James T. Brett is the president and chief executive of the New England Council, a business lobbying group.
As the 112th Congress returned to Washington this month, the New England region has seen significant changes in the clout of its congressional delegation.
Two of New England’s most senior and respected senators — Connecticut’s Chris Dodd and New Hampshire’s Judd Gregg — have retired. They follow the passing of Sen. Edward Kennedy, one of New England’s fiercest advocates.
With the change in party control of the House, New England’s predominately Democratic House members find themselves in the minority, at the cost of influential committee and subcommittee chairmanships.
With these significant changes, regional collaboration becomes all the more important. Economic challenges do not recognize state lines, and we cannot afford to approach these problems as six individual states.
Regional collaboration needs to happen on several levels. First, members of the New England delegation must continue to work collaboratively on issues that affect our regional economy: 34 voices fighting together as a united team are much stronger than six smaller groups.
Second, the New England business community must unite to tackle the issues that affect business in this region. Collaboration is necessary not only within certain industries, but across all of the industries that play a role in the region.
And third, government and business leaders must listen to one another. Businesses alone cannot grow and create jobs without support from the government in the form of a regulatory climate that promotes such growth. And government cannot craft policies that will boost the economy and without input from the experts — the employers.
Regional collaboration could help in these areas:
Landmark Reforms. Last year’s passage of health-care and Wall Street reforms was only the first step. In the months ahead, federal regulators will develop rules and regulations under these two new laws. As these processes unfold, the business community would be wise to stay engaged and provide feedback on how rules will affect them.
At the same time, regulators would be well served to pay close attention to that feedback to ensure that, as these new laws are implemented, there are not adverse effects or unintended consequences.
Trade. International trade plays an important role in the economies of all six New England states. For example, in Rhode Island, export shipments of merchandise totaled $1.5 billion in 2009, and 17.7 percent of all manufacturing workers in the state depend on exports for their jobs. There are several possible free-trade agreements on the horizon that Congress should take a careful look at. While there are always concerns inherent in expanded international trade, the possible benefits for the regional economy cannot be overlooked.
Job Creation. Unemployment rates across America have slowly begun to decline, but there is still a long road ahead. The recent extension of several tax policies — including the capital-gains and dividend-tax rates and the research and development tax credit — will promote growth and are a step in the right direction, but more must be done. One challenge is the so-called “labor mismatch.” As a recent study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston confirmed, there are plenty of workers with college and advanced education, yet there is a shortage of middle-skill workers to fill the types of jobs to be created as the economy recovers. Government, the business community and the education community must work together to close this gap.
Surely there are countless other issues where regional collaboration can play a role. Despite the challenges of the past several years, New England is fortunate to have very capable government leaders and a vibrant, diverse business community. If they continue to work together, the region is well positioned for growth.