Our nation is in economic despair – but that didn’t keep President Obama from taking his summer vacation. The same holds true for members of Congress.
Some people say that it was immoral for our leaders to have chosen the sand and the sun, the links and the lakes over confronting the issues that surround the 25 million unemployed or under-employed Americans who can’t earn enough money to pay for life’s basic essentials.
“Immoral” may seem like an extreme term to use until you consider that one in five of our nation’s children aren’t growing vital organs as big as they need because their parents can’t afford to provide them with proper nutrition. Or that 25 percent of our teenagers can’t find those first jobs where the primary skills they’ll need throughout their careers are first learned. Or that 14.6 per cent of our 20 to 24 year olds who want to be self-supporting can’t be because there is no legitimate way for them to earn a paycheck. Or that 27 per cent of the unemployed haven’t seen a paycheck for 40 weeks or more.
Sizeable segments of at least two generations may fail to thrive because it’s systemically impossible for them to succeed.
This is what’s happening on our watch.
We the people should be enraged; instead we’re mostly despondent and disgusted. We’ve closed our eyes and crossed our fingers each time our leaders have proposed and implemented quick-fix, bubble-producing employment solutions that create project-based jobs which expire by their very design. We’ve also stood by and watched our elected officials point fingers and play blame games when we should have demanded that they take action that made sense over the long term.
Perhaps we’ve allowed our minds to be spun, but that doesn’t mean we can’t start thinking clearly right now. The time has come for us to quit behaving like wide-eyed passengers on a sinking ship, watching the captain and crew argue about rearranging furniture when they should be changing course.
This nation, and its future, belongs to us; we need to participate. There’s too much at stake if we don’t.
We can begin by insisting that our leaders rethink their routes to recovery. The payroll tax cuts they keep arguing over aren’t going to cut it, no matter what they decide. Anyone who has enough savvy to run a lemonade stand knows that the motivation for bringing on extra help isn’t cost, it’s demand; employers hire when they risk losing business unless they add staff.
And young businesses, almost by default, reach this point sooner and more often than more established companies do. After all, few entrepreneurs can do it all, all by themselves, and grow their companies at the same time.
This isn’t just theory, it’s fact. At this very moment our nation’s small businesses, those with 1-50 employees, are creating more jobs than their Fortune 500 counterparts.
This being the case, why isn’t there a plethora of well-publicized, federally-sponsored programs that encourage entrepreneurship and help to accelerate new business growth? It can’t be because such programs cost too much, or that they’re too slow to produce results; they aren’t. Consider that, shortly after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, Mayor Bloomberg and New York City’s Economic Development Council launched a series of affordable business and job-creation initiatives that are already proving to be a tremendous success.
Among them is an incubator program aimed at helping selected start-ups find their strides faster by providing them with low cost work spaces, shared access to business and industrial equipment, crucial connections to mentors, subject matter experts and advisers, as well as introductions to the city’s academic, real estate, venture and investment communities.
The 500 start-ups that have been housed within New York City’s nine incubators have attracted more than 39 million dollars in venture funding to date and have provided workspaces for almost 1000 people, It’s worth noting that though the founders and managers of these firms are often experts in their fields, a good number of the workers they’ve added to their payrolls are either early in their careers or in the process of training or retraining.
This matters because as these start-ups continue to grow, they will not only add jobs to the economy, but they will also help to build the skilled workforce of tomorrow.
And that’s not all- when these incubees “hatch”, as a handful already have, they’ll move into larger commercial spaces where they‘ll pay rent at market rates, hire more people, and generate greater tax revenues, thereby returning on the City’s initial investment with recurring interest.
There’s no reason similar programs cant be rolled out on a nationwide; New York City’s program could serve as a blueprint. And the politics around approving such a program should be minimal; after all, what Congressional Representative is going to object to creating new businesses and new jobs in the state or district he represents?
And while politicians always pay lip to service to America being the land of opportunity and innovation, the economic restoration and job creation programs they have funded to date have little to do with either. Here again, the President and Congress would do well by taking a page from New York City’s book by sponsoring a series of “next idea” competitions. These contests encourage would-be and budding entrepreneurs to make their ideas real by providing them with the motivation and structure needed to build prototypes, business plans and presentations, Once this is done, many winners and losers alike, are in better positions to find investors and launch.
MyCityWay.com, which entered NYC BIGAPPS Competition in late 2009, was started by three friends who were casually kicking an idea around until they heard about the contest and decided to enter. Today MyCityWay has received more than 5 million in funding, serves 50 urban markets on three continents, and has hired sixteen people and counting. This is how innovation incentives can help effect our economic future and create jobs.
Contrast that with President Obama’s approach. Just before he left for his summer vacation, he invited big business CEOs like Xerox’s Ursula Burns, Johnson & Johnson’s William Weldon, American Express’s Kenneth Chenault and several others into his office to brainstorm about boosting the economy and creating jobs. These corporate chiefs have all laid off staff as of late and some of them have plans to continue, What do they know about creating jobs in today’s economy? It begs one to ask if our President was looking for job creation and innovation advice or campaign donors.
If these titans of industry are friends that President Obama wants to lean on, then perhaps he should call them into service in another way- he could invite them to be small business mentors and to ask their staffs to follow in kind. New entrepreneurs might benefit from coaching on things like setting up their books, arranging their financing, dealing with suppliers, obtaining large customers etc…
And finally, our elected officials keep saying that their focus is on job creation rather than politics; that they care more about the good of the American people than they do about being re-elected. If this actually the case, we should ask them to prove it.
The billion dollars that some say that President Obama is capable of raising for his re-election campaign would go a long way in setting up new business incubators and innovation contests nationwide. Maybe he should redirect his donors and then challenge his competitors and every member of Congress to follow in kind.
This would show the American people who our leaders are and who the posers are; who really loves and cares for the good of the country and its people, and who wants power and a cushy job with good benefits.