GALESBURG — In her first trip to Galesburg after being sworn in to her freshman term in Congress, Rep. Cheri Bustos tested her blue collar skills at Carl Sandburg College’s welding simulator. While the work might not be for her, the in-demand trade and others like it could be what aids local employment numbers, Bustos said.
Bustos, an East Moline Democrat, donned the American flag-painted mask and virtually welded together a piece of metal. It’s a $75,000 piece of equipment that gets a lot of use at Carl Sandburg’s Center for Manufacturing Excellence, as school officials told Bustos there are plenty of local welding jobs open to qualified applicants.
“You guys just saw a hands-on demonstration of why community colleges are so important,” Bustos said. “There are not enough welders to fill the jobs that are out there. There is a local company that can fill 50 slots of welders right now. Community colleges play a very important role in filling those jobs.”
Strides have been made in national and local unemployment figures, but Bustos said those numbers still need to come down. She said her 17th Congressional District is prime for further recovery, given the number of manufacturing jobs in Rockford, the Quad Cities, Peoria and Galesburg. The local manufacturing center can be enhanced with a well-trained work force, she said.
“We feel very fortunate of how the 17th district is comprised,” Bustos said. “Where you have high unemployment, and you have community colleges that can help train people, and you’ve got these manufacturing sectors in place, I think we have a formula to get the economy rolling again, and manufacturing jobs are a part of that.”
House Republicans have agreed to temporarily increase the government’s borrowing limit in exchange for the Senate producing a budget, which will set the parameters for talks on government spending reductions. Bustos ran on a platform to preserve programs like Medicare and Social Security and promised to “not balance the budget on the backs of seniors and the middle class.” She said she would also like to see Pell Grants kept intact, so local citizens can be trained for in-demand work.
Bustos, who defeated one-term conservative Rep. Bobby Schilling in November, has been a member of Congress for 22 days. She has been named to the House’s transportation committee, a designation she hopes will aid local projects such as a new I-74 bridge near Iowa.
She said she has made contact with all 82 new members in Congress, in the hopes of fostering bipartisan working relationships.
“We heard loudly and clearly from voters that they want to make sure this session in Congress is a lot more functional than last session in Congress, and what that’s going to take is making sure we’re moving together,” she said. “I have every intention of doing that.”
Mayor Sal Garza, County Board member Pam Davidson, Sandburg President Dr. Lori Sundberg and other college officials toured the facility along with Bustos. Garza said he is enlisting Bustos in his efforts to keep an Illinois Department of Employment Security presence in Galesburg.
IDES announced this month that it will close its local office, as well as multiple offices state wide. Garza told The Register-Mail he is committed to keeping the employment-aid service in Galesburg, whether it has a physical office presence locally or not.