The CEO of the largest business advocacy group in America, the United States Chamber of Commerce, outlined a plan to help the nation’s economy fully recover from the pandemic during his 2021 annual State of Business Address in Washington, D.C.
First and foremost, businesses and the U.S. Congress must work to heal a divided nation and get the public vaccinated, said Thomas Donohue, the CEO of the Chamber, who made the virtual address this month to about 10,000 attendees worldwide.
“It’s true that, at home and abroad, we are operating at a time when people don’t always have a lot of faith in institutions. There’s mistrust in government, questions about the credibility of our democratic systems, contempt for capitalism. For different reasons, these factors have helped drive rising support for nationalism or socialism and other divisions,” Donohue said. “Some even ask if these are signals of national decline.
“Well, to that I say: no one has ever bet against America and won. We have it within us to make this a pivot point in our history.”
Call on nation to “rally for recovery”
In his speech, Donohue urged both industry and national policymakers to “rally for recovery” through infrastructure, immigration reform, workforce reskilling, and global competitiveness.
With 10 million American jobs lost in the last year, and small business disproportionately impacted – particularly minority – and women-owned businesses, many of which have closed – the Chamber is calling on policymakers to focus on a “broad-based” economic recovery.
“Some industries, businesses, and segments of the workforce have thrived,” he said. “But it’s a very different story for those who have been negatively impacted by the pandemic. Entire industries have been decimated because people aren’t traveling, gathering, shopping, or going out like they used to.”
To help achieve that, Donohue laid out the Chamber’s priorities this year:
Continued economic relief for those hardest hit
Donohue said the Chamber will work with the incoming Congress and President Joe Biden’s administration to ensure industries, businesses and workers make it through the end of the pandemic-induced economic crisis. With continued stimulus relief from Congress, growth could return to pre-pandemic levels by the third quarter of this year, he said.
Long-overdue infrastructure package
In what has become an annual tradition, Donohue called for national lawmakers to finally pass a “fiscally and environmentally responsible” infrastructure package.
One way to raise productivity, create jobs, and drive up incomes in a hurry is through a package to modernize infrastructure including roads and bridges and critical networks and to upgrade and expand technology like broadband to deal with the new digital economy where millions of Americans are now working remotely, he said.
“Even in a 50-50 Senate and a House divided by 5 votes, this can be done—and it might build some goodwill for bipartisan progress on other priorities,” Donohue said. “We’ve been working on this for more than 20 years. Let’s find a way to pay for it, and let’s get moving. This year, there can be no excuses for failure.”
Reskilling an “inclusive” American workforce to meet job demand
Reskilling workers with an emphasis on women and people of color will foster economic growth, Donohue said. The chamber will be pressing Congress for rapid training programs to connect the unemployed with jobs in new sectors. Employer-led initiatives should lead the way to align industry needs and in-demand skills.
“Some of the best-paying sectors—such as health care or financial and professional services—have more job openings than available workers. If we do this right and do it quickly, we will improve the living standard for millions of Americans and get our economy growing even faster,” he said.
Tackle racial inequality and advance immigration reform
In addition to job reskilling, Donohue stressed that policymakers need to tackle race-based systemic inequality in education, entrepreneurship, and the criminal justice system – as outlined in the Chamber’s Equality of Opportunity Initiative – and immigration reforms to ensure the American workforce is highly skilled.
As a new government prepares to take the reins, it must not return to excessive regulation or anti-competitive taxes, Donohue warned, citing the positive effects of regulatory relief and pro-business policies on the economy before the pandemic.
“Now is exactly the wrong time to further test the resiliency of businesses by hiking taxes or heaping on new regulations that do more harm than good,” he said.
Global engagement to reach 95 percent of consumers
Finally, Donohue spoke of the need for America to “reengage with the world” through a trade agenda that is focused on selling products to the 95 percent of consumers who live beyond U.S. borders.
In recent years, the nation’s resilience has been tested through trade wars and tariffs, he said.
“Yes, let’s make more products in America, but let’s also sell them to the rest of the world. We must extend our reach to the 95 percent of the world’s customers who live beyond our borders. We must catch up to the countries that are inking new trade deals left and right. And we must lift the tariffs that have hurt American manufacturers and farmers and have been paid by American companies and their customers.”
Engage strategically with fastest growing market: China
China is the biggest global challenge the nation faces, Donohue said. It’s also the biggest market.
“We must work to stabilize the relationship through strength and cooperation. At the same time we also have to confront the unfair trade and industrial policies that China uses against U.S. companies,” he said. “We must work with our allies to stand up to China, while also pursuing new negotiations with Beijing to protect our intellectual property.”
Growth is fastest path to shrink “extraordinary” expenditures of 2020
The pandemic is far from over, but if Congress sufficiently supports the economy with the relief it needs, the nation should recover more quickly and be better able to pay down the nation’s $27 trillion debt.
Arizona Chamber voices optimism as new president enters office
As President Biden entered office Wednesday, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry voiced its optimism in working toward common goals. Many of its priorities align directly with the U.S. Chamber’s include tariff-free trade, an infrastructure package that includes water infrastructure and updated ports of entry, and immigration reform to help employers and workers including providing a path to citizenship for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival Program (DACA).
“We’re encouraged that President Biden is going to make immigration reform a top priority of the early days of his administration,” said Glenn Hamer, president and CEO at the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry. “We will strongly support a plan that puts DACA recipients and Dreamers on a path to citizenship, which we are confident will receive broad, bipartisan support.”
The business community also looks forward to working with the Biden administration in reforming the country’s “byzantine visa system,” Hamer said.
“Too many jobs across the economy are going unfulfilled, but a better visa policy can help. We can also build on the promise of the TN visa class and make it easier for professionals in our USMCA partner countries Canada and Mexico to bring their talents here. We also want to work with the new administration on a plan to safely and responsibly ease pandemic-related border travel restrictions.”
To read a complete list of the U.S. Chamber’s goals for this year, go to U.S. Chamber 2021 priorities.