After years of considering the Minnesota Transportation Alliance’s DC Fly-In, attending this year was perfectly timed. The conference was centered on the new IIJA funding information and how projects were selected, as well as other opportunities for the municipalities to apply for funding. Once the decision was made by the Board for me to attend, our top leadership also registered to attend. AWC President, Jeanine Davis (Minnesota Street Works) and AWC Vice President, Kendra Kron (InSite Contracting), accompanied me to share our story on price escalation and contractors’ issues in transportation.
We kicked off the conference hearing from US DOT representatives. Charles Small, Assistant Secretary of Intergovernmental Affairs presented on Discretionary Grant Programs, while Paige Shevlin, Senior Advisor for Workforce Policy shared programs in the IIJA to promote workforce training. We were then treated to a rooftop welcome reception with attendees. The attendees included civil engineering firms, Minnesota City and County officials, transit authorities, MnDOT Commissioner Daubenberger and MetCouncil Chair Zelle. The AWC team were the only contractors represented.
Our day two was a whirlwind packed with meetings. The breakfast kickoff included quick presentations from members of the Minnesota Congressional Delegation. We heard from, Senator Klobuchar and Representatives Tom Emmer, Betty McCollum, Brad Finsted, and Pete Stauber as well as an aid from Ilhan Omar’s office. We gave comments that “when they are talking about the excitement of these “projects”, for us that equates to opportunities for small businesses in construction and paychecks for their employees”. Whenever possible we were passing out the AWC focus area flyer.
And then we were off to the Senate offices. We started with a full attendee presentation from Senator Tina Smith. The Senator’s aid was excited to hear our story. We then headed to the House offices where our one-on-one meetings were with aides from Representative Fishbach, Representative Craig, and Representative Phillips offices. We then met with Representative Emmer where he told us stories and plans for IIJA and more. All of those that we met noted they support us and a solution to make these businesses whole. We heard a common theme however, that our trouble with price escalation payments is really a Minnesota issue and not federal. Unfortunately, Minnesota received pandemic relief funds and is sitting on a huge surplus so more money from the feds is not an option.
What has happened since our return are meetings that we wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to have and the ability to tell our story across both sides of the aisle. I had a phone call with Emmer’s office this week. Next week I meet with Betty McCollum’s aide who wants to learn more about what we do at AWC. And we are scheduling a joint meeting with Commissioner Daubenberger, Chair Zelle and Governor Walz’s office in the coming weeks.
In addition to the federal congressional delegation, we made connections with the attendees. There were opportunities for Jeanine and Kendra for new business and to meet folks where they are already working with. We have promoted equity in contracting and offered to assist county and city officials to look at developing programs where none yet exist.
In reflection this event was a highlight for AWC’s ability to represent our women and minority contractor members as well as all working in construction. Hearing the different ideas from folks, telling our story in a way that garnered empathy, and connecting so we know where to turn for help – all invaluable! We want to thank the Minnesota Transportation Alliance for including us and for their hard work on this Fly-In Trip. I already look forward to next year.