National Chamber exec urges job creation at state level

By Anthony Bowe
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

The same pioneering spirit that enriched the United States’ economy for decades is integral for pulling the nation out of its latest recession, according to the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce who met with Colorado business and government leaders on Monday.

Tom Donohue, speaking on behalf of the chamber’s job blitz campaign initiated last year to create 20 million jobs in the U.S. over the next ten years, said government’s role should be to facilitate business instead of instituting depressive regulations.

“Our recession problems are twofold. One is getting back going and getting rid of current deficits, but then we’re building an accumulated deficit down at the end of the road and I see free enterprise as one of the fundamental issues to attack that deficit,” Donohue said at the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce gathering. “Second, we the people in free enterprise are the job creators, not the federal government, not the local government.”

Donohue visited the metro area to encourage leaders to create more than 200,000 jobs in the state during the next decade. Reaching a threshold of 20 million U.S. jobs is not overambitious, he said. That number is based on reemploying the eight to 10 million people who lost their jobs in the downturn and the prospect of continuing growth, Donohue said.

“It wasn’t pulled out of the air,” he said. “It was a very clear tie — who is unemployed and looking for jobs, who is going to come into the workforce and where are jobs going to be needed.”

The current unemployment rate of 10.2 percent can decrease only after confidence among the country’s financial sector is restored, Donohue said. The various uncertainties still haunting the
financial industry are personified by health care initiatives yet to take effect and possible reforms on Wall Street.

“If the business community gets its confidence, if it answers its questions, if it gets rid of its uncertainty, then you’re going to get your 200,000 plus jobs,” Donohue said. “Nothing can smother this nation’s pioneering spirit.”

Larger states like California and Texas need to create over four million and two million respective jobs in the 20 million job challenge, according to the campaign’s Web site (www.freeenterprise.com).

Donohue has already had over one hundred meetings promoting the campaign across the country.

Lakewood Mayor Bob Murphy, chairman of the Metro Mayors Caucus, told the audience that local mayors must continue to focus on collaborating with small local businesses.

“They want help navigating various federal and state guidelines, compiling data on demographics, traffic counts and market research, access to capital and a quality work force,” Murphy said. “Enough with the ticky-tacky sign ordinance code violations. They don’t need that. They need help working through regulations at all levels.”

Glendale Mayor Larry Harte said his city practices that same message.

“As the mayor I can tell you, if you want to come in and do business in Glendale, we want to be here for you,” Harte said. “We don’t waste a lot of time with loaded bureaucracy of government but rather, how can I help you do business better.”

Several other mayors, including Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, attended Monday’s event.

Margaret Spellings, the executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's National Chamber Foundation and former Secretary of Education in President George W. Bush’s second term, said developing the skills of the nation’s youth will lead to a better work force and allows Americans to achieve their dreams. She said she supports the Junior Achievement organization that teaches the nation’s youth how to formulate a business plan.

“A recent survey by our friends at Junior Achievement found that half of our teenagers want to found their own businesses,” Spellings said. “We have to really embrace and tap into that spirit and we have a responsibility to make sure that we equip them with the tools necessary for them to achieve their dream.”

Junior Achievement has worked with over 100,000 K-12 students in Northern Colorado and parts of Wyoming, officials said.

Kelly J. Brough, president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, referenced another study, one by CEOs for cities. The study said that if the number of students graduating college increased by one percent per capita in the Rocky Mountain region, it would create $1.8 billion in economic activity.

“By my math, that says it’s well worth our effort to try and figure out how we get those kids moving through our system, successfully graduating and being ready to go on to be productive members of our economy and society,” Brough said.

However, Colorado’s high school graduation rates need to rise before real economic gains can be made, Brough cautioned.

“The future that we envision for the state of Colorado is not going to be achieved with 32
percent of our kids not graduating from high school,” she said.

Donohue, who is credited for restoring the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as a powerful conservative lobbying influence in Washington D.C. after he took it over in 1997, said Colorado is primed for success.

“It’s got a great location which is desirable for professionals that work in high tech, medical and scientific fields,” he said. “If they can come here and live in this environment and then do the things they want, it’s a great draw for people.”

He said the state benefits from high-powered industries such as beef agriculture, new energy, recreation and defense. But Donohue also cautioned that policies handed down by Colorado government tend to have a negative effect on business.

“On the other hand, you keep running referendums in this state that drive up taxes and drive down flexibility, and you know, there are a lot of places real close to this state that offer the very same advantages. You can go to Utah and you can still go skiing,” he said.

Donohue said he would support regulations on Wall Street if they add transparency to the financial industry. But if regulations restrain business, the pioneering spirit that led to the nations prosperity could be endangered, he said.

“Benjamin Franklin said it best, he said anybody who trades liberty for security deserves neither, and we need to face up to our liberty and exercise it and that’s the only way we get our security,” Donohue said. The day we take away the right to fail, we take away the right to succeed, he added.

“We gotta keep this risk society, we’ve gotta have people do better than others because they work harder, no matter what their backgrounds. We believe in a system that allows all walks of life, no matter their education,” Donohue stated.

Anthony@coloradostatesman.com