U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
Hearing Statements
Date:   04/29/2004
 
Statement of Senator Lisa Murkowski
Reauthorization of the Economic Development Administration

Mr. Chairman, thank you for moving forward with this hearing, and I would like also to offer my thanks to Dr. Sampson and the other witnesses for appearing today.

I am pleased to have an opportunity to make sure that my strong support for the reauthorization of the Economic Development Administration (EDA) goes on the record. I sincerely hope that this important reauthorization measure does not become hostage to other issues and will progress briskly from here to the floor.

Along with many of my fiscally conservative colleagues, I am concerned about the appropriate role for the Federal government in encouraging private industry. I believe industry is healthiest when it does as much as possible for itself.

However, after carefully watching the activities of the EDA in my State of Alaska, I have been very positively impressed. Mr. Chairman, the dollars disbursed by the EDA are not going to waste. They are building economic capacity so that the private sector can step in to provide real, long-lasting economic activity and employment. That is absolutely vital in a State like mine, which continues to lag far behind most others in the kinds of infrastructure that make a vibrant economy possible.

Quite frankly, Mr. Chairman, many times federal funds are committed for projects that are quick shots in the arm but product no lasting impact. EDA projects are linked to private sector job growth. As such they are both different and deserving of our support.

In Ketchikan, for example, we have a shipyard capable of doing almost any job on vessels up to and including our own marine ferries, Coast Guard cutters and NOAA research ships. This yard has an exemplary reputation for high quality workmanship, it has won high praise from almost all its clients, and it is capable of providing upwards of 200 highly skilled, well-paid, year-round private sector jobs in a local economy that was shattered by the loss of the timber industry and where seasonal fishing and tourism just can’t carry the whole load. Unfortunately, it has one problem – although it can DO the work, it cannot ACCEPT all the work it is offered, because when its drydock is in use by one vessel, it cannot move any other vessel into an area where work can be done. EDA is helping solve that problem by supporting the construction of facilities that will allow it to accept additional work – and provide additional jobs.

Another example occurs in Dillingham, a relative remote community in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region. For years, all goods delivered to Dillingham and through Dillingham to nearby villages have had to arrive in shallow-draft barges, from which the goods are transferred to other, smaller vessels before coming ashore. The reason is that Dillingham has lacked a dock structure that will support larger vessels at all tide conditions. What it means is that every item that comes into the region arrives at a higher price because of increased shipping costs, and every item shipped out of the region is sold at a lower profit margin for the same reason. EDA is changing that by helping the region build a dock suitable for use anytime.

These two simple projects, for very modest amounts of money, are making new economic development in those communities not just possible, but probable – and that is no small thing.

In short, Mr. Chairman, I consider the programs of the EDA to be an “investment” in the very best sense of the word.

In the interests of time, I won’t go into detail on other aspects of the reauthorization except to note that the EDA’s involvement in economic adjustment grants and trade assistance programs are also very important both to many communities.

I do, however, want to mention one other requested change that has my strong support. The Administration has suggested the inclusion of a provision regarding “Special Impact Areas,” which would allow the Secretary to waive certain requirements for assistance in the event there is a finding that a grant or technical assistance will fulfill a pressing need and be useful in easing excessive unemployment.

Mr. Chairman, I don’t anticipate this provision would be abused, and I think it would be very important for the most economically depressed areas where the regular process may be difficult to accommodate. I, for one, would like to see it included in the bill we send forward.

Finally, Mr. Chairman, I want to note my support for authorizing full funding for the EDA at the requested level. We on this committee will not actually be providing appropriations, but it is nonetheless important that we provide this support, so as to ensure maximum flexibility for those who will.

Thank you Mr. Chairman. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses.