3 questions White House advisor says to ask about infrastructure work

Mitch Landrieu says a one-size-fits-all approach to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs act won’t work.

“What’s happening in North Dakota is not what’s happening in the streets of New Orleans,” said Landrieu during an online event hosted by the National Skills Coalition Wednesday.

That’s partly why, in January, Landrieu advised each governor to appoint their own infrastructure coordinators to smooth the rollout of the $1.2 trillion in funding from the once-in-a-generation legislation.

Landrieu, who previously served as mayor of New Orleans during the city’s recovery from Hurricane Katrina, said he encourages coordinators to ask the same three questions when figuring out projects: what’s the problem, how do we solve it and who do we solve it with?

Especially with an on-the-ground approach to infrastructure project execution, which will see roads, bridges, EV charging stations and high speed internet installations at the local level, the country will rely on small- to medium-sized companies. 

Smaller employers better reflect their communities, Landrieu said, and therefore it is easier to find them, and start to give them the skills to build these projects and then a career stretching beyond the IIJA.

‘Seek and you shall find’

Donny Jones, COO of the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama and executive director of West Alabama Works, said the time for contractors and state coordinators to mobilize at the local level is now.

“It doesn’t matter how much money you pour into it if you don’t have the people to build it,” Jones said in a discussion following Landrieu’s comments.

Kelly Kupcak, executive director of free pre-apprenticeship program Oregon Tradeswomen, highlighted the need to bring women, people of color and returning citizens into the industry, something she thinks her home state has done a good job of.

At a time when the construction industry faces high demand for workers, in order to staff up a jobsite Kupcak said employers must consider childcare and other worker needs.

Creating that supportive environment is vital, said Liza Smitherman, chief people officer for Cincinnati-based Jostin Construction, and if employers offer it there are hardworking people out there ready to contribute to these projects.

“Seek and you shall find,” Smitherman said.

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