The President of the United States created a Jobs & Competitiveness Council on January 21, 2011 and the Council Chair Jeff Immelt issued an initial “progress report” through an Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal on June 13, 2011. Reading and re-reading the article “How We’re Meeting the Job Creation Challenge.” I must confess that I am disappointed and perplexed. One would have expected more inspiring, innovative and urgent approaches to the current jobs crisis from such an elite resourceful group with so much knowledge, experience and influence.

I would like to comment on each of their suggested “fast action” steps aimed at creating “1 million jobs.”

1. Train workers for today’s open jobs: Surely this cannot be considered an original idea. The private sector does this routinely with its own time-tested approach. They may bring in apprentices, interns, engineering graduates and train them in-house or send them for further education and training. That common sense approach is decades old. Can you imagine a Pratt & Whitney or General Dynamics waiting for this Council’s plan to take shape while they need an expert in, say, manufacturing compressor blades for an engine? Surely they know what to do. They have always done so. 

Advanced manufacturing skills are not normally taught in community colleges and vocational schools but in the short term crash courses and training may be developed in engineering colleges with the support of local business both small and large. In my experience, the academia is ready and anxious to participate in such ventures. This however is also a long term issue that needs to be addressed based on demand. I do not see what role governments need to play here other than awarding grants to universities to upgrade their curriculum.

2. Streamline permitting: Again this is not a new idea. Also the authors do not prescribe specific steps. If there are bottlenecks, the private sector knows how to manage it. Perhaps small businesses may need some help but this cannot be considered a major impediment in the way of business creating jobs. Also permitting requirements vary from state to state. Surely this doesn’t rank as a hurdle to a great leap forward.

3. Boost jobs in travel and tourism: The authors suggest “making it easier to visit the U.S.” How much easier? Not too long ago Europeans could arrive in this country without a visa. At a time when the nation’s security forces are overstrained at ports of entry, this would not be a wise move, especially not in terms of investment by the federal and/or state governments. The same money should perhaps go to much needed improvements in infrastructure. That would indeed create jobs. Well heeled foreign travelers have commented openly how poor the airports in this country are compared to European and Asian ports of entry.

4. Facilitate small-business loans: Easy access to SBA should be the norm and not a special feature. Decentralizing the approval/loan guarantee functions by sharing the responsibility with state governments may be the answer. Whatever happened to the strict guidelines issued to banks when the stimulus package was delivered by the federal government? Wouldn’t it be more productive to call upon small business to dust off some of their entrepreneurial concepts and conduct proof of concept studies under an incentive program? In Connecticut alone there are over 300,000 small businesses. Most have no employees. Even if a few thousand of those have new ideas that need to be proven, an incentive from a coalition of federal, state governments and private industry might encourage them to boost their enterprises. Innovative ideas in new materials, sensor technologies, new energy saving ideas, batteries technology, K-12 education, home safety measures/features for a demography with an increased senior population, biomimetics technology are a short list of ideas that can spur new business.

5. Put construction workers back to work: The collapse of the housing bubble, no thanks to the genius of Wall Street, is responsible for an idle work force. But whatever happened to the “shovel ready” projects in each state? What about the much needed repair of roads and bridges? Unless we answer these questions the suggestion seems vague.

The president talked about energy saving ideas during his campaign and again soon after the election. Skills needed for this activity with existing technologies are medium to low with corresponding wages. On the other hand large scale introduction, for example, of solar technology, fuel cells etc. with major additional investments in research and development would save enormous expenses by eliminating distribution systems altogether.

These are exciting times for such bold moves to take shape. From reports published recently, we learn that a ground breaking ceremony was scheduled for June 17, 2011 for the largest solar power facility in the world at near Palm Springs, CA. Upon completion, the facility is expected to deliver 1,000 Megawatts (MW) of generating capacity, or enough electricity to power more than 300,000 homes each year, making it the first solar facility to compare in scale to the largest coal and nuclear power plants (See Business Wire, June 13, 2011). Another equally encouraging report states that “two-thirds of New York city’s rooftops are suitable for solar panels and could jointly generate enough energy to meet half the city’s demand for electricity at peak periods, according to a new, highly detailed interactive map made public on June 16 (See the on-line edition of India’s national newspaper – The Hindu, June 17, 2011.) Such projects can surely engage some of the construction workers and put us on a path towards modernizing our energy systems.  

The authors say “To truly bend the curve over the longer term …”, but the country needs their expertise to “bend the curve” NOW!  America doesn’t have the luxury to wait for strategies aimed at a “longer term.” To emphasize my concern, let me simply state what we need from Immelt et al are ideas that can be implemented this month!  Too many have been waiting too long to get to work.

Dr. Srinivasan served on the board of directors of Connecticut Innovations Inc. (2008-2011)