Though Congressman John Larson was unable to attend, the Economic Recovery Panel Tuesday night at Hartford Public Library offered several viewpoints on how to create jobs in the city.
The program, part of the Hartford Library's Hartford Info Today series, featured city councilman Jim Boucher; Hartford Courant business editor Dan Haar; Kim B. Hawks, director of the Business Resource Center; Joan McDonald, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development; Clarke King, executive vice president of the Greater Hartford Labor Council; David B. Panagore, chief operating officer for the city of Hartford; Tom Phillips, president and CEO of Capital Workforce Partners; and John Rossi, Larson's chief of staff in Hartford.
Rossi outlined the two major pieces of legislation Congress has been working on, the "Jobs for Main Street" Act, passed by the House on Dec. 16, and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, more commonly referred to as the "economic stimulus," which will celebrate its one-year anniversary on Feb. 17. For the state this meant $2.9 billion in funds, $2.08 billion of which have been used. For the city of Hartford, $10 million was given to the Charter Oak Health Center and Community Health Services. As far as job creation, Rossi cited 6,000 newly created or saved jobs in Connecticut in municipal employment, 4,958 temporary jobs created in transportation and nearly 8,000 in weatherization work.
While the numbers seem great, they don't scrape the surface of the 94,000 left jobless in the state since March 2008.
"I tell my staff that 94,000 is a number, unless you're one of those people who has lost their job," McDonald said. McDonald added that work was increasing, with the work week increasing to an average of 40 hours again, up from a 40-year low of 33 hours in early 2008.
King said Hartford must create jobs now, focusing on the short-term well-being of Hartford's people rather than looking at the bigger picture down the road.
"Hartford is the fifth-worst city at creating jobs in the nation," King said. "We need quick jobs; we're at a desperate point. You don't need to know how to read to throw a can in the back of a truck."
King pointed to the success of CETA (the (Comprehensive Employment and Training Act) at generating jobs in the 1970s.
The other major point of the night was that economic development cannot simply be measured in real estate development.
"It's easy to build a building, but it's a lot harder to create a job," Panagore said. "Construction jobs are great but they're short-lived."
Panagore spoke to his time working for the San Jose Redevelopment Agency when the dot-com bubble burst. "We were building this giant, massive skyscrapers, but we didn't have the businesses to fill them," he said. Panagore said he believed that many of the city's problems -- security, affordable housing, etc. -- could be solved simply by the creation of new jobs. Agreeing with Clarke, Panagore pointed out that low-skill jobs provide a remedy.
"There's nothing wrong with entry-level jobs," Panagore said. "We need to be chewing gum and walking at the same time here. Start with finding these jobs at the federal, state and local levels, all while planning long-term education."
Phillips and his staff have created the Community Workforce Development Report Card, measuring economic activity in north central Connecticut each of the last two years. "We created this as a way to measure human capital," Phillips said. He went on to say that while numbers are often thrown out, the Report Card offers more concrete examples. One of those examples was in attendence Tuesday night.
Victory Energy Solutions, of Hartford, had its owner and several employees present at the panel. The company received a portion of the $60 million the state got from Washington for weatherization and was able to hire the unemployed because of a boon in business. Rossi pointed to Victory Energy as an example of a small business using federal money to give jobs to locals.
Another local program lauded was the Hartford Jobs Funnel. This program, part of Capital Workforce, has employeed more than 2,000 Hartford residents over the past 10 years.
Despite a few bright spots, many of the 100-plus in attendance maintained an uneasy mood about how the "Jobs For Main Street" Act will impact then.
"I don't know where the money went, but it didn't get to Main Street," King said.
Rossi said Larson, and Congress as a whole, hopes to rectify this problem sooner, rather than later.