By Representative David Cicilline
Over recent weeks I have visited Main Street small businesses and toured manufacturing facilities throughout Rhode Island's First Congressional District. I have met with jewelry makers, boat builders, and creators of cutting edge medical devices and aeronautical components, and heard from restaurant owners, small textile retailers, and information technology start-ups. Across this diverse array of interests I hear one common and constant concern -- in order to survive, prosper, and grow, entrepreneurs and seasoned small business owners alike need consumers, and those consumers need jobs.
Since becoming a member of Congress, I have hosted Town Hall and Tele-town Hall Meetings in communities across my District in an effort to hear directly from constituents. With unemployment in my state and across the country at unacceptably high levels, we must heed concerns from Main Street and the families we serve. In light of recent Congressional Budget Office projections that forecast slow economic and job growth, and in advance of your announcement outlining recommendations to spur job creation, I would like to take this opportunity to share the views of constituents in Rhode Island's First Congressional District and some of my thoughts on this critical matter.
Rhode Island was the first state in the northeast to enter the recession three years ago, and at 10.8%, our unemployment rate continues to be among the nation's highest. As you have consistently expressed, our government must set priorities, cut what does not work or is not needed, and make the investments that will create jobs, sustain our economy today and into the future, and ensure our ability to compete in the world.
Nationally, the manufacturing sector has been a bright spot even during these trying economic times. If this vital economic engine is to be sustained, we must continue our investments in programs that help manufacturers compete in a global economy, retool to be more efficient and effective businesses, and retrain the workforce so that skill sets utilized in declining sectors can be transferred to those that are expanding. This is the driving force behind my Make It In America Block Grant legislation and a number of common sense, job- creating bills that have been introduced in the 112th Congress to strengthen and modernize our nation's manufacturing industry. I strongly encourage your Administration to carefully consider these proposals that will help bolster research and development, expand advanced manufacturing capabilities, and level the playing field with our foreign competitors.
If we are going to strengthen our manufacturing capabilities and make new products here at home, then we must have the ability to execute the timely and effective transport of goods, people, and ideas. This work will require significant investments, both public and private, in our nation's infrastructure. A critically important first step in this effort is the passage of a robust surface transportation reauthorization.
Building and repairing our nation's highways, roads, and bridges now is not only a surefire job-creating strategy, this important infrastructure work also helps advance the broader economy, enhances the safety of our citizens, and is a far more cost-effective investment today than it will be in the years ahead. Without a doubt, we must work collectively to rein in our nation's debt. However, numerous studies, such as the Infrastructure Report Card from the American Society of Civil Engineers, clearly demonstrate that we cannot be responsible stewards of our nation's finances if we continue to allow the price-tag for infrastructure improvements to escalate with each passing year.
This vital work also extends beyond roads and bridges, and includes our nation's water systems, ports, schools, public parks and facilities, power grids, and telecommunications. The nearly 14 million unemployed Americans, more than 61,000 of which reside in Rhode Island, demand bold action from their government. When our nation endured the economic strains of the Great Depression, it was bold action in the form of the Works Progress Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the Public Works Administration that helped put Americans back to work, building and repairing our nation's infrastructure.
While labor and financial market conditions in the 1930s may have been vastly different than today, what remains the same is the underlying notion that a robust investment in rebuilding our nation's roads, bridges, and schools will generate job growth and enhance our ability to compete in the global economy. Investing today in building and restoring our nation's infrastructure is not only smart job-creating policy, it is also smart fiscal policy -- as continued deferred maintenance drives the future costs of repairs higher and higher. I strongly urge that your recommendations for job creation include a range of options that encourages both public and private investment in this important work -- including the creation of an infrastructure bank and enhanced, innovative, and effective funding opportunities for states, cities, and towns that will put people back to work on priority infrastructure projects.
At the same time, we must recognize that a comprehensive proposal to create and sustain jobs in America must include initiatives that support workforce training and small businesses. Job growth today and into the future, especially for our nation's manufacturing and construction sectors, requires enhanced support for effective on-the-job training programs, and greater collaboration between our elementary and secondary schools, higher education institutions, and employers in developing multiple career pathways for young adults and improving the skills of unemployed and underemployed Americans. Furthermore, as a member of the Committee on Small Business, I strongly encourage your continued efforts to expand small business access to capital, the lifeblood of small start-ups and longstanding businesses alike. The more than 95,000 small businesses in Rhode Island make up 96% of the state's employers. They have endured the brunt of our nation's economic downturn, and our country's full and sustained economic recovery requires that small businesses have access to the resources that will allow them to form, grow, and prosper.
As the debt ceiling debate underscored, there is strong disagreement about the best approaches and the appropriate role for government in creating jobs. There is no shortage of ideas on how to put people back to work and spur economic growth in the near-term. But, the time for bold action is now. On behalf of my constituents in Rhode Island's First Congressional District, I thank you for this opportunity to give voice to the small businesses, manufacturers, builders, and unemployed as you prepare your proposals. I look forward to hearing your recommendations, and working to find common ground across the aisle and between levels of government to help put Americans back to work.
David N. Cicilline
Member of Congress