While much is being debated in the presidential campaign about plans for the future and blame for the past, neither side is offering many specifics on how to rebuild a damaged economy that is struggling to revive. The three rounds of federal spending were necessary to stop the economy from spiraling out of control, but that spending was economic relief. Economic stimulus should be the focus for the next president and next Congress to get our economy back on track regardless of who occupies the Oval Office and U.S. Capitol in 2021.
After the election, the first order of business for national leaders should be completing a Phase Four stimulus package. The national unemployment rate remains high and the slight decline seems to be from benefits running out and people dropping out of the workforce.
The good news is we know more today than we did six months ago, so a new round of congressional spending should be targeted and strategic. Businesses in certain industries like travel, tourism and hospitality are still hurting, and helping businesses with the greatest need will keep people employed, which is less expensive for the government in the long run. Most importantly, it is better for those people who can keep their jobs to take care of themselves and their families.
When Congress convenes a new session in January 2021, the top of the to-do list should be an infrastructure bill. There are many opportunities for government to spend in ways that invest in the future, including modernizing our roads and mass transit. There is also need to expand high-speed internet infrastructure across the country including rural areas that will support more people who are working and studying from home. Clean and renewable energy infrastructure should also be part of the nation’s investment priorities.
National leaders should also invest in the American people through workforce training. With hundreds of thousands of displaced workers, the need to re-skill and up-skill is real. Addressing this training need is complementary to the opportunity to double down on the manufacturing renaissance that began before the current economic crisis. The pandemic has highlighted the need to bring more manufacturing back to the U.S., especially in areas essential to national security such as communications, transportation and, of course, pharmaceuticals. For too long, the federal government implemented policies that resulted in jobs going overseas while skills in these critical areas declined. Public policies that bring back these jobs, supported by training for technology and trade skills, would be a huge win-win for our economy.
Utah, in particular, has a tremendous opportunity to focus economic efforts on talent development and recruitment. The pandemic has proven true the theory that many people do not need to live near the office headquarters. Over the past decade, the state’s focus has been on recruiting businesses to Utah, and we have succeeded with companies of all sizes now calling Utah home.
But over that same decade, businesses identified as their top challenge finding skilled workers to fill all the jobs they were creating. In addition to expanding efforts on workforce development, Utah should develop a workforce recruitment program. Bringing the best and brightest minds to Utah will enhance our future economic prospects.
The opportunity provided by the Great Recession was showing businesses how moving to Utah would benefit their bottom line. The current economic downturn presents new opportunities that we must capitalize on with the same vision, focus and effort.
Derek Miller is the president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber.