Jobs, competitiveness take center stage at NLC Washington Conference

The National League of Cities’ Congressional City Conference kicked off Monday with a call to pass jobs legislation and keynotes from various Obama administration officials, including Secretaries of Energy, Education and Transportation. Each Cabinet member underscored initiatives championed by President Obama aimed at helping local officials address job shortages, while helping cities compete against their international counterparts.

During the opening address to NLC members, Ronald Loveridge, mayor of Riverside, Calif. and President of the organization, renewed his calls for passage of the Local Jobs for America Act. Introduced last week, the Local Jobs for America Act would send billions directly to local governments to address budget shortfalls of up to $83 billion over the next two years.

“We represent cities where unemployment numbers are not statistics. We represent small businesses that are laying off employees or closing their doors,” Mayor Loveridge said in his address. “The pain is real and we feel it.”

In addition to jobs, competitiveness was continued theme in the afternoon sessions. A thirty-minute presentation, Energy Secretary Steven Chu used solar panel production to set the stage for his policy arguments and strategies. Solar technology, specifically silicon and photovoltaic cells, is indicative of the United States’ path in energy competitiveness, Chu indicated. In the mid 90’s, the US had the lion’s share of production. “We invented silicon in the United States,” Chu reminded the audience. “But due to policy decisions in Europe, and especially China, we have slipped to near the bottom of the list now.”

Sec. Chu said a priority of the Obama administration was to refocus the manufacturing sector on the clean energy economy. Combining tax incentives with stimulus money, Chu said “advanced batteries” production for wind turbines, water turbines and other renewable machines presented the kind of opportunity that would boost job growth, wean the country off fossil fuels and give the US a competitive advantage in battery production.

“We want to recapture manufacturing in this country,” Chu said to a round of cheers and claps. “We can not solely rely on services and financial instruments for our economic prosperity.”

Continuing the competitiveness theme, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan spoke about President Obama’s commitment to reauthorize No Child Left Behind with much-needed revisions. Secretary Duncan said the only way to ensure America’s competitiveness was to improve education. “We need to educate our way to a better economy.” The president is taking a “support but not prescribe” role with education policy, Duncan said, focusing on setting high-standards and measuring improvements.

Honing his message for the audience, Duncan finished by urging, “When schools don’t work, cities don’t work…There are no great cities without great school systems.”

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