Tommy Thompson: Spreading Transit's Message

Gov. Tommy Thompson serves as a senior advisor to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) and R&R Partners provides support and research for him. He speaks to and for the business members in making the argument that wise investment in infrastructure is a proven way to create jobs and stimulate economic activity.

In 1987 Thompson became the 42nd governor of Wisconsin held that role until President George W. Bush appointed him as U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services in 2001.

When I ask Thompson what the transit industry needs to do, he stresses, "They've got to tell their story."

At APTA's Expo in October in New Orleans, La., Thompson walked the show floor and talked to a lot of suppliers and manufacturers in the industry. "I wanted to find out what dollars spent by government will mean an increase in employment," he explains.

"We ran in to John Pierre with Nova Bus, he's the CEO. He put in a plant in Plattsburgh, N.Y." He continues, "He said he's got 400 jobs there and I asked him does that mean the total number of jobs for the amount of money you get when selling buses to New York and to Connecticut? And no, he said. 'Every time I create on job, I create five jobs from other suppliers.'

"I thought to myself, if you extrapolate that, for every dollar that a bus or light rail company creates manufacturing in the United States, you're going to create five other jobs. That's a lot of jobs."

Another manufacturer he talked to was Siemens where in the rail car, on one of the walls they had a list of all of their suppliers. "This is the message I want to see," he says. And as they were looking over the list they saw there were three different companies that were supplying manufactured materials and components for that light rail car that were from Wisconsin. "Three companies from Wisconsin make components in that care; that's powerful. I didn't know that.

"Three companies in Wisconsin, those are three different congressional districts and I'll bet you anything the congressmen from those three areas in Wisconsin don't know that these companies are manufacturing for light rail."

Telling Transit's Story

Thompson is working to help get the message out explaining the value, the economic development, job creations, transportation quality, efficiencies and how it lessens the transportation on highways.

After talking to manufacturers he says, "The problem is, nobody is bringing this together. Nobody's bringing the manufacturers, the suppliers, to talk to people in Congress about the importance of the transportation budget, that it creates a lot of good-paying jobs in a lot of different areas.

"We've been talking to ourselves," he says. "Let's do what the aerospace industry does. They target all their components on a big map when they go in to see Washington. That's what we've got to do."

"What we're trying to do is, we've got a message here; you want to change the economy in the country, you want to create jobs, let's do it. Let's be smart about it.

"Let's tell our complete story."

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