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Thursday, July 15, 2010 01:58 am

A vision for Illinois: reviving manufacturing

I am the Democratic candidate for Congress in the 19th District. I first ran for Congress in 2004. A part of my platform at that time looked 20 years into the future toward the construction of commuter rail lines linking the communities of Mt. Vernon, Vandalia, Salem and Centralia to the Bi-State Metro system that serves the greater St. Louis region. Even allowing the 20-plus years, the plan was somewhat ambitious for our region.

Since 2004 our economy has undergone enormous changes. Millions of jobs have been lost, largely in the manufacturing sector. Unemployment, energy costs, environmental concerns and a growing population are stark realities we must now address. My plan for commuter rail reaching deep into southern Illinois remains difficult to imagine, especially on its own in the absence of a larger national effort to build a transportation network that is both “green” and reduces energy consumption and dependence on foreign oil. Such an effort would directly contribute to a cleaner environment, create jobs, and transport people to their jobs and back to their homes.

We have a consumer economy, and consumers need income to participate. So without jobs there is no consumer economy. Our manufacturing and even some service jobs have been relocated outside the U.S. This export of jobs is the export of our incomes and the base of the consumer economy. Something has to be done to reverse the trend and to propel the United States back to industrial promise and prowess.

Several weeks ago I had the privilege to attend a conference in Granite City presented by the Alliance for American Manufacturing.

What I saw at the Granite City conference was not just a plan but a vision that makes sense for America. The key element to the plan presented by the Alliance at Granite City was the revitalization of the American railroad, with “made in the U.S.A.” an essential feature of the effort. Our policies toward the railways over the past 40 years have led to a patchwork system of rail service. Amtrak provides service in the Northeast corridor that should be provided in every trans-urban corridor in the U.S. High-speed rail in the U.S. is nowhere near “high speed” as experienced in Japan or Europe. As currently configured, my proposed commuter lines out to Mt. Vernon, Vandalia, Salem and Centralia are still a pipe dream.

By revitalizing the railways we invest in infrastructure projects in communities across the country. We can build real high-speed connections not only from Chicago to St. Louis, but St. Louis to Indianapolis, with stops in southern Illinois. We can build the shipping hubs that will help bring manufacturing back to small-town America, small town southern Illinois. We can build commuter lines that take people to and from their jobs, reducing fuel consumption and commuter time on the highways.

A problem for southern Illinois if such a plan were to be implemented is that we have been shorted for the past 14-plus years, during a time of communications and technological growth. Our broadband and cellular services are spotty and have been a reason for lack of growth in our region. In order to bring the railways and factories back to southern Illinois, we need to bring better broadband to the region. Just as in the 1930s rural America was electrified through rural electric cooperatives, I propose an initiative of rural broadband cooperatives to serve those areas that are ignored or underserved by the major providers.

Congressman John Shimkus has allied himself with “free-market” practices that ship jobs overseas. These practices favor stockholders over consumer incomes. Sometimes the marketplace needs a push in the right direction. The right direction is to revitalize American manufacturing through a national plan for the railways.

Tim Bagwell of Olney is the Democratic candidate for Congress in the 19th District. He holds a Ph.D. in policy analysis and public administration from Saint Louis University.  He is an information technology project manager, specializing in the health care and pharmaceutical industries. 
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