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Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez
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Acting Secretary of Labor Seth D. Harris

Prepared Remarks
Acting Secretary of Labor Seth D. Harris
Global Competitiveness Summit II:
Adopting A Global Vision For The Charlotte Region,
Central Piedmont Community College,
Charlotte, North Carolina,
February 21, 2013

Thank you very much. It's an honor to be here with so many leaders who are working to make the Charlotte region a thriving economic hub. Thank you, Dr. Tony Zeiss, and everyone at Central Piedmont Community College for inviting me back. I had a great visit here last summer. I toured the mechatronics laboratories and learned all about the innovative work you're doing to prepare your students for success in today's economy. I thought it went great. I didn't know it went so well that you would name your conference center after me.

I also want to recognize German Ambassador Peter Ammon. Ambassador Ammon hosted me for dinner at his residence in Washington last week with a "who's who" of German and American thought leaders on the economy and, in particular, skills development. His presence here today exemplifies our German partners' commitment to a strong and productive relationship between our countries and, in particular, to the skills of American and German workers. Thank you, Mr. Ambassador, for joining us today.

Last week, President Obama delivered the first State of the Union Address of his second term. And it comes at an important time — not merely for his presidency, but for the nation's economic recovery. His message was simple: we have much to be proud of, but we have more work to do.

We're seeing signs of continuing progress — retail sales are rebounding, the housing market is recovering — but we still have a ways to go; America's economic potential far outstrips its current economic conditions. There are still too many people out there every day, looking for work, willing to work hard, eager to live the American Dream.

Corporate profits have reached an all-time high, but for more than a decade wages and incomes for most American workers have been stagnant, and even declined for some.

Businesses like yours have added more than 6 million jobs during the past thirty-five months. And yet millions of Americans remain underemployed or unemployed — more than three unemployed workers for every available job in the United States.

The Dow has hit record highs, and yet millions of mothers and fathers are struggling to find a path for their family back into the middle class, or a foothold to remain there.

Yes, there has been good news, but there is more to do.

The President laid out a clear, aggressive, and progressive agenda we can enact right now to strengthen and expand our recovery. For businesses like the ones in this room — and also for our middle class.

The middle class is the true engine of America's economic growth. Plenty of countries have people at the very top doing better than ever, with the overwhelming majority of their citizens barely treading water, with little hope of upward mobility.

But what has always set America apart was the notion that ordinary folks, if they worked hard, could pull their families to a better and more secure standard of living. They could do better than their parents had. In fact, that is the very heart of the American Dream.

When our middle class is growing, when it's thriving, when there are ladders of opportunity for people to do a little bit better each year and then make sure that their kids are doing even better, those aspirations and the actions they inspire drive our economy to even higher heights. The American middle class is not merely our goal. It is the means by which we achieve a broadly shared and accelerating prosperity.

So, we have to create more jobs, with the private sector in the lead and government lending a hand — by reforming the tax code to stop rewarding companies that ship jobs overseas and start rewarding those who bring jobs back to the U.S.; by investing in clean energy; by rebuilding our infrastructure; and much more. But in my view, we can't talk about creating more jobs without also talking about skills development for America's workers. Skills are the leading edge of economic development for communities across our country.

When multinational corporations make siting decisions, certainly taxes and transportation costs are important considerations. But I believe firmly that the skills of the local workforce, and the ability of a local community's education and training institutions to generate a pipeline of highly skilled workers ready to produce 21st Century goods and services, are even more important. CPCC has been a leader — not just in North Carolina, but nationally — in forging innovative partnerships with multinational firms. They've created training programs linked to economic development and designed to entice companies like Siemens to locate jobs in the Charlotte area.

But insourcing jobs from multinational corporations to America's communities is not our only path to job creation. America's entrepreneurs will create jobs if they can find talented and well-prepared American workers who will build and grow their businesses.

The people in this room are rising to the challenge. You are showing that robust and targeted job training, designed and implemented through collaborative relationships between job seekers, job providers, and job trainers, is what makes — and will keep — America competitive.

Over the past three years, the Labor Department has awarded CPCC approximately $6 million in grants to develop workforce training programs. Dr. Zeiss and his team have leveraged the grants, receiving additional money from local and international employers as well as area foundations.

The result is one of the most comprehensive community college-employer partnerships in the nation. Partner employers give input on curriculum development, serve on advisory committees to monitor training programs, engage other employers eager to partner with CPCC, and, most importantly, hire CPCC graduates.

In April of last year, CPCC signed an agreement with the German Chamber of Industry and Commerce — the first agreement of its kind in the United States. The agreement empowered CPCC to offer advanced manufacturing certificates prized by German employers. And that's precisely President Obama's strategy: address the supply side of labor — by training a skilled workforce — and the demand side — by actively recruiting companies to site their production facilities right here in the United States.

Now, the Charlotte area is home to more than 200 German companies employing some 3,000 people. And I expect to see those numbers grow in the coming months and years.

You are the model, not just for job training and workforce development, but for what it will take for America to remain competitive over the coming decades and to build an economy driven by a well-trained middle class workforce.

