What would it take to get the economy rolling again? Nearly 30 people turned out Thursday evening to answer that question at a jobs forum led by Corvallis Mayor Charlie Tomlinson.
The meeting was one of many taking place around the country as a follow-up to the national jobs summit hosted by President Obama on Dec. 3. Ideas gathered in the community forums will be forwarded to the White House for consideration.
“I am convinced the White House is very interested in what Main Street is thinking, especially small business,” Tomlinson told the Corvallis group, which included business people, local government officials and aides to Congressmen Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader.
There was no shortage of ideas at the gathering. Nearly everyone in the Madison Avenue Meeting Room Thursday night had a suggestion to make:
Invest in small business.
Cut government red tape.
Slash corporate taxes.
Streamline regulatory requirements.
Put money in consumers’ pockets.
Fund infrastructure projects.
Restoring consumer confidence will be critical to the recovery, argued Eric Blackledge, owner of Blackledge Furniture.
“It would simply take more purchases by consumers,” Blackledge said. “It’s just very hard for the government to know how to stimulate small businesses other than by stimulating the overall economy.”
Mike Corwin of OSU Federal Credit Union said there are plenty of good federal loan programs, but small-business owners are put off by excessive paperwork requirements.
“We are seeing numerous good lending opportunities right now,” Corwin said. “To streamline those processes for us would be huge.”
Entrepreneur Larry Plotkin lobbied for more funding for the Small Business Innovation Research program, which makes loans to startups that are in a position to hire right away.
“If you put some more money in there, it immediately helps,” he said.
“I understand completely we need jobs now, but we also need to think of this funding as an investment,” countered Elizabeth French, who manages the local office of the CH2M Hll engineering firm.
She urged a tiered approach that would funnel some federal stimulus money to projects that would create jobs immediately while reserving the rest for midrange and long-term investments, such as large public works undertakings to update the country’s aging infrastructure.
“You can’t get a wastewater plant project ready in the amount of time that was given,” French said. “Once you’ve paved the road, you’re done and those people are out of work again.”
Several people argued the government should do everything it can to stem the tide of outsourcing that has shifted manufacturing jobs overseas, from slashing business taxes to easing regulatory burdens.
“I was working at HP during the time HP was outsourcing a lot of its production to Malaysia, and it wasn’t because they had lower labor rates,” said Peter Burke. Rather, he said, it was because the government offered major tax breaks and other incentives to the company in exchange for creating lots of jobs.
That needs to be the goal, said Ed Delahanty, a Florida transplant who has a business selling two-way radios.
“Should we be looking for green jobs? Or should we be looking for jobs, period?” Delahanty asked. “We need to make things here. We need to make it clean, but we need to make it here.”
Bennett Hall can be reached at 758-9529 or email@example.com.