ALPENA - Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Mich., visited Alpena-area businesses and events Saturday while on a trip through his district to learn about local issues.
Benishek went to the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center, the maker of Well-Connect, the Alpena Indoor Farmers Market and the 2014 Alpena Polar Plunge, among others. He listened to ideas on how to get the area's economy moving, practical ways to teach science, tech, math and engineering to students and how people are being impacted by federal laws and regulations.
While at the farmers market, Benishek gave two examples of business owners who spoke of how overly harsh regulations were affecting them. Fiber Char owner Dennis Schultz said environmental rules are a challenge for his business, and a beef farmer told him she has to fill out lots of paperwork and deal with regulators.
"Those are the type of things that I try to learn from people going around, you know, what can I do as an office," he said. "I never did this job before, I don't know what congressional offices usually do but I know that we can be an advocate for people, and we do that, and we try to get ourselves involved in a way that helps a local individual do better."
Benishek also heard from local governments and others about the impacts of the Affordable Care Act, a law he said he's opposed from the start. One county administrator told him he had to cut sheriff's deputies' hours as a result of the law. Local hospitals also stand to lose, as the ACA cuts reimbursements. He suggested opening the insurance market so individuals can buy plans from across the country, not just in-state, and that patients should be able to shop around for health care.
"We shop for everything else that we buy for price," he said.
While at the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center, Benishek watched as groups of students worked on underwater robotics as part of a MATE ROV workshop. One worked on soldering motor speed controllers for the robots' propellers, while another worked on underwater testing.
These kinds of projects are a great way to teach multiple subjects at once while giving students hands-on experience in them, Benishek said. He mentioned the Student Success Act, a bill that recently passed the U.S. House of Representatives. It's intended to send more money back to school districts without as much government oversight. That way, districts have more options for adding classes.
Benishek also is working to encourage local businesses to show students what they do and what a job with them looks like, he said. He referred to a company in Sault Ste. Marie that recently opened a factory in Boyne City. Employees need to know computerized manufacturing, and earn "raising a family" wages with benefits without the need for a four-year degree.
"We need to get kids to know that these jobs are available, and have them have the opportunity to get the education they need in a community college or in a tech center nearby," he said. "That is something we're trying to encourage businesses to do. I think education is the real way out of this economy that we're in."