Our nation is at an inflection point, with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to invest in both our infrastructure and our people. With the economic turmoil that COVID-19 wreaked in our communities, we are faced with a critical choice: Invest in equitable development that prepares us for the future or sit on our hands and do nothing. The Workforce Development Board of Southeast Minnesota sees the reality of that opportunity and is prepared to harness the power of our workforce together with the power of our employer partners to meet the significance of the moment.

Many small businesses have been forced to shut down, individuals laid off, and industries significantly changed. Our roads and bridges are crumbling and access to broadband is uneven. These realities create hardships for our community members.

Southeast Minnesota is home to hard-working people and businesses striving to recover from this recession. That recovery is stalled and could be jump-started with a federal investment in workforce development. Our local economy is ready to get to work and it will be accelerated with the proposed $100 billion workforce development investment from the American Jobs Plan.

This crucial $100 billion investment is missing from Congress’ recently negotiated infrastructure package. We cannot invest in infrastructure without also investing in the training necessary to create the skilled workforce needed to repair our nation’s infrastructure. As the National Skills Coalition argues, “Investments in our nation’s infrastructure without investments in the people who will rebuild it will only perpetuate inequity and slow recovery.”

The time to invest is now. Local communities like ours are ready to dig in and do the work necessary to pave the way to our future prosperity. Simultaneously combining workforce development with significant job creation activity like infrastructure will advance the economic recovery in all communities for all people.

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The Midwest is the heart of the country and connects the transfer of goods from east to west. We are more than fly-over country. Our people work hard and they are proud to participate in the rebuilding of our economy. Our businesses are committed to investing in skilled workers that can grow with their company. We are worth the investment.

As conveners of the workforce system in Southeast Minnesota, we know firsthand how important it is for our community members to have access to reliable transportation, smooth roads, and the internet to secure and maintain good jobs that provide for them and their families. This is a challenge for all communities: urban, suburban and rural. We have the opportunity now to make the necessary investments that will position our neighbors for the work of today and tomorrow. But the time to act is now.

The American Jobs Plan provides the necessary investments to repair the crumbling transportation nodes across our region and expand broadband access, both critical to our region’s competitiveness. We urge Congress to pass infrastructure investment and include funding to assist our local employers with recruiting skilled workers prepared to do the work that must be done. There is a shortage of these skilled workers, but our workforce system is primed to assist with recruiting and quickly skilling them up to be work ready on Day 1. We are ready to get to work. And the time is now.

Jim Kingsley is chairman of the Workforce Development Board of Southeast Minnesota, based in Rochester.