In Tampa, officials tout high-speed rail's jobs potential
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08/31/10 Kate Bradshaw
WMNF Drive-Time News Tuesday | Listen to this entire show:

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More than a hundred small business owners heard from transit officials on how their business can get involved with the high speed rail project.


photo by Kate Bradshaw, WMNF

The U.S.’s first “real” high-speed rail line is quickly approaching Tampa. Construction of the line between Tampa and Orlando will be partly funded by federal stimulus funds. U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor and others say its construction and operation will create sustainable jobs. Today, small business owners in Tampa got a glimpse of how they might benefit from high speed rail.

In an election year that’s happening during a recession, the words “job creation” may sound like a broken record. But today officials touted Florida’s fledgling high-speed rail project as a real jobs creator. Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio said the multi-billion dollar project is a local version of the economic stimulus.

Karen Herro is president of Geologic and Environmental Testing, a local firm with ten employees. She said she’d like her company to be a part of the massive project.

Florida Rail Enterprise, the leg of the state Department of Transportation that’s handling the project, says it wants to enlist the help of what it calls disadvantaged business enterprises. Today U.S. Department of Transportation Administrator Ruth Dillard gave an overview of what this means, but said there are specific quotas of disadvantaged businesses that project leaders are looking to recruit.

Kevin Thibault is executive director of Florida Rail Enterprise. He said such businesses can get in at all levels of the new system.

In January, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden came to Tampa and announced Florida was getting $1.25 billion in federal stimulus funds for high speed rail. That’s roughly half of what the state asked for. Thibault said the rest would come from a number of places.

Thibault added that he’s optimistic that Florida will see that grant money from the federal government.

The first leg of the high speed rail line will run from Orlando to Tampa, and the second would extend from Orlando to Miami. The Orlando to Tampa line’s expected completion year is 2015. Stops are slated in Orlando International Airport, International Drive, Walt Disney World, and Lakeland. The train’s Tampa terminus would be in downtown. Some critics say the train should stop at Tampa International Airport. Thibault disagrees.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, who doesn’t support the Tampa airport stop either, has called the project the “backbone” of the new economy for Florida.

Geologic and Environmental Testing president Karen Herro says she’s excited about what high speed rail would do for the region.

The workshop preceded a public forum on the project, which begins at 6:30 p.m. today at the Tampa Convention Center. The public is welcome to ask questions and voice their concerns on the project. Small business owners interested in working on the project can find out how to apply at floridahighspeedrail.org.

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