KPAX: Infrastructure funding creating a sense of job security

by Dennis Bragg

Senator Jon Tester came to Missoula Tuesday to celebrate passage of the big infrastructure bill, while local workers were also celebrating, seeing it as a path forward to their economic future.

While it will take some time for the true impacts of the $1-trillion federal infrastructure bill to clarify, one thing that’s already showing up is anticipation, and a sense of security for those in the construction trades.

During a visit to Missoula’s Felco Industries Tuesday, Sen. Tester heard stories from the workers, both veterans, and those just getting into the field of manufacturing and fabricating huge specialized parts for excavators.

Colin Harper is working at Felco as he also gets additional training at Missoula College.

“I’ve worked everything from fast food to sales to doing like construction, all the way across the board. And to be working here and having reliable work, so far it’s been a blessing. Being able to pay rent, pay my bills, and be able to also pay tuition, it’s just a big say of relief I guess you could say. Yeah.”

Tester is relieved too, with approval coming after months and months of hammering out details of the bill that was first brought forward by a coalition of ten Democrats and Republicans last summer.

He says his staff, and those of his fellow Senators, worked tirelessly to refine the massive bill, with a final push of suggestions from the White House to ensure approval.

“Then the 10 of us went back to our respective caucuses and sold it. So, it was a good thing,” Tester told MTN News. “And by the way, I wish more things happened like this. In a bipartisan way where we get things done in a bipartisan nature. Unfortunately politics enters far too much of the time.”

Aaron Kellum says the bill is not only a surety for Felco’s future business, but also “personally satisfying” to him because it will allow the company to pay workers a better wage.

The numbers involved are staggering, including nearly $3-billion for Montana highways. $1-billion to complete rural water projects, with another $2.5 billion to complete all authorized Indian Water Rights settlements and $42-billion for nationwide broadband deployment. And that’s just the tip of the financial iceberg.

But for Harper and his co-workers, the numbers that really count are in the bank account, and the feeling of surety after a couple of unsettled economic years, with work now leading to a hopeful future.

“Experience for sure,” Harper said as he was preparing to return to work. “And having that reliable reference with Felco. And going to school and being able to learn as you go. I love it. So, having that experience definitely in the long run. If I want to into either aerospace, or work on pipelines or whatever it may be in the long run. Whatever times may change or what may happen, I have that experience and that trade to help back me up.”