Editor’s Note: This story is part of our Running Women project following 15 compelling women candidates in 2018.
Congressional Candidate Leah Phifer introduced an economic development plan for the rural Minnesota district she aims to represent in Washington, just ahead of statewide caucuses on Tuesday evening.
She says her proposals would help local businesses be more competitive in the market, stabilize the mining economy, and improve connections across the district, from roads and bridges to high-speed internet access.
They are the fruit of Phifer’s 80-day listening tour this summer, in which she rode 7,000 miles around the 8th District on a motorcycle and met with residents along the way. Phifer’s conversations with miners, farmers and small business owners became the “cornerstone” of her economic plan, she says.
Phifer proposes to give small businesses a hand up by pushing federal agencies to consider the effects of regulations, increasing access to business loans and stepping up federal funding for improved broadband connections in rural areas.
More than a quarter of households in rural Minnesota lack access to broadband that meets state speed targets, and demand for fast connections outpaces available funding, according to a January report by Governor Mark Dayton’s Task Force on Broadband.
Phifer argues that high-speed internet access is a necessity for the district to be competitive in today’s marketplace. Without this access, businesses struggle to sell their products online and can’t complete debit and credit card transactions efficiently.
Her plan calls for adding $1 billion a year to the FCC’s Connect America Fund to pay for the extension and improvement of broadband lines across rural America. “This additional funding will help ensure all Americans have access to quality high speed broadband service within four years of enactment,” she said in a statement.
The plan also emphasizes incentivizing clean energy use in homes with tax credits in a proposal that she says will help expand the clean energy market and make the 8th District a leader in this growing industry.
In addition, Phifer wants to create a national “Strategic Metals Reserve” to stabilize the iron market and counteract price swings that lead to layoffs of workers in the Iron Range. Phifer’s own family members have lived through the wrenching cycles of this industry, she says, and that experience cemented her commitment to improving the lives of miners.
The reserve would work much like the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which has helped ensure petroleum is available during times of drastic changes in supply, such as disruptions caused by international crises and natural disasters. In this case, the government would buy iron when the price drops and would sell it during price spikes.
“This plan could be a template for future stockpiles of other strategic commodities, making Minnesota an industry leader in the storage and distribution of strategic commodities,” she says.
Phifer’s economic plan also calls for improving transportation in the district and holding President Donald J. Trump to his State of the Union promise to invest $1.5 trillion in the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. She wants to increase federal money for roads and bridges to $75 billion from $50 billion and help local and state governments to gain access to federal grants that could make a high-speed rail system connecting Duluth and Minneapolis possible.