By John Lyon
Uncertainty about the future is one of the main concerns raised by business leaders at a conference on job creation being led today by U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock.
Speaking at the day-long program at the Clinton presidential library, Griffin said he has heard similar concerns in town hall meetings he has held across Arkansas' 2nd Congressional District.
"People understand that we don't have to fix it today completely," he said. "You don't have to have a balanced budget today. It's not going to happen. But you've got to get on a trajectory. You don't have to go from New York to L.A. today, but you need to know that you're on the right interstate heading toward L.A., and you've got to have an estimate of when you're going to get there, and that's what's lacking right now."
Sixty-seven business, government and community leaders are scheduled to take part in the conference, which consists of a series of panel discussions focusing on issues such as agriculture, energy, the environment, health care, transportation, infrastructure, education, manufacturing and technology. Griffin asked the panelists to identify the biggest obstacles they face in creating jobs.
During a discussion on infrastructure, several panelists spoke in favor of federal spending on infrastructure projects.
"We have learned that with infrastructure, we get something once it's done," said John Burkhalter, president of Burkhalter Technologies of North Little Rock and a state highway commissioner.
Lane Kidd, president of the Arkansas Trucking Association, said politics is standing in the way of infrastructure spending.
"You have a situation where the trucking industry of America, that currently pays about 50 percent of all the federal taxes for highways, is walking up to a member of Congress with dollar bills, saying, "Please invest this money on our highways," and because of political ideology the congressmen are saying, "No, we don't want your money," Kidd said.
Last week, Senate Republicans blocked President Obama's $447 million jobs bill, which included spending for infrastructure projects. In an interview today, Griffin said he did not see the president's bill as a fix for the economy.
"The problems that we face in this country are so great economically that funding some bridges and highways may be good, and I may support that depending on what the specifics are, but I am not under the illusion that that's all we've got to do and we've cured the economy," he said.
"I think what we've got to do to cure everything is get confidence back, deal with our debt, I think we need to reform the tax code, we need regulatory reform. We need to do some big, bold things," Griffin said.
Government regulations came up several times at the conference.
"Every project I look at now, I've got to wonder if I'm going to get to build it because, are the regulations going to stop me?" Burkhalter said. "I've got to admit that I pass on over 50 percent of the projects that I would like to do because of the burden, the hurdle to the regulations."
No regulators or environmentalists are included in the panels. Also not included are any labor representatives, which disappointed one audience member.
"I would like to see a more balanced representation," said Jessica Akers, politics/mobilization coordinator for the Arkansas chapter of the AFL-CIO. "I think to really solve our jobs crisis you've got to have labor and business and everybody work together."
Griffin said he did not invite regulators, environmentalists or labor leaders because "the focus of this jobs conference is primarily job creators."
But Griffin said he is interested in hearing other points of view. He said he has held 25 town hall meetings at which anyone was welcome to speak, and the day before the conference he met with the United Transportation Union.
He said he expected to file bills based on some of the comments he heard at the conference, though he did not immediately know what they would be.