On February 8, 2023, leaders from across the United States joined the Center for American Progress and the Center for Innovative Policy to discuss building a stronger and more sustainable economy—one that invests in all communities. The Biden administration has delivered a package of major economic laws that will rebuild U.S. infrastructure, boost manufacturing, and maximize America’s potential to be a clean energy leader. In short, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the CHIPS and Science Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act are all laws that invest in the U.S.
Governors Roy Cooper (D-NC), Kathy Hochul (D-NY), Wes Moore (D-MD), Jared Polis (D-CO), and Tim Walz (D-MN), alongside Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and Richmond, Virginia, Mayor Levar Stoney (D), described the importance of acting swiftly in their states and cities, in partnership with government and business, to deliver visible investments. Together with government and business, that action will result in good jobs, lower costs for families, and revitalized industries.
Creating more good jobs and working with business to build thriving communities
A jobs-ready community can use federal and state investments for building a skilled workforce to attract private investments. Leaders attending the event highlighted partnerships with educational institutions, particularly community colleges, that ensure that workers are equipped with the skills employers need. Gov. Hochul emphasized that high wages and strong benefits such as paid leave are key to attracting talent while improving lives and strengthening communities.
We will be the most labor-friendly and the most business-friendly state in the nation because they can go together. Businesses want the best talent; I can offer the best talent. You come to New York state with that heritage, that legacy of hard work, and great education, and this willingness to join a company and be a company person but just pay them well, give them paid family leave, make sure there’s child care. Take care of your employees, and they’ll be the hardest-working people in this country. –Gov. Kathy Hochul
The federal investments passed in 2021 and 2022 include significant mechanisms to raise pay and build pathways to good jobs. Building out partnerships that bring together training and educational opportunities, employers, workers, and labor will help ensure that employers have the workers they need for those jobs.
Building a reputation as a welcoming place for all offers competitive advantages
Gov. Roy Cooper, Gov. Tim Walz, and Gov. Wes Moore noted the competitive benefits of building the reputations of North Carolina, Minnesota, and Maryland as states that welcome all. They see these values as important contributing factors for economic growth and a moral imperative. Gov. Cooper described the dire economic consequences of H.B. 2, a 2016 law that preempted any anti-discrimination ordinances passed by North Carolina cities and compelled state facilities—including schools—to bar transgender people from using the restroom aligned with their gender identity. Gov. Cooper noted how the now-repealed law made it more challenging to attract talent, as it focused negative national attention on the state and led to high-profile boycotts. “Not only was it the wrong thing to do for people, it hurt our state economically,” Gov. Cooper said.
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Codifying reproductive freedom rose to the top of Minnesota’s agenda after the overturn of Roe v. Wade in June 2022. Gov. Walz saw economic advantage in acting to protect freedom and individual rights by enshrining the right to an abortion in Minnesota. This ensures that Minnesota women have the right to an abortion crucial for their health and well-being, while helping the state build a reputation as a vibrant and free place to live and work.
Gov. Walz wasn’t the only participant to stress the importance of reproductive freedom as a critical part of establishing a welcoming, compassionate place to live. Gov. Wes Moore emphasized that he intended Maryland to be a “haven” for those in need of care—and reinforced this fact by noting that one of his first acts as governor was establishing a new training fund for providers to ensure that all Marylanders, and anyone forced to leave their own state to get care, would be able to access high-quality abortion services.
Gov. Walz, meanwhile, reflected on the spotlight on Minnesota in the wake of George Floyd’s 2020 murder by a Minneapolis police officer, which called into question Minnesota’s national reputation as a safe and welcoming state. Gov. Walz noted that in a diversifying state, all levels and representatives of government must communicate that Minnesotans of all races and backgrounds should be treated justly by their government. Only a strong commitment to that principle will allow Minnesota to build the kind of society it needs to remain economically competitive.
Tackling the cost of living so that the benefits of economic growth go further
Mayor Bowser, Mayor Stoney, Gov. Hochul, and Gov. Walz voiced concerns regarding the cost of living being an obstacle to maximizing their economic potential and described what they are doing to address these challenges. If the prices of housing and child care are too high in an area, new jobs won’t be enough to attract and retain a workforce. Gov. Wes Moore noted that The “leave no one behind” agenda requires tailored solutions to different economic climates across a state. Gov. Hochul detailed the actions New York has taken to drive up the production of housing, as well as the mechanisms the state plans to use to enforce local commitments to the production of new affordable and transit-oriented housing. Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser described the federal- and D.C.-provided supports that lower the cost of cleaner consumer appliances as “a package of great things that help you live in a great place.” Mayor Bowser and Richmond, Virginia, Mayor Levar Stoney noted the importance of supporting and retaining middle-class residents, who may be ineligible for city or state programs but are liable to leave for cheaper cost-of-living areas when prices of big-ticket items, such as housing and child care, rise.
Investing in transformative industries
Many types of employers can be transformative for a community, and attracting a mix of employers can help diversify a region’s industry landscape. Gov. Cooper and Gov. Polis shared that an investment is particularly powerful when it revives, restores, or further builds an industry that holds meaning for the community. North Carolina has long been a center for textile and furniture producers, and despite 20th century downturns in employment, the state remains deeply connected to both sectors. Gov. Cooper noted that today, North Carolina has the second-largest advanced manufacturing workforce in the country, and high-end furniture manufacturing is an anchor for communities that have produced furniture for decades. Gov. Cooper touted a community college partnership to develop a “furniture academy,” which uses workers from furniture manufacturers as faculty. “This isn’t your father’s advanced manufacturing,” Gov. Cooper noted, describing the educational partnerships and on-the-job training and apprenticeship models that prepare a workforce for these well-paying jobs. A strong furniture industry is a source of pride with outsize community resonance, further amplifying a sense of turnaround and growth.
While some industries evoke the past, others tap into priorities for the future. The possibilities of high-quality clean energy jobs were touted by Gov. Polis and others. Gov. Polis noted that tackling climate change can feel abstract and daunting, but making both the access to good jobs and the consumer cost savings of clean energy tangible to the members of a community—often by using a messenger with credibility in that community—can be transformative. Gov. Polis noted that Colorado is looking “to expand that workforce, everything from solar and wind, to [electric vehicles]. They are skills that don’t require four years in college or even necessarily a full associate’s degree, but they’re skills that can be learned either through an apprenticeship on-site or through intensive learning in a classroom, and we want to make sure we’re able to prepare Colorado’s workforce for that clean energy future.”
Delivering results quickly and visibly
Gov. Cooper believes that strong partnerships with the federal government and a plan to use investments to support new, visible community initiatives will compound, resulting in communities that attract additional public and private investments and a population that believes that government can help build a strong, shared-growth economy. Gov. Cooper voiced a hope that states and localities use funding “for new infrastructure, for innovation, for the decades to come,” and avoid using money to pursue disproven strategies, such as cutting taxes for the wealthy or simply replacing existing funding streams.
Meanwhile, Gov. Polis urged the federal government to maximize flexibility to ensure that investments arrive in communities quickly.
Federal economic legislation passed and signed into law over the past two years holds the potential for growing the economy in a way that benefits all people, not just those at the top. State and local leaders have the chance to direct those investments to create well-paying jobs and revitalize communities.
The author would like to thank Mara Rudman, Jerry Parshall, Emma Lofgren, Emily Gee, Jean Ross, Maggie Jo Buchanan, Julia Cusick, and Colin Seeberger for their insights and thoughtful contributions to this article.