Sean Hackbarth Sean Hackbarth
Senior Editor, Digital Content, U.S. Chamber of Commerce


January 10, 2018


Good morning, all.

Every year, U.S. Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue outlines the top challenges facing the business community and lays out the U.S. Chamber’s policy priorities for the year.

This live blog will help put the speech in context. Along with bits of the speech, I'll drop in links to related stories as well as social media reactions in real time.

Watch the speech live.

Join the conversation on social media with the #Jobs18 hashtag.


9: 15 Yesterday, we made final preparations before today's event.

And Tom Donohue was going over final revisions.

Uscc tjd speech prep soab2018 1200px

U.S. Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue.

Photo credit: Ian Wagreich / © U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Now, we wait for the fun to begin.


9:35 Brian Steorts, small business owner and founder and CEO of Flags of Valor, a hand-made flag maker, introduces Donohue.

“It’s our freedom—including the freedom to own and operate a business in the most open and dynamic economy in the world.”

The State of American Business

9:40 Tom Donohue takes the stage.

Economic outlook

At the outset of what promises to be another momentous year, the state of American business is strong—and positioned to grow stronger still.

After nearly a decade of muddling through, our economy has at last achieved consecutive quarters of 3% or higher growth. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, we expect stronger growth to continue this year and well into 2019.

How do we account for these improvements? Simple. Better policies from Washington and some states and a pro-growth mindset among more of our nation’s private and public sector leaders.

Our economy’s underlying strength is deep and wide, so we can overcome a lot of adversity.

But if we can stay on track at home, and events remain relatively stable abroad, we can expect the economic gains to continue.

The economy is about people

First and foremost, our economy is about people.

Families and workers are living in a time of rapid change and disruption that is driven by many factors—from automation and technology to globalization and greater productivity to energy innovation … to the large-scale movement of jobs out of some communities and into others.

These disruptions are creating economic insecurity for those who don’t have the right skills or education—or who don’t live in the right places—to compete for today’s jobs.

The business community has a responsibility—and a unique ability—to offer solutions to address these challenges.

New growth agenda


Economic growth remains the best way to expand opportunity, increase wealth, and restore the American Dream—for the many, not the few for communities across the country, not just in urban centers and along the coasts and for the everyday Americans that make this nation great.

2017 successes

Tax reform

It achieved our priorities of lowering rates for all businesses, instituting an internationally competitive system of taxation, and allowing for full expensing of capital investments. Most important, it will usher in a new era of growth for the American economy.

Businesses immediately announced plans to raise wages, hand out bonuses, and invest in their businesses and communities.

Regulatory reform

Last year we saw regulatory actions fall to a 17-year low, down 40% from their peak in 2011.


We will continue advocating for systemic regulatory reform in order to prevent an onslaught of new rules from happening under a future administration.

2018 priorities


Building the workforce of the future

One of the most common concerns we hear from our members of all sizes and industries, and from across the country, is that they can’t find the qualified workers they need to grow their businesses.

The Chamber believes that we need an all-of-the-above approach to address the dual challenge of people without jobs, and jobs without people.

[Free Enterprise. How innovative businesses are developing the Labor/Workforce]


We must reform our immigration system to meet the needs of our economy.

A great place to start is by retaining the over 1 million individuals who are currently allowed to work here legally—but are at risk of losing that status.

This includes 200,000 TPS beneficiaries who have been legally living and working here for up to two decades, but were just told they must leave the country. It includes over 30,000 spouses of high-skilled visa holders who may be allowed to stay, but not to work. It includes the Dreamers, some 690,000 young people brought here illegally as children through no fault of their own.

These hard-working individuals contribute their talents to our economy in integral ways, and we will lose them if Congress doesn’t act early this year.

[On Above the Fold read about one Dreamer entrepreneur from Georgia who employs six Americans and has more than 100 small business clients.]



Technology is not a single, all-powerful industry. It is now a part of every industry. It will continue to change the way we work, communicate, and live—at a rapidly accelerating pace. Even with these changes, technological advancement is an opportunity, not a threat.


Another priority is highlighting the ways technology is improving people’s everyday lives—from better health care to streamlined small business operations to more productive family farms.

This is especially important as a backlash against major tech companies is gaining strength—both at home and abroad, and among consumers and governments alike. We must be careful that this “techlash” doesn’t result in broad regulatory overreach that stifles innovation and stops positive advancements in their tracks.



We cannot build a 21st century economy on 20th century infrastructure.

This year can and must be the year of major infrastructure investment. We have the political will, the bipartisan support—and we certainly have the need. Now it’s time for action.

The Chamber has been working with the administration to determine what a forward-looking infrastructure package should achieve.

We must pave our way to the future by choosing projects of national significance that maximize long-term growth.

We’ll explain how we can make this happen at America’s Infrastructure Summit on Jan. 18.

[Here are a few American businesses who are on the forefront of rethinking infrastructure.]

Reasserting American leadership in the world


If we aren’t leading on trade, we’re falling behind. I’ve been saying that for years, and today, we’re seeing it happen. As the administration has pulled back on trade agreements, governments around the world have rushed forward to fill the void. The EU is striking major deals with Canada, Japan, and Mexico. And the Trans-Pacific Partnership is now moving forward without U.S. involvement.

This is a reminder that we are in a global competition to sell to the 95% of the world’s population that lives outside of the U.S—and that competition goes on with or without us.

So we must strengthen our trading partnerships—not weaken, or worse, abandon them.


Mexico and Canada are America’s largest trading partners, supporting 14 million U.S. jobs and $1.3 trillion in annual trade.

The Chamber has said from the beginning that we support the effort to modernize the 24-year-old agreement. A modernized deal should account for the gains of North America’s energy revolution and add rules for digital trade. It should not close markets, undermine investment protections, or limit trade with regulatory red tape.

Above all, withdrawing from NAFTA would be a grave mistake.

[Learn more: Which States Would Be Hit Hardest by Withdrawing from NAFTA?]

[Read about how a Milwaukee, WI florist relies on NAFTA for fresh flowers.]


The same holds for KORUS, a vital trade pact with a key ally, South Korea. We agree that in some areas the Koreans need to do more to faithfully implement the deal. But overturning it would hurt American farmers and manufacturers—and benefit only our foreign competitors.

Fueling business growth


Today, even as our economy gains strength, there are some significant impediments and threats that are preventing businesses from starting, growing, and going public.

One is a lack of access to capital, especially for Main Street businesses. The period following the Great Recession marked an alarming turning point—for the first time, more businesses were being destroyed than created in this country. And we still haven’t seen business creation rates bounce back to pre-2008 levels.


It’s no wonder that we have half as many public companies today as we did in 1996.

This is not simply a curiosity or an observation. This is a big problem. Public companies are a major contributor to job growth in our economy. And when more companies go public it creates more opportunities for Main Street America to build wealth through share ownership.

[Learn more by downloading the Center for Capital Market Competitiveness’ report, Financing Main Street Agenda: Unlocking Capital for Job Creators.]

Restoring fiscal health

There is no greater threat to our country’s long-term economic security than unsustainable entitlements. They are the true drivers of our nation’s rising debt. And if left alone, major parts of our entitlement programs will go bankrupt, putting the economic security of vulnerable Americans at risk.

[While the numbers are a few years old, “10 Truths about America’s Entitlement Programs” is still applicable.]

Electing pro-growth leaders


We’re working closely with state and local chamber partners to recruit good candidates. We’ll support those who understand why growth is important and who are committed to governing so we can achieve growth.


We need to rebuild the middle in Congress. Pro-growth, pro-business candidates can come from both sides—and we want more from both sides.

We must turn out the business vote. The candidate and the operation that get the most people to the polls win—period.

We’ll enlist the help of local chambers to turn out their members, and businesses to turn out their employees. We’ll also spread the message that it is in the vital interest of every American family to have a growing economy. When the pro-growth agenda succeeds, America succeeds.

Protecting free speech and civil discourse


We won’t make much progress on any of these priorities if we aren’t able to articulate our positions in a compelling way, win hearts and minds, build consensus, and encourage compromise.

That’s tough to do in a deeply divided, 50-50 nation.


We’re seeing this erosion of free speech on college campuses; in the demonization of political opponents; in media bias; and in efforts to control or silence people, institutions, and businesses through intimidation tactics or smear campaigns. And it is a major driver of the division and dysfunction that is gripping our nation.

What we need today is more debate on the big questions facing our government, our economy, and our society—not less. We need more points of view in the public dialogue—not political correctness or speech restrictions.


In short, there can be no free enterprise without free speech. And free enterprise is the foundation on which our nation’s legacy and future rest.

[In 2014, Donohue spoke about how fundamental freedoms like free speech are fundamental to free enterprise and a free society.]


We’re determined to help lead our country through this period of rapid change so that it emerges stronger, more competitive, and more secure. We’re determined to help restore optimism for the discouraged, opportunity for the downtrodden, and mobility for all. And we’re determined to help turn growth today into prosperity that endures.



About the authors

Sean Hackbarth

Sean Hackbarth

Sean writes about public policies affecting businesses including energy, health care, and regulations. When not battling those making it harder for free enterprise to succeed, he raves about all things Wisconsin (his home state) and religiously follows the Green Bay Packers.

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