By Senator Susan Collins
Through no fault of their own, too many Americans—and thousands of people here in Maine—have lost their jobs and continue to struggle to find work in this tough economy.
Putting Americans back to work is the key to economic recovery and must be the number-one goal for Congress. I recently introduced my Seven-Point Jobs Plan to help us reach that goal.
My plan recognizes that small businesses are our job creators; thus, our efforts must be targeted toward helping small businesses start-up, grow and prosper. In Maine alone, we have 141,000 small businesses. During the last decade, America’s small businesses have created about 70 percent of all new jobs.
Far too often, Congress directs federal policies toward those businesses deemed too big to fail. Instead, we must redirect our efforts toward those small businesses that are too entrepreneurial to ignore. My plan is based on extensive conversations I have had with small business owners and workers here in Maine.
While each state has its own particular opportunities and challenges, the fundamentals of a jobs-oriented economic recovery are similar everywhere.
First, my plan to build a 21st century economy begins with building a 21st century workforce. Ensuring that workers get the education and training they need to compete in the global economy must be a top priority. My plan puts special emphasis on job training programs that assist the manufacturing industry, and it calls for targeted funding to encourage universities and community colleges to develop the manufacturing-based curriculum, job training programs and research opportunities to ensure that this generation and the next have the education and skills for the jobs of today and tomorrow.
In addition, we must provide workforce development assistance to those communities harmed as a direct consequence of the closure or realignment of military installations. Maine is expected to lose more than 6,500 military and civilian jobs following the unfortunate decision to close Brunswick Naval Air Station. Several other states face similar or even greater losses. My plan redirects federal resources to those communities most harmed by these decisions.
The second part of this plan would encourage innovation in Maine’s natural resource-based economy. Nowhere is there greater potential than in energy. To ensure the United States leads the world in developing renewable energy technologies, significant investments are needed to develop the technology and make its deployment affordable.
For example, deepwater offshore wind has enormous potential. Estimates show that development of just five gigawatts of offshore wind in Maine—a fraction of the potential—could power more than 1 million homes, attract $20 billion of investment and create more than 15,000 green energy jobs that would be sustained over 30 years. The work of the University of Maine and the DeepCwind Consortium to deploy floating wind turbines would be the first of its kind in the world, placing the United States in a position to lead in deepwater offshore wind technology.
I want those jobs to be in Maine, not China, which has now surpassed the United States in the production of solar panels.
We also must do more to promote agricultural exports. In Maine, blueberries, potatoes and lobster help sustain and create jobs. Every $1 billion in agricultural exports supports 12,000 jobs; increasing exports could play an important role in reviving our economy. Boosting support for the Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Services will help promote our homegrown natural products abroad.
This effort to increase agriculture exports could be paid for by ending wasteful agriculture subsidies, such as payments to wealthy corporate farmers and the corn-based ethanol tax break, which costs taxpayers some $6 billion annually and has produced a host of problems, ranging from higher grain prices to impaired engine performance.
Third, my plan includes a series of tax-reform proposals to encourage job creation and investment by small business, such as a reduction of the employer portion of the payroll tax, similar to the cut given to employees. Experts estimate that reducing the employer portion of the payroll tax would create 1.4 million jobs.
My fourth point is one some small business owners I have met with would put at the top of their list: stop tying up our job creators with red tape. With unemployment still at record levels, we must ensure that federal regulations do not impose an unnecessary burden on job creation. My plan would require federal agencies to take into account the impact on small businesses and job growth before imposing new rules.
In addition, if a small business makes a first-time paperwork mistake from which no harm results, my plan would help that business seek a waiver from a penalty.
Fifth, if we are to reinvigorate our manufacturing sector, we must re-examine our transportation policies. Getting raw materials to the factory or farm and finished products to market quickly, efficiently, and safely must be the priority.
In 2009, I authored a law to establish a one-year pilot program that allowed trucks weighing up to 100,000 pounds to travel on Maine’s federal interstate highways. This project, which unfortunately expired in December, helped to preserve and create jobs by allowing Maine’s businesses to receive raw materials and to ship their products more economically. My plan would make this change permanent.
Point six: we must invest in America’s future. Investment in research and development is critical to the breakthroughs we need to keep our economy competitive and to create good-paying jobs. The R&D tax credit provides an important incentive for this investment, but it needs to be updated so more companies can benefit from it. My plan includes a five-year extension of the R&D tax credit, which would provide the certainty needed to spur investments.
Finally, the seventh point in my plan would help expand opportunities for small businesses and farmers in the federal marketplace. The federal government is the largest consumer of goods and services in our country, purchasing more than $535 billion worth of goods and services in 2010.
Some 23 percent of that spending is directed to small business. Last year, the value of federal contracts to small businesses in Maine was more than $250 million. This relationship helps the federal government tap into the innovation and flexibility of our small-business sector, opens up new opportunities for small businesses and provides the American people maximum value for their tax dollars. This truly is a win-win-win situation.
My offices in Washington and Maine will help small businesses seeking to do business with the federal government.
I am delighted that both the National Federation for Independent Businesses, our nation’s largest leading small business organization, and the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council support my plan.
The struggling economy has challenged our nation’s entrepreneurial spirit, but that spirit remains strong. We will recover, and that recovery will come from the innovative and bold job-creators of America’s small-business community.
My Seven-Point Jobs Plan offers a straightforward way for Congress to lead—rather than impede—at this critical juncture.