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Alejandra Y. Castillo
U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development
SouthWest Region Economic Development Association (SWREDA)
2021 Annual Conference
‘Collaboration: The Key to Resilience’
Conference Plenary Lunch
The Embassy Suites Hotel
Rogers, Arkansas

[As Prepared for Delivery]

Thank you, Jorge, for the kind introduction and thank you for your leadership and service as Director of EDA’s Austin Regional Office!

We’ll be hearing today from Arkansas Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston. Thank you, Secretary Preston, for being with us today. It’s great to be working with you.

I’d like to recognize EDA’s Austin regional office staff – some of whom are there with you this week in Rogers. I appreciate your dedication and the work that all of you do to help advance our partnerships in the Southwest region! I look forward to meeting you all in person!

I thank the National Association of Development Organizations for facilitating this Conference and I thank my friend Joe McKinney for his leadership.

I met Joe on my first week in office, when I traveled to Colorado to meet with the NADO Board of Directors during their summer meeting.

While I was there, I let the Board and Joe know that I am committed to moving forward in close partnership with them to ensure that our regions have the tools they need to continue to move us beyond this current health crisis and position our great nation for future economic prosperity.

We greatly appreciate our close partnership with NADO and the incredible work that our EDD’s do across the country.

I want to echo something that you probably have heard Jorge say—you all are our true partners, if you are not successful we are not successful.

I’d like to thank all of the regional leaders participating this week - including Executive Directors and planners from the Southwest region’s Economic Development Districts and Tribal planning organizations, our EDA University Centers, and Revolving Loan Fund operators.

Each of you is plays a critical role in creating economic opportunity and jobs in your communities. EDA is proud and pleased to be your partner.

I very much look forward to visiting your regions and communities and seeing-first-hand the important work that you are doing.

I want to take a minute to recognize our friends from the great states of Louisiana and Arkansas who have been impacted by Hurricane Ida.

Please know that we are thinking of you and that we will continue to be there for you.

Before the storm made landfall, President Biden had already signed an emergency declaration for Louisiana.

The President deployed 500 FEMA emergency response personnel to Louisiana and Texas, in addition to 2,000 FEMA personnel already supporting our COVID response in the region, and pre-positioned food, water, generators, and other supplies in the area.

He also made sure that the Federal government is closely coordinating with your electric utilities to restore power as soon as possible.

Moving forward together, we will build back stronger and better.

This conference’s theme of ‘Collaboration: The Key to Resilience’ could not be more timely or relevant.

Today, I’d like to speak with you about the work that we are currently conducting at the Economic Development Administration to help support locally-developed economic development projects.

First, I’d like to let you know a bit about myself.

I was humbled and honored to have been nominated by President Biden for this important role and I want you to know that I am committed to helping all of our communities build back better and stronger from the coronavirus pandemic and other economic downturns.

Throughout my life and career, I have focused on creating equitable and inclusive opportunities for all Americans.

I am the embodiment of the American Dream.

From helping my parents run small businesses at a very young age to working in the legislative, policy, programmatic, and management arena, I have been afforded a unique perspective that has fueled my determination to create transformative change.

I can think of no better place to help effect positive change than the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

I come at a time of incredible challenges and opportunity.

More than a year ago, we put our lives on hold as we faced the reality of a global pandemic, something not seen in more than a century, and something none of us were prepared for.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly ten percent of Americans lost their jobs due to the pandemic. We know that the regions you serve have suffered heavily as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

While we still have challenges, the good news is that our economy has made substantial progress in recovering from the pandemic.

Proudly, the Biden-Harris Administration is now the first administration in history to add jobs every single month in the first six months in office, and the only one in history to add more than 4 million jobs during the first six months.

Economic growth is the fastest in 40 years. Jobs are up. The unemployment rate is the lowest since the beginning of the pandemic.

But, as we all know, there is more work to be done - we are still missing millions of jobs from before the pandemic – and President Biden is working tirelessly to ensure our success.

As I’m sure you are all aware, the U.S. Senate recently passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act on a broad bipartisan vote of 69-30. The House is expected to vote on the bill later this month.

This historic legislation includes many of President Biden’s economic priorities, including record investments in minority-owned businesses, broadband infrastructure, expanded funding to track and address climate change, while also including the largest-ever federal investments in roads and bridges, clean drinking water and more.

We are deeply thankful for the unwavering commitment of the Republican and Democratic Senators who led the process to get this done.

