VIEWPOINT: State of the Union Reaction from CREC President Ken PooleJanuary 29, 2014
2014 as the Breakthrough Year? All Depends on Economic and Workforce Developers
Last night, in his fifth State of the Union address, President Obama recited a variety of accomplishments that highlight why the lingering Great Recession of 5 years ago may be behind us. We are on the cusp of tasting the fruits of our collective efforts to restore economic prosperity, create new economic activity, and further employ and empower those who have been struggling to find work. Or so says the President, in his view of America.
In his speech, the President called for reforms that would make the tax code more transparent and grow the revenue to make investments in critical infrastructure. He noted that America’s manufacturing base is witnessing a renaissance, but that regions must continue to be diligent in their support for new technology-driven jobs in these sectors. He also called for renewed investments in research and development that, through American ingenuity, will result in the next generation of new products and services.
These are all powerful themes that reflect the priorities of many economic and workforce development practitioners. So, why haven’t we achieved these goals yet? The Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness believes a few factors are holding us back:
There is a lack of collaboration across jurisdictional boundaries and the political spectrum. Collaboration requires trust, a commodity often in very short supply. As regional leaders, we must redouble our efforts to find mutual self-interest in compromise. Through this principle, we should seek solutions to key challenges that focus on increasing our country’s competitive strengths – in its talented workforce, in its innovative enterprises, and in its democratic institutions.
There is also a widening chasm between those who are prospering and those who are struggling. Skills appear to be the most important predictor of whether an individual succeeds, but the cost (in both dollars and learning time) of gaining these pre-requisite skills are sky-rocketing at a time when the social compact with our workers is eroding. Our efforts must focus on addressing those rising costs and the burdens they place on learners and their employers.
We are fighting old economic battles when new ones are raging. The Affordable Healthcare Act is the law, despite the litany of failed votes in Congress to eliminate it. State and local leaders should proactively engage with businesses and workers to ensure they can take full advantage of our new healthcare system. Leaders should also ensure that our system becomes a competitive advantage in the export market, not a weakness.
We haven’t integrated the 3 percent of our population who are illegal immigrants.
On immigration issues, our focus should be on ensuring these individuals are contributing to our communities’ competitive strengths and to our tax base. Even in areas with a sluggish labor market, some industries are facing worker shortages. We need everyone to compete in the global market.
It will be up to us as economic leaders to overcome these challenges and move our states and communities forward. CREC applauds the President for highlighting his continuing agenda for our economy and workforce. But, it’s our efforts that will determine whether 2014 truly becomes a break-out year.