create. And we are fully capable of changing those rules anytime we want. And far too often, you know, we constrain ourselves by these rules that we have created. And I think we need to constantly remind each other that at the end of the day, whether we’re state and local government official or federal government official, we’re here to serve the people that elected us. And so let’s not allow ourselves to be limited by what we can accomplish by these rules that we could easily change. But let’s instead think about how can we deliver the best possible outcomes for the people that elected us and I think if we can do that, we will be far more successful as a country, whether we’re talking about infrastructure, or any other issue.
Kirsten Wyatt 46:54
Anything else you’d like to share with the Gov Love listeners before we wrap up today’s episode?
Kip Eideberg 47:01
Well, I, if I can remind them of one thing, it is that the definition of infrastructure is broad. And these days, particularly in Washington, there’s a lot of discussion about what infrastructure is. But if you ask equipment manufacturers, if you ask the 2.8 million men and women who make the equipment that builds, powers, and feeds our country, it means everything. It means roads and bridges, ports and waterways, airports, locks, dams, rail and public transport. It also means clean drinking water infrastructure, the electric grid, high speed broadband. And so we’ve got to keep thinking big when it comes to infrastructure. Yes, roads and bridges are important, but so is everything else. And if we cannot find a way to rebuild and modernize all of our infrastructure assets, and to pay for it in a long term, sustainable and predictable manner, we are never going to be successful as a country. So that’s the one thing I hope everyone can can remember us, as the debate about infrastructures, you know, continues to heat up in Washington and in state capitals across the country.
Kirsten Wyatt 48:08
A great reminder, we do have one last question for you. If you could be the Gov Love podcast, DJ, what song would you pick as our exit music for this episode?
Kip Eideberg 48:20
Wow, that’s a great question Kirsten. Well, we have been talking about infrastructure. So I will go with We Built this City by Starship.
Kirsten Wyatt 48:33
Oh, that is almost too perfect. And I did not see that coming. But I I applaud your choice. That is a that’s a great, great way to end this episode.
Kip Eideberg 48:44
Well, the infrastructure debate in Washington could certainly use a little less partisanship and a whole lot more rock and roll. So there you have it.
Kirsten Wyatt 48:52
Well, thank you so much for joining us on today’s episode.
Kip Eideberg 48:55
Thank you Kirsten, I really enjoyed it.
Kirsten Wyatt 48:59
Gov Love is produced by a rotating cast of ELGL volunteers. ELGL is the Engaging Local Government Leaders network and you can reach us at ELGL.org or on Twitter at @GovLovePodcast or @ELGL50. Thank you for listening. This has been Gov Love, a podcast about local government.