Throughout the entire process, President Biden showed incredible leadership keeping these talks together and encouraging all of us to remain committed to this bipartisan approach.

Passing a bipartisan infrastructure bill sends a message to nations around the world about the strength of our democracy and what we can accomplish together for the benefit of all Americans.

Critically, the investments in this bill will better position the United States to compete globally, strengthen our supply chains, and create millions of good-paying jobs – all while making our economy more resilient and just.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act represents a historic investment in our country that will strengthen our economy to benefit all Americans for decades to come.

This is a generational achievement that we can all be proud of, but there is still more to do as we carry out President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda.

Broad support exists to make needed investments in the Care Economy to provide access to affordable, quality care services as well as reprioritizing workforce training to ensure our workers are prepared for the jobs of the 21st century.

We look forward to continued engagement with Congress to make progress on these critical challenges.

At the Department of Commerce, Secretary Gina Raimondo and I are proud to champion these priorities.

EDA is playing a vital role in implementing President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda. I could not be more thrilled to lead the agency during this important time.

On July 22, Secretary Raimondo announced the six programs that EDA is now executing to equitably invest the $3 billion we have been allocated under President Biden’s American Rescue Plan.

This EDA investment is the largest economic development initiative from the Department of Commerce in decades and will help communities across the country build back better.

If we ever needed our District this is the TIME!!!

Known collectively as Investing in America’s Communities, these programs include:

  • The Build Back Better Regional Challenge, will invest $1 billion in up to 30 regions to capitalize on American ingenuity and American workers by providing a transformational investment to regions across the country.
  • The Good Jobs Challenge, which allocates $500 million dollars toward industry-led workforce training programs to help get Americans – particularly women, people of color and those in underserved communities - back to work in good-paying jobs.
  • We are injecting $500 million in Economic Adjustment Assistance into our communities. These grants will help hundreds of communities across the nation plan, build, innovate, and put people back to work through projects tailored to meet local needs.
  • Indigenous Communities will receive $100 million to develop and execute economic development projects they need to recover from the pandemic and build economies for the future.
  • The travel, tourism and outdoor recreation sector will benefit from $750 million in funding focused on revitalizing the hard-hit travel, tourism, and outdoor recreation industries and accelerate the recovery of communities that rely on these sectors.
  • $90 million in Statewide Planning, Research and Networks grants include funding for state planning efforts and, of particular interest to you, grants to build Communities of Practice to extend technical assistance to support EDA’s work with grantees.

In addition, EDA is making a Coal Communities Commitment, allocating $300 million to ensure support for these communities as they recover from the pandemic and create new jobs and opportunities, including through the creation or expansion of a new industry sector.

There is great enthusiasm about these programs - we have had nearly 20,000 participants join us for our informational webinar series, which we recorded and are now available on www.eda.gov.

We will continue to update our FAQs and provide more technical training resources. Earlier this week we shared new Build Back Better and Good Jobs Challenge technical videos to support regions who are working through the application process.

To stay up to date on resources please sign up at www.eda.gov and follow us on social media.

Before I close, I’d like to note that in April EDA updated its investment priorities.

Our investment priorities provide an overarching framework to ensure that our grant investment portfolio contributes to local efforts to build, improve, or better leverage economic assets that allow businesses to succeed and regional economies to prosper and become more resilient.

Competitive grant applications for EDA funding are responsive to the evaluation criteria listed under each individual funding announcement, including at least one of our investment priorities.

Today, EDA’s top investment priority is ‘Equity’ which speaks to our continued commitment to working closely with our nation’s underserved populations and communities.

Working with these populations and communities has been EDA’s mission since President Johnson signed the Public Works and Economic Development Act, which authorized the creation of EDA, into law in 1965.

Under the Biden-Harris Administration we have recommitted ourselves to this mission.

From workforce, to infrastructure, to innovation, the Biden-Harris Administration and EDA are committed to is committed to helping America Build Back Better equitably.

Our Economic Development Districts, Tribal planning partners, University Centers and RLF grantees play an important role and I look forward to continuing to strengthen our partnerships with you.

I know you are doing great work… Jorge shared with me the program from the Stars of the Southwest showcase. Great work one-and-all! Congratulations!

Again, I look forward to visiting with you in your communities.

I want to hear what our stakeholders and community leaders think about how EDA can do better. Listening is a top priority of mine! My goal is to – as safely as possible – visit as many communities as possible and speak to people.

I hope to see you soon! Please continue to enjoy the conference!

Thank you.


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