As 2019 approaches, one thing is clear: Duluth is on the move. With record low unemployment and more than $1 billion in upgrades coming for local hospitals and transportation infrastructure that will spur jobs and economic development, people in Duluth and across the entire region have reason for optimism.
To be sure, Duluth's progress hasn't come easily. I've watched as elected leaders like Mayor Emily Larson, the business community, local health providers, and educators all have come together with the long-term vision and hard work Duluth needs to build a strong economic future.
As I return to the Senate next year, I'll continue to work with the community so the federal government can be a strong partner to complement local efforts and help create economic opportunity.
Because the Duluth port is so important to Minnesota's economic well-being, I supported passage of $180 million in additional funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative over the next three years. And we successfully pushed to expand the Soo Locks, which are vital to a healthy Great Lakes shipping industry that businesses across Minnesota rely on to get their products to market.
I also helped secure more than $8.6 million in grants to improve the Duluth International Airport, which connects residents and businesses to the nation and the world. And, just this month, I was pleased to join Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Rick Nolan in announcing a $20 million federal infrastructure grant to help complete portions of the Can of Worms highway interchange leading into and out of downtown Duluth.
There's also a downside to economic expansion. Duluth, like many Minnesota communities, is grappling with an acute and persistent housing shortage. At a recent meeting in Duluth, local housing experts told me that the community needs more than 2,500 additional housing units to meet the needs of both middle- and low-income residents.They also pointed out that more than 400 students in the Duluth school district are homeless.
These statistics illustrate just how connected housing, health, and education really are. If a community doesn't have enough good places for people to live, it affects a family's health, it hurts students' capacity to learn, and it frustrates businesses which can't find the people they need to fill jobs, because people can't find a place to live. That's why I'll continue to support federal investments that expand affordable-housing opportunities in Minnesota and across the country. And it's why I'll continue to push back against shortsighted Trump administration proposals to cut support for housing. If people don't have a safe place to call home, nothing works.
In the coming year, I will visit communities across the state to listen and to learn from local initiatives to expand housing. I believe local community leaders understand best what their communities need when it comes to fixing housing shortages. I'll take what I learn from these meetings back to the Senate and then to push for housing policies that will work for Minnesota's families, businesses, and communities.
As a member of the Senate Health Committee, I'll also continue my efforts to address rising health care costs, especially the skyrocketing price of prescription drugs. And I'll continue to hold the big drug companies accountable for their role in the opioid crisis and their responsibility to help fix the problem they created. In Duluth last summer, I announced legislation to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable for high prices and to bring down costs for both consumers and taxpayers. I'll continue that push next year, because high prescription drug prices are forcing too many families to choose between the medications they need and other necessities like groceries or rent.
As the new Congress begins in January, I plan to continue to travel the state, listen to Minnesotans, and work to ensure everyone can share in the benefits of our economic expansion.
Sen. Tina Smith of St. Paul represents Minnesota in the U.S. Senate. A Democrat, she wrote this at the invitation of the News Tribune Opinion page.