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Building ladders of opportunity for America's businesses

Building ladders of opportunity for America's businesses

As readers might recall, I'm sort of the product of a transportation business. My great-grandfather, Pete Kelly, was a trucker who put 13 kids through college--including my grandmother. So, I am where I am today because, for Pete Kelly, that truck was a key rung on the ladder of opportunity.

Now, Pete Kelly may have lived more than half a century ago, but the same route that he took toward the American Dream is still wide open to our nation's entrepreneurs. Transportation can still be a way up, into the middle class and beyond.

Especially when you’re helping build that transportation. At the Department of Transportation, we work to make sure everyone has access to this kind of opportunity.

Photo of road work

As I told the members of the National Association of Minority Contractors earlier today, America's small and disadvantaged business owners (DBEs) have a seat at the contracting table for DOT-funded projects.

In fact, I was joined at the NAMC meeting by several people in DOT's Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization, a program that works to ensure that DBEs know there's a seat for them, that they know the transportation industry's opportunities are open to them.

Our Small Business Resource Center worked with over 1,700 businesses last year. And in the four years since we established our Bonding Education Program, we’ve helped hundreds of DBEs secure more than $300 million in bonding capacity. If you aren't familiar with contracting, bonding capacity is the key to being able to bid on larger projects. That means opportunities to grow a business...and hire more people.

We’re proud of this.

Photo of transit work

That said, this is an uncertain time for our DBE community –and for American transportation.

As soon as August, the Highway Trust Fund –which pays for our road projects– will become insolvent. A few weeks later, in the fall, our surface transportation funding bill will expire.

Addressing both of those situations requires Congressional action. Without it, the federal government will slow –then stop– sending money to states. States will then delay projects –or outright cancel them. It’s already happening.

Soon, there will be far, far fewer contracts to award –that goes for all contractors. Without a funding bill, that route to success that bridge to the middle class that so many have taken will close.

In April, we sent a long-term funding bill that fixes these problems to Congress. We call it GROW AMERICA, and the name speaks for itself. It doesn’t just refill the Highway Trust Fund; it grows investments in all modes of surface transportation so we can tackle the backlog of repairing and rebuilding that we haven’t addressed.

That's how we'll prepare our transportation system for the future. And that's how we'll keep access to ladders of opportunity open to our nation's entrepreneurs and employers.

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I was in attendance at Secretary Foxx's visit to the National Association of Minority Contractors conference and was inspired by his comments about the opportunities for DBE firms in transportation contracts.