For many in Michigan, a fresh start

It is anticipated that in 2010 nearly one-third of the workforce will be unemployed or underemployed at some point. In my home state of Michigan, more than one in 10 individuals are currently out of work and it is expected by the end of this decade Michigan will have lost one million jobs.

Job creation is on the forefront of my mind each day I walk into the U.S. Capitol complex or travel around southeast Michigan. The job creation that will result from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is a good down payment for the future, but it is clearly not the last word on job creation. In Michigan and across the country, jobs are not created overnight; it takes time, investment and a lot of hard work. As a member who has represented Michigan for over 50 years, I believe in a three-prong approach — education and training, innovative thinking and technology, and entrepreneurship.

For many years, Michigan’s economy has been largely dependent on the Big Three — Chrysler, Ford, GM and their supplier base. As we have painfully seen in recent weeks, Michigan’s future economic survival depends on a more diversified base, and, likewise, our workers need a more diversified skill set.

With hundreds of thousands of workers unemployed and in need of training, Michigan developed the successful No Worker Left Behind program. This program provides up to two years of free tuition at any Michigan college, university or training program for workers that pursue a degree or certificate in a high-demand occupation or emerging industry. As a result, we have former autoworkers lining up to become nurses or to enter into “green jobs” training to work in alternative energy fields. There is no doubt that programs like No Worker Left Behind are successful; however, the problem lies in the fact that many displaced workers do not know where to begin when they are looking for retraining. I hear daily from looking-for-work constituents who never had to attend college and do not know how to fill out a FAFSA, or workers who would like to attend a training program but cannot afford daycare. This is why accessibility and affordability in education and training are key parts of our economic turnaround.

We must also focus on innovative thinking and emerging technologies that can play an integral role in establishing new industries. I know in my home state of Michigan we have been fighting tirelessly to recruit “green jobs.” For example, EcoMotors and A123 Systems, two companies in my district, are making cutting-edge advancements in fuel-efficient engine design and advanced battery production, respectively. Other companies are producing parts for windmills and aircraft. In short, this sort of diversification stems from our recognition that we cannot let one industry replace our once-dominant, but now struggling, automotive industry. We must invest far and wide in promising technologies and make it worthwhile for companies and industries to invest here in Michigan.

It is my hope that by advancing the skills of our workers and promoting new technologies, we will in turn promote entrepreneurship. It has not been lost on this Congress that small businesses are the engine of America’s economic growth, providing 60 to 80 percent of new jobs for the last decade. That is why the House recently passed the Job Creation Through Entrepreneurship Act. This legislation would assist the struggling small-business industry by providing small-business owners tools and resources to help them stay afloat. It would also encourage entrepreneurs to continue to take risks and create their own start-ups by providing access to capital and offering education and training in best practices. Allowing individuals to become their own boss not only provides them flexibility, but also provides a return on investment to our economy. In fact, for every $1 spent on such small business programs, there is a $2.87 return to the Treasury.

Like President Roosevelt before us in the Great Depression, we must try any and every avenue to boost our economy. It is going to take innovative new programs, creative thinking, and a “roll-up-your-shirtsleeves” attitude to turn our economy around. We are all partners in the effort to boost job creation and we should not lose hope or give up trying just because new jobs do not materialize overnight. Throughout my tenure in Congress, I have learned big payoffs do not come without big efforts. I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and within the administration to ensure that job creation remains the top priority on their agenda.

Dingell is a member of the House
Energy and Commerce Committee.