The State of the Union and Jobs

As the State of the Union approaches, Americans remain primarily concerned about the economy and jobs. This fact is confirmed by our own Next Economy research, as well as by recent opinion research from the Pew Research Center. Faced with an intransigent majority in the House that paralyzes progress on virtually all fronts, what can the President call for in his State of the Union that might break the logjam on job creation in Washington?

The Next Economy Partnership Project has advocated for several possible solutions over the course of the last two years. We believe that these commonsense, mainstream policies will help accelerate job creation in cities and towns across America by providing the building blocks for entrepreneurs to thrive. The three areas of action that we have pressed for are innovation infrastructure, advanced manufacturing, and retooling our workforce. The time to invest in those areas is now.

Infrastructure investments are critical for both near term job growth and long term competitiveness. Why? Our crumbling infrastructure is holding innovation and private investment back. Recent studies show that every dollar invested in infrastructure boosts the economy by $2.

We’re advocates of what we call ‘innovation infrastructure.’ which is much more than just roads and bridges. Infrastructure means networks – the networks of roads and bridges that connect our vehicles is important. But truly investing in a broad scope of transit and transit oriented development is a whole different level.  Another critical element of innovation infrastructure is energy. Modernizing and cleaning up our energy infrastructure is critical to unleashing the power of American entrepreneurship in an emerging, trillion dollar segment of the global economy. Innovation infrastructure also makes local communities more competitive. As noted by the Metropolitan Project at Brookings, we’re less a national economy and more of a network of local economies. Although national job numbers are important, job gains are made in local communities. People measure the strength of the economy by what they see and feel locally. Going local on job creation empowers communities and enhances consumer confidence.

We support developing a national infrastructure bank as a means of investing in innovation infrastructure. States and metro areas are ready to move on rebuilding, they’re often simply waiting on the capital.  Senator Warner from Virginia is making some noise in the Senate about the importance of an infrastructure bank. He has the savvy to potentially get this idea moving in the upper chamber of Congress and the President should support his effort.

The State of the Union needs to make a big emphasis on advanced manufacturing which is a growing and important sector. Innovation and manufacturing exist in a symbiotic relationship,  and the President should recognize this, making a major push for advanced manufacturing in the form of extending and deepening the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, growing the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation to a broader array of metro areas, and by putting continued emphasis on the hard work of growing the manufacturing ‘ecosystem’.

Any conversation about jobs really comes back to one critical element: people.  One of the largest components of the manufacturing ecosystem is workforce and our most valuable resource is the American worker. A major national initiative devoted to retooling our workforce could help bridge the skills gap for workers with 20th century skills. A major commitment to retraining workers to gain 21st century workforce skills, STEM education from kindergarten to graduate school and enhancing community colleges across America will all be necessary steps to rebuild the American workforce for the challenges of the next economy.

Our great nation faces many challenges, but making investments in these three areas could change the face of the economy for decades to come. We can’t wait any longer.