Union ironworkers and electricians at United Streetcar were in the media spotlight March 21 as U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood stopped by the Clackamas, Oregon, facility to promote American competitiveness and job growth in the global transit marketplace.
“Out-innovating and out-building the rest of the world provides a clear path toward winning the future,” LaHood said. “And it’s exciting for me to see that vision already coming to life (here).”
About 100 people attended the media event coordinated by Apollo Alliance, a coalition of labor, business, environmental, and community leaders who promote clean energy job creation. Among them were U.S. congressmen Earl Blumenauer, Peter DeFazio, and Kurt Schrader; Portland Mayor Sam Adams; and Oregon AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Barbara Byrd, who is head of Oregon Apollo Alliance.
United Streetcar — a wholly owned subsidiary of Oregon Iron Works, Inc. — is the only manufacturer of modern streetcars in the United States. Cars are built by members of Iron Workers Shopmen’s Local 516 and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 48, and are Buy America compliant, which means at least 70 percent of the components are domestically produced. The U.S. content could soon reach 90 percent thanks to more federal grants.
“United Streetcar is a perfect example of how good public policy can not only create jobs, but also re-create an entire manufacturing sector,” said United Streetcar President Chandra Brown. “Our story tells exactly how the private sector and the federal government can partner to grow the economy together.”
According to Apollo Alliance, America has sent roughly $10 billion overseas since 2005 to purchase public transit equipment. Apollo Alliance estimates that $40 billion per year of federal investment in public transit and rail, coupled with the right policies, could create 3.7 million American jobs — 600,000 in the manufacturing sector alone — and begin to meet the currently estimated $77 billion that is needed just to bring existing systems up to good repair.
“We’ve had over $50 million in orders and there will be more to come as streetcars return to communities throughout the country,” Brown said. “Should the federal government adopt policy recommendations in Apollo Alliance’s Transportation Manufacturing Action Plan, United Streetcar’s growth would be even more robust.”
Brown said the company recently invested $4 million on a new 3,100-foot streetcar track for on site testing — the only one in the United States — as well as a new 6,400-square-foot environmental testing bay.
Schrader said initiatives like ‘Buy America’ are key to growing America’s manufacturing sector and “a great example of common sense regulations that support our local economy.”
“Instead of sending billions of dollars abroad to buy foreign-made equipment, we should be spending that money right here in Oregon,” he said.
DeFazio said federal investment in transit and rail creates needed family-wage jobs in the United States and helps to “revitalize the critical U.S. manufacturing sector.”