Time for a New Economy
A single dominant industry no longer carries the economy, and the time to think small has arrived.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Earlier this month, as Republican House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa held a hearing on “job-killing” government regulations, and President Barack Obama ventured over to the anti-worker U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a different kind of meeting between Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) went unreported.
The ASBC – a network representing 65,000 businesses and more than 150,000 entrepreneurs, owners, executives, investors and business professionals – was in town for the 2011 Green Jobs Conference. Solis scheduled a one-hour meeting with the ASBC to explore ideas benefiting workers, unemployed people and the business community – it ran nearly two hours.
Solis heard from a good range of ASBC members, all dedicated to pursuing a “triple bottom line” that reflects social and environmental responsibility, as well as the profitability of their operations.
IF ONE IN THREE MICROENTERPRISES WERE TO ADD ONE ADDITIONAL EMPLOYEE, THE U.S. ECONOMY WOULD BE AT FULL EMPLOYMENT.
Connie Evans, president and CEO of the Association for Enterprise Opportunity, discussed public-private partnerships with microenterprises – which generate nearly $2.5 trillion annually in the U.S. economy – as an underappreciated way to accelerate employment and economic recovery.
“If one in three microenterprises were to employ one additional employee, the U.S. economy would be at full employment,” says Evans.
Rudy Arredondo of the Latino Farmers and Ranchers Trade Association points to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s challenge to create 100,000 new farming jobs. Arredondo sees an opportunity to help farm workers become farmers, and in doing so promote small-scale farming, food security and local businesses by working with individuals who already know how to work the land.
Brian Golden, president of Litecontrol, an employee-owned and unionized manufacturer of high efficiency lighting products, describes how the company has been able to grow at a steady clip and now has 200 employee-owners. And Vince Sicliano, President and CEO of New Resource Bank in San Francisco, describes the commercial bank’s “mission-based” approach of achieving environmental and social as well as financial returns by investing in companies that share these values. He speaks of consumers’ growing interest in “knowing where their money sleeps.”
ASBC executive director David Levine says, “We need to understand that these are not some fictional, Utopian opportunities.” Already there are billions of dollars invested.
Businesses in all sectors are driving towards more sustainable practices, creating more and better jobs – and a stronger economy that supports people for generations, Levine says.
Other key ideas explored with Solis included public-private partnerships that support locally-rooted start-ups that offer a higher financial return for communities; procurement and lending policies that promote businesses pursuing a triple bottom line; and cooperative research, development and training programs to create healthier, cleaner and more profitable products.
Levine adds the country desperately needs to understand there is no longer one monolithic business voice – “that time has come and gone” – and small enterprises could save the country. It’s time for the government to incentivize “responsible” businesses.
“This meeting couldn’t have come at a better time,” Levine says. “We’re standing strong that there are ways… we can help lead the way towards the new economy.”
KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL is the editor and publisher of The Nation.