Remember to keep your eyes on Main Street, Mr. President

Whose side are you on?

That’s the question middle-class households are asking. And that’s what President Obama needs to answer during his State of the Union address.

In Ohio and across the nation, people are anxious. They have a right to be. The previous administration’s eight years of economic policies turned a solid budget surplus into a record budget deficit, shipped good-paying jobs overseas, and turned a blind eye when Americans lost their jobs, their health insurance, or their pensions. These failed policies encouraged big banks to run roughshod over consumers, breeding a mortgage crisis and financial meltdown that continues to reverberate throughout our nation.

When President Obama took office in January 2009, the economy was shedding nearly 600,000 jobs a month. He took immediate and necessary action to stop the bleeding by passing the Recovery Act, which has provided middle-class tax relief, shored up state budget shortfalls, and saved thousands of jobs.

Americans know it will take more than one year to turn things around. And they know that we’re not going to get there unless federal policies focus on Main Street, not Wall Street.

The president laid the foundation for an economy that produces stable, middle-class jobs and a government that reports to Main Street, not Wall Street.

We need to build on that foundation together and turn this economy around.

Last week, President Obama traveled to my home county of Lorain, Ohio — where middle-class families have been hit hard over the last decade. We should look to the economic challenges and opportunities faced by communities like Lorain as we consider next steps for job creation and economic development.

Here are five ways to create jobs on Main Streets across the country.

1. Unfreeze the credit market for small businesses and manufacturers. Ohio is home to large-scale manufacturers and innovative small businesses — both of which are engines of job creation. Small businesses create approximately two-thirds of new jobs, while one manufacturing job supports four to five others. But too many small businesses and manufacturers are unable to obtain credit — limiting their ability to expand operations and hire new workers. Through the Recovery Act, more than 2,000 Ohio small businesses have received a variety of small-business loans. However, these loans are often not large enough to cover capital expenses related to manufacturing, and many involve fees. Raising the cap on these loans and waiving some of the fees will help manufacturers hire new workers and unleash the innovation of our small businesses.

2. Help manufacturers transition to the clean energy economy. Manufacturing is the backbone of the middle class and the economy. We must ensure American workers are not only manufacturing components for our auto sector, but also producing components for high-tech industries like wind, solar, and other clean energy sources. That’s why I introduced the IMPACT Act, which would create a revolving loan fund to help small and mid-sized manufacturers diversify their businesses and retool for the clean energy economy.

3. Foster innovation and entrepreneurship through business incubators. Ohio is home to more than a dozen business incubators, which help entrepreneurs focus on job creation, rather than overhead costs. According to a recent report, for every $10,000 the government invests in incubators, more than 50 local jobs are created. This is the sort of high-return investment that creates jobs and develops innovation-based economic growth.

4. Tailor our workforce development programs to support high-growth industries and regional needs. If we’re going to create the jobs of the 21st century, we need to make sure our workers are prepared for them. When President Obama visited Lorain Community College, he saw how we can train workers for emerging, regional industries like wind turbine installation. We must partner our community colleges with local businesses to prepare workers for regional needs.

5. Promote our exports and enforce trade rules. For too long our nation has paid dearly for a failed trade policy. President Obama’s decision to invoke safeguards that protect American workers from unfair imports has already meant hundreds of jobs across our state. By coupling trade enforcement with export promotion, we will ensure that American businesses with high quality goods and services can expand into new markets and create new jobs.

In his address, I expect the president to talk directly to the American public — to those who have worked hard but still feel they can’t get ahead. I expect him to be clear in outlining the strategies we must pursue going forward. If we keep our eyes on Main Street, the economy will recover. Americans will go back to work. And middle-class families will no longer have to ask whose side their government is on.

Brown serves on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the Banking Committee, among others.

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