Chamber Members Jump on Jobs Bandwagon

Business Leaders Descend on D.C. to Push Proposals

Posted January 29, 2010 at 5:01pm

As President Barack Obama pivoted last week to make job creation a centerpiece of his agenda, the country’s largest business association moved to aggressively push its own policy to promote economic growth across the country.

As part of its free enterprise campaign, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce held events in several states with its Jobs Week, culminating with about 750 people from New Jersey chartering a train Thursday from Newark, N.J., to Washington, D.C.

The cabal of chamber members — along with current and former state politicians, including former New Jersey Gov. Brendan Byrne (D) — traveled to the nation’s capital as part of the state chamber’s annual Walk to Washington event. Now in its 73rd year, the train ride, which is known as an opportunity for socializing and deal-making, preceded a large banquet where attendees hosted members of the New Jersey Congressional delegation, including Democratic Sens. Bob Menendez and Frank Lautenberg. The dinner at the Marriott Wardman Park hotel was also focused on promoting job creation.

“The overarching message is that business people need to have face time with lawmakers,— said Joan Verplanck, president of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce.

While unemployment in New Jersey has historically been low, the state’s unemployment rate was recently reported at just over 10 percent, higher than the national average. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has called for New Jersey to create 580,000 jobs in the next decade as part of its goal to create 20 million jobs in the next 10 years.

Verplanck said that while the number is a little daunting, there have been some years when New Jersey has added up to 150,000 jobs.

New Jersey Chamber of Commerce Chairman Dennis Bone called the annual event an “efficient and powerful way— to bring their interests to Washington. Several of the attendees also booked meetings with members of the New Jersey delegation before heading back to the Garden State.

The latest effort comes as the chamber has been promoting economic recovery and job creation since it launched its free enterprise campaign in October. In addition to the more than 70 grass-roots events it has organized across the country, the chamber has also increased its online presence. The group’s free enterprise Facebook site has more than 20,000 fans, and the effort has had several hundred thousand people sign an online petition.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue has also been promoting a six-point plank to spur job growth, including doubling U.S. exports in five years, investing in new and traditional energy technologies and promoting healthy credit markets.

While tension between the Obama administration and the chamber reached a boiling point late last year, Stan Anderson, managing director of the free enterprise campaign, said the White House and chamber work together on issues where there is agreement.

But just because Obama is focused on jobs doesn’t mean business groups support his tack for trying to reinvigorate the job market.

“We don’t think spending money should be the default solution,— Anderson said. “We believe in creating an environment in which companies large and small can flourish.—

The National Association of Manufacturers also is pushing several policy positions to help stimulate job growth, including decreasing corporate tax rates, broadening and making permanent the research and development tax credit, and modernizing export controls.

So far, the National Federation of Independent Business has been skeptical of Obama’s job-creation plan, which includes a $5,000 tax credit for small businesses for each additional employee they add.

“A well-intentioned tax credit proposal is not going to convince small business owners to add jobs if they don’t have the work for those employees to do,— NFIB’s top lobbyist, Susan Eckerly, said in a statement.

New Jersey small-business owner Jeff Scheininger agreed.

Scheininger owns Flexline, a manufacturing business with 15 employees that produces hose products, and he said the types of policies Obama is proposing will hurt small business.

“The kinds of policies that tangentially hit big business, decimate small business,— Scheininger said.