In the coming months, my department will release a call for grant applications. Institutions like CPCC will have access to the next round of $500 million in funds from the Trade Adjustment Act Community College to Career Training program. The TAACCCT program is based on a very simple, common-sense idea: community colleges must partner with local companies and business associations — to find out exactly what type of training workers need to succeed in 21st century industries.

These partnerships will create critical opportunities for the men and women who worked in industries that have been impacted by trade or who have simply lost their jobs through no fault of their own. Many of them have been forced to start new careers. But make no mistake: they're willing and ready to do it — we just need to provide the opportunity.

At the same time, these grants ensure local employers have access to the type of skilled workforce a company needs to compete in the global marketplace. It's about as win-win as it gets.

But TAACCCT is just one of a number of Obama Administration strategies helping community colleges to organize local industries and to work with existing employer associations to clearly define the skills and credentials workers will need to succeed in particular occupations and industries.

From our Workforce Innovation Fund that granted nearly $150 million to spur innovation in the workforce development system, to our $40 million Make it in America Challenge that will accelerate the trend of insourcing jobs, President Obama wants us to invest in American workers, give them access to good-paying, middle-class jobs, and in so doing — and as CPCC and its graduates can so aptly attest — make YOUR companies and our economy more competitive.

There's no reason, however, that skills-based learning can't start before higher education begins. Citing the German model of graduating high school students with the equivalent of a community college technical degree, the President proposed in his State of the Union a modernization of America's high schools for real world learning. If CPCC can partner with local businesses to align its curriculum with the needs of employers, high schools across the country ought to be able to do it too. Let's start giving our young people a leg up as early as possible — by designing high school classes in science, technology, engineering and other disciplines that will lead to good jobs.

Strengthening our community colleges... modernizing our high schools... businesses working with educators to invest in human capital... making skills acquisition the focal point of our economic strategy — this is how we build a strong middle class and, through it, a strong American economy.

Every policy question we're confronted with must be put to this test: does it help grow and strengthen the middle class? That's the President's primary objective, his North Star.

And that includes decisions about reducing the federal budget deficit. We need to tackle our debt, but we must do it in a balanced way, without crowding out investments in American workers and middle-class families. For example: instead of cutting education and job training, which would devastate the middle class, the President believes we should eliminate special interest tax loopholes; that we should institute the Buffett Rule — ensuring a secretary doesn't pay a higher tax rate than her billionaire boss.

But right now, we're living under the cloud of the so-called "sequester" — automatic, arbitrary, across — the-board cuts to federal programs that are scheduled to kick in 8 days from now, on March 1. Effective immediately, we will see brutal, unnecessary cuts to everything from children's mental health to teachers to law enforcement and first responders. We will even see cuts to skills development programs like those showcased here at CPCC.

At the Labor Department, all of our programs will be affected. This is not an abstraction, or just numbers on a ledger or a spreadsheet. Because of the sequester — because Congress has refused to address our budget challenges smartly and responsibly — working families will be stripped of important services and experience genuine hardship.

  • One million Americans would not receive the employment services needed to find or prepare for a new job.
  • More than 55,000 veterans would not receive employment assistance. Nearly 44,000 military men and women who sacrificed for our nation would not receive employment and other transition services that help them find middle-class jobs in the civilian economy.
  • More than 3.8 million people receiving Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits would see their benefits reduced by as much as 9.4 percent. On average, a long-term unemployed person would have $400 less to spend in the local grocery store or in other small businesses in their community. These are people who get up every morning and look for work, people who are willing to work hard to help themselves and their families.
  • The sequester would reduce safety and health inspections at the most dangerous workplaces. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and its state partners would conduct an estimated 3,400 fewer inspections. Thousands of workers would be exposed to hazards that could make them sick, injure them, or even kill them as a result.
  • Tens of thousands of workers will not receive the minimum wage or overtime pay because the Department will be forced to cut the number of workplaces — nearly 5,000 fewer — where we enforce these laws.

The President has a plan to avoid these arbitrary and irresponsible cuts to middle-class programs. He would ask the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations to pay a little more, by limiting tax breaks for corporate jets and the oil and gas industry. He believes that balancing the budget on the backs of the middle class weakens America.

If the sequester happens, it will be because some in Congress have made a policy choice — to take a meat-cleaver approach that will hurt our economy; to use this blunt instrument for a precision task, rather than to close tax loopholes they themselves have identified. They will have decided it's more important to protect tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires than to invest in the middle class.

The President's philosophy is simple: grow our economy from the middle class out. Making smart investments in education — and institutions like CPCC that provide that education — is the formula for expanding a thriving middle class, and through their success, to grow the economy and reduce the deficit.

The sequester threatens not just individual programs, but an entire vision for economic growth that I believe you share.

So let's urge Congress to solve the deficit challenge in a balanced and thoughtful way. And let's get back to the work of educating children, investing in workers' skills, empowering communities to bring employers and educators together, enhancing business competitiveness and building a strong economy with a thriving middle class. Thank you very much.