Mark Warner: Keeping the focus on jobs

Column by Mark Warner

In recent days we’ve seen another tough economic blow for our friends and families in Southside Virginia. Stanley Furniture, a fixture in Henry County for nearly 90 years, announced it will shutter its factory near Martinsville and relocate more than 560 jobs overseas. That tough news comes on the heels of promising job announcements by two smaller employers just a few weeks earlier.

In too many of our rural regions, it seems we take one step forward – and then two steps back.

Company officials and local leaders worked quickly to submit the paperwork and documentation to the U.S. Department of Labor to allow enhanced retraining and re-employment benefits to these workers.

And, as many of you already know, my interest in shoring-up Virginia’s traditional manufacturing towns dates back to my term as governor, when we frequently worked with our local, regional, public and private sector partners to strengthen and diversify the economies of those regions of Virginia that were built on tobacco, textiles and furniture.

Yet despite the inevitable disappointment of last week’s announcement by Stanley Furniture, there are some hopeful signs of better days and new investments to come:

Earlier this year, I joined with Sen. Jim Webb and Congressman Tom Perriello to announce a combined $40 million in stimulus funding to finish building-out the region’s high-speed Internet network. Greater broadband connectivity will help link schools, families and entrepreneurs to the global economy.

Just last month, I visited Blue Ridge AquaCulture in Henry County – a remarkable success story that holds the promise of significant additional economic impact in years to come.

And earlier this year, I met in Martinsville with local leaders and we brainstormed ideas for working together to promote the region’s quality workforce and remarkable community initiative.

And I wanted to update you on two other proposals that should help boost small businesses and investment in Southside and all across the Commonwealth:

For several months now, I’ve been working with the Treasury Secretary on a targeted program to unclog frozen credit lines to small businesses that have struggled in this tough national economy. Last week, the White House submitted legislation that includes many of our ideas, including a modest federal investment in existing capital access networks to provide a “cushion” for participating banks to extend credit to small businesses. History shows that, when our country is emerging from a recession, it’s our small businesses which lead the way in job creation and renewed economic activity.

In addition, I continue to work with my colleagues in the House and Senate on our America Recruits Act, which would establish a first-time federal job incentive to encourage employers to bring back to the U.S. those manufacturing and IT jobs that have been relocated overseas in recent years. These federal loans – up to $10,000 per job – would be forgiven after two years, and this modest new incentive would provide one more recruitment tool for local and state governments to offer in today’s global competition for jobs.

Neither of these initiatives by themselves will create a “silver bullet” solution. Taken together, however, I believe they will help our struggling rural economies diversify and better compete. And we are continuing to see evidence that our economy really is on the mend: the overall U.S. economy has consistently added jobs in recent months, the housing market appears to be stabilizing, and the Dow has rebounded 40 percent from historic losses a year ago.

None of that is any consolation if you are still looking for work, so we must continue to focus our efforts on creating jobs and shoring-up the economy. I will keep you updated on the status of our efforts, and, as always, I welcome hearing from you.

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