For Mayors, Handling Unemployment Remains the Most Important Job

Gateway City's chief executive talks jobs and education.

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What other Congressional initiatives so far have been successful in terms of jobs?

ARRA [American Recovery and Reinvestment Act] was hugely successful in terms of the money we were able to get. We have had money for infrastructure investments which created jobs, there's money that's really helped people who were unemployed through the unemployment benefits extensions. There's been money that has gone to homeless prevention and foreclosure prevention which we used to save people's homes and keep people out of foreclosure and to keep people off the streets. We've also had money that's been given to us for education and for law enforcement. There's money that went to the states that was able to save a lot of jobs in education, police and fire protection. Without the money we received from that, we would have had to lay off police officers in the city of St. Louis. So that's not just jobs but also the safety of citizens.

What's not working?

One of the things we are advocating for is the reauthorization of the workforce investment act. One of the things mayors have been frustrated about is that we are concerned there is certainly an effort to zero out the community development block grant completely. And we'd like to have more flexibility within this act to create more summer jobs programs for youth. It keeps them off the street, puts some money in their pocket, helps build self esteem, teaches them basic job skills, and keeps them doing something productive. We did receive some money for that through ARRA and we were able to hire 2,100 kids for a summer and it was a very successful program. Of course, that money is gone. It also helps their families in very tough, difficult times.

What should Congress do to fuel job growth?

Programs for small business. One of the things that's really happened throughout the country is that the tightening up of credit has really hamstrung many small businesses in their efforts to invest in and grow their business. We'd like to see some programs to help small businesses get the financing they need and the resources they need to help and grow their businesses. A lot more people work for the small businesses than work for the big companies. The small businesses really are the bread and butter of the cities. [See a round-up of editorial cartoons about the economy.]

Are there any kind of federal tax incentives or encouragements for start-ups that would work particularly well?

We are very interested in historic preservation tax credits and brown field tax credits because we are an inner city and there are a lot of brown field issues. That helps us when somebody wants to come into our city and invest and grow. We also like the HOPE 6 program, which creates jobs and makes more sustainable communities. It was developed by the federal government to take the low income, high rise developments and tear them down to build low rise, more sustainable, generally mixed income communities. They've been highly successful in St. Louis. It's not a job growth program but it does keep people working and in safe and sustainable and quality living environments.

What about incentives to go back to school?

That's something that's really important: job training and education. Training programs to help those who have been displaced from another job. As an example, we had an auto manufacturing plant here shut down and another one reduced its work force. We lost of lot of jobs here and they were looking for other jobs, but they weren't trained for anything else. These programs really work in reconnecting people with gainful employment.

What kinds of jobs are needed in St. