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U.S. Conference of Mayors Winter Meeting - Remarks by Thomas J. Donohue

Tuesday, January 18, 2005 - 7:00pm

Washington, D.C.
January 19, 2005


Introduction

Thank you very much, Mayor Plusquellic [PLUS-QUELL-LICK]. I was in your fine city last summer to meet with friends at Goodyear, and I was impressed with what I saw.

I'd like to welcome you all to my city. You picked an exciting time to be here. The beginning of a new Congress and a new term for the administration brings many opportunities to pass policies that will grow our economy and strengthen our nation's cities.

Business leaders and mayors share many of the same challenges.

It's often said that mayors are the CEOs of government.

Like CEOs, you have budgets to manage, investment choices to make, and bottom lines to meet.

And you face competition from other cities in attracting businesses and residents.

You're on the front lines. You have to deliver. You have to live in the real world of what works and what doesn't—politics and ideologies aside.

And guess what? You can't do all that without business as your partner.

The private sector creates jobs and opportunities for the welfare moms and high school dropouts.

It builds the housing units that provide a roof for the most disadvantaged. It voluntarily provides health insurance for those who couldn't otherwise afford it.

It helps secure the retirements of millions of working people by sponsoring and contributing to pension, 401(K), profit-sharing, and stock option plans.

And it provides the tax base that helps pay for transportation, parks, schools, and many other community needs.

In so many ways, business is the engine of urban progress.

So in the spirit of this morning's theme of public-private partnerships, I'd like to talk about a few issues that business and mayors can work on together to strengthen our cities and our economy.

Transportation

First, let's talk about transportation, which is the lifeblood of our cities and the economy.

It's no secret that, nationally, investment has failed to keep pace with increased use, and the result is greater gridlock, pollution, and lost productivity.

Every piece of research, including the Chamber's own study on ports and their associated rail and highway systems, shows that we face a major crisis if we fail to act.

Air cargo volume is expected to triple between 2000 and 2015. Highway passenger travel nearly doubled in a recent twenty-five year span. Truck vehicle-miles-of-travel doubled over a 20-year period and is forecasted to double again in the next 20 years.

Every major U.S. container port can expect to experience a doubling or tripling of container volume in the next 15 years.

Some cities are seizing opportunities to become major transportation and logistics hubs in the globalized economy. Just look at Long Beach, California's recent upgrades under Mayor Beverly O'Neill's leadership. But we need to do better everywhere.

So what's the Chamber doing about it? We're strongly lobbying Congress to fully fund the surface transportation reauthorization bill, TEA-21.

We want the highest possible level of funding that addresses both the nation's highway and mass transit needs.

Congress should also ensure that transportation trust fund dollars are spent for their intended purpose of infrastructure maintenance and improvements and not whittled away on deficit reduction or unrelated programs.

I know there are divisions throughout America as to where these funds should be spent, and there are concerns that decisions are often based on who has the more powerful Congressional delegation rather than who has the greatest need.

What's most important right now is to work together to enlarge the whole pie. Then we can have a more meaningful debate about how we divide the pie.

And we must streamline the planning and approval process so that the length of time between appropriation and project completion does not stretch for several years or even decades, as is often the case now.

The Chamber is leading a coalition dedicated to achieving these goals. Americans for Transportation Mobility is made up of more than 300 local policymakers, chambers of commerce, labor unions, and transportation users and providers.

We want to work closely with you on these issues, and we also want to start a national conversation about supplemental revenues because the trust fund won't sustain us forever.

Some municipalities have experimented with tolling and/or public-private partnerships for creating additional capacity, and these should be explored further.

The Chamber is conducting a comprehensive study on transportation financing that will examine our future needs and explore supplemental funding mechanisms.

I'd be happy to send you our short-term recommendations when they become available later this year.

Telecommunications

The Chamber is also committed to outfitting our cities with the technology that is absolutely essential for our continued economic leadership in the 21st century.

We strongly support the president's commitment to universal, affordable access to broadband. We encourage municipalities to work with the private sector to roll out broadband as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Widespread broadband deployment will revive the high-tech industry, create economic growth, close the digital divide, improve learning in our schools, educate the workforce, make our businesses more competitive, and increase worker productivity.

We're falling behind the rest of the world in telecommunications development. As the European Union, and even developing countries like South Korea, pour more and more money into this growth industry, telecom investment in the U.S. has dried up in recent years and hundreds of thousands of industry jobs have been lost.

We must create market conditions and a regulatory environment that spur greater investment and job creation in telecommunications.

An independent study commissioned by the Chamber found that overhauling telecom regulations would add more than 212,000 new jobs and $127 billion a year to the economy over the next five years. We have to move forward on this.

Environment

As mayors, you have the challenge of balancing economic growth with environmental preservation and cleanup. Let me be straight up with you: business is your partner, not your adversary, in cleaning up the environment.

The business community has spent more than $2 trillion dollars cleaning the environment in the past 35 years. That's trillion with a "T."

Business is, and will remain committed to the cleanup and renewal of the 500,000 abandoned, potentially contaminated brownfield sites.

We've seen progress since Congress acted to reduce long-term liability and remove regulatory obstacles to brownfields cleanup.

We're closely monitoring EPA's implementation of the law – including, this year, its definition of steps required to qualify for liability relief.

We're equally committed to improving our nation's air quality – but not with mandates that are based on junk science.

Instead, we support efforts that rely on sound science, good data, and flexibility.

The president's Clear Skies program—the cap and trade system—and alignment of existing regulations are tools for improving air quality and fostering economic growth.

Business wants to work with you to support solutions that will improve quality of life and economic opportunities for your residents without strangling businesses.

Workforce Development

Let me say a word about workforce development.

We're up against a twofold challenge: we're facing a significant shortage of workers, and the workers we do have are not acquiring the basic education and skills needed to perform the jobs of this century.

Particularly alarming is how the United States has slipped in science and engineering. According to the National Science Foundation, 30 years ago we ranked 3rd in the world in the proportion of college students majoring in science and engineering. Today we rank 17th.

While improvement in academic performance from kindergarten through college is vital, we must also ensure that the skills of those already in the workforce are continually updated.

Three-fourths of the workforce needs to be retrained to keep their current jobs. What are we doing to meet this challenge?

This year, the Chamber will push hard for reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act. It must be fully funded and also market-driven to meet the needs of employers.

We all know that the history of government-backed job training programs in this country is a history of good intentions gone bad.

One of the Chamber's affiliates, the Center for Workforce Preparation, or CWP, is working with many local chambers of commerce to provide the resources, models, and best practices companies need to identify, recruit, and retain employees.

CWP has identified more than 300 one-stop-shop worker training centers around the country that are meeting the needs of workers, job-seekers and employers alike.

I invite you to participate in CWP's programs, and we can get you more information if you can't get it from your local chamber.

Along with developing worker skills, we need to ensure that we have enough workers, period. Because of our demographics, we're facing a looming worker shortage that greatly threatens our economic future.

We need to devote resources to developing the workforce.

Immigrants are a valuable source of labor, which is why the Chamber is pushing for an immigration policy that will welcome law-abiding immigrants eager to fill critical jobs into our country while legitimizing—in some fashion—those already contributing to our economy.

Welfare recipients, reformed prisoners, and the disabled are all valuable, yet largely untapped, human resources. Are we doing all that we can to bring them into the fold? Again, the Chamber's Center for Workforce Preparation can help with these challenges.

OTHER ISSUES

Before I take your questions, let me mention two other areas where I see potential for mayors and the business community to work together.

One is the challenge of reviving a travel and tourism industry that has not fully recovered from 9/11 and its after effects.

Few, if any, industries generate jobs and commerce like travel and tourism. That $555 billion industry directly and indirectly accounts for one of every eight jobs, $95 billion in tax revenues, and a $2.6 billion trade surplus.

However, it's been troubled by lingering fears of terrorism, economic uncertainty, and delays in visa processing and other security measures.

The Chamber is working with America's leading travel and tourism organizations to build grassroots support for this critical industry.

Through our Travel and Tourism Across America initiative, we are promoting travel to and within the United States and are working to facilitate mobility even as we continue to enhance security.

This is not a Washington-based initiative. Instead, it is a series of roundtables and other grassroots events that spread the message and connect local business leaders with their respective local, state, and federal representatives. I hope you become involved.

Speaking of travel, we need your support in working to ensure the viability of the commercial airline industry. Your city may be the next one a major airline decides to stop servicing in order to cut costs and stay in business.

A post-9/11 system of regulations, taxes and fees are eating away at airline profitability, and we must reduce this burden if we wish to spur travel and commerce.

I'll finish with a word about homeland security. This is one area of the federal budget that has continued to grow as others remain flat or are scaled back.

For all of you, there is no greater priority than to keep your residents safe from a terrorist attack. We share your commitment to safeguarding people and places of business.

But the federal Treasury doesn't print enough money needed to absolutely ensure that all of us are kept safe. We can't spend our way into security. We need to instead focus on managing risk.

Business and government at all levels should collaborate to prioritize critical infrastructure assets that need to be protected – and then jointly develop a plan to do so.

Until we take this step, it is impossible to say whether we're spending too little or too much on homeland security.

Later this year, the Chamber hopes to begin the first in a series of roundtables at the local level to begin this dialogue, so stay tuned.

Business is eager to be your partner in protecting the nation's cities. I encourage you engage the private sector in planning, preparedness and recovery exercises.

To best protect your cities against terrorism, you need first-responders equipped with cutting-edge technology and services.

So I encourage you to join the Chamber in persuading the Department of Homeland Security to quickly implement the SAFETY Act, which limits the liability of businesses that provide first-responder technology and services.

Conclusion

Ladies and gentlemen, in many ways, American business—which I represent—and the cities you represent are in the same boat.

We're living in a world that is increasingly interdependent, complex, fast moving, fiercely competitive, full of opportunity, and full of danger.

In my annual state of American business address last week, I said that we all had better wake up to the unprecedented competition for jobs, capital, information, ideas, natural resources, and highly skilled workers. That goes for cities as well businesses.

That's why the Chamber is working so hard on the issues I mentioned and those I did not – like legal reform, trade, and energy investment.

Like businesses, cities must modernize, innovate, and look to new approaches. They must remove impediments to growth.

If they do, I'm confident we can have an urban renaissance in America in which cities are the laboratories of change, innovation, competitiveness and success.

Thank you.