Job committee’s outdated proposals overlook professional class

As Colorado’s economy shrinks and jobs disappear, it’s hard to draw confidence from the state Legislature’s Joint Committee on Job Creation and Economic Growth. The committee’s statements on its discussion in November look even more cringe-worthy today than they did then.

Press reports of the meeting read like a script from decades past, striking many of the same notes polished to a shine in the Carter-Reagan years. Democrats overwhelmingly emphasized infrastructure projects. The Republicans questioned the government’s ability to create jobs and called for reductions in “burdensome business regulations” i.e., taxes and oversight, while promoting aid to the the oil and gas industry. On the topic of renewable energy, Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, said the committee should avoid focusing “on things that are trendy over things that are tried-and-true.”

Last month, the job committee outlined the package of legislation it had arrived at while the country’s economy continued its dizzying downward spiral. There was nothing new to speak of in the proposal, nothing that looked specifically tailored to meet the contemporary financial crisis. The package includes the FASTER funding for road and bridge construction, tax incentives to draw companies to Colorado, assistance to banks to free up credit, new energy requirements to increase spending on renewables, and rural job creation and training.

As the Colorado Independent reported in January, Colorado is a leader in developing technology and turning it into jobs, so-called technology transfer and bench-to-market innovations. If the federal stimulus package being negotiated in Washington includes anywhere close to the $18.5 billion in science and tech investments proposed by the House Appropriations Committee, that seems like a much better bet as the linchpin for any long-term job-creation legislation.

Indeed, with its focus on infrastructure funding, the state’s proposal looks less like a jobs package and more like a work package — a solid but temporary fix that puts people to work but fails really to make new jobs, much less whole new industries. Meantime, the package’s familiar “pro-business” proposals — tax breaks and bank support — look, in the shadow of the Bush years, either redundant or anemic or corrupt, or all three.

Surely today’s global economic crisis, which topples whole countries overnight, should be able to irrevocably alter the threadbare U.S. left-right political discourse. As professional jobs collapse alongside manufacturing and service jobs, it’s increasingly clear lawmakers should be looking to support creative new ideas with cash currently unavailable on the street. State lawmakers working hard to save and create jobs have failed to address the role high-paying professions play in job creation. That’s a mistake. Jobs like those lost recently at the Boulder offices of star ad agency Crispin, Porter + Bogusky support a large vendor network. As Richard Florida’s groundbreaking research has demonstrated, it is the professional/creative classes that drive quality of life and expand local economies.

Colorado’s jobs committee has been proudly bipartisan, touting its “brutally healthy” back-and-forth negotiations. But that’s a long way from good enough, their pride a reflection of the limited nature of the debates. The best model for a genuinely 2009 bailout might be a combination Tennessee Valley / Silicon Valley authority — that is, massive infrastructure spending matched by unprecedented amounts of tax dollars spent in effect as venture-capital. The investments made on Palo Alto’s famous Sand Hill Road in the past 30 years have grown industries out of ideas. One minor Sand Hill hit pays for hundreds of misses — and then keeps paying as jobs and products and services grow where before there was nothing.

Colorado’s leading energy- and medical-tech industries wouldn’t be the sole focus. The professions in general should be stoked. The struggling journalism community here and across the country, for example, is brimming with creative people talking about how to go about making the “new news” financially viable. There are a lot of people either out of work or nearly out of work and some of the smartest of those are heading to foundations and research centers for the infrastructure and financial support that companies can’t or won’t provide. The nonprofit Knight Foundation, for example, remains at the forefront in funding experimental projects, including Denver Open Media’s open-platform, national public-access TV network, where anyone can submit a show to an increasingly national audience. Shows are allotted time slots based on ratings texted in by viewers, who can also send comments that run across the bottom of the screen while shows air. CU-Boulder also recently received funding to run a two-year course and Web site to explore the future of citizen journalism.

Our stimulus-era government should be stepping in to fund like experiments on a much larger scale. Out-of-work professionals, members of Richard Florida’s bellwether creative class, including Colorado’s growing list of laid-off advertising executives, won’t suddenly become wind- or solar-power experts and they won’t serve the economy or themselves best by spreading asphalt.

“My resume would ordinarily land me a job,” one of Crispin’s recently laid-off ad men told me this week in Boulder. “But these aren’t ordinary times.” He said he ran his own shop before taking a job at Crispin last year and that he’s considering starting his own business again, expanding on his expertise in new-media advertising. Any success he might achieve could feed into future news and information sites, for example, replenishing the state’s rolls of media and ad workers, pulling in money from advertisers based across the nation and around the world to fuel local economies.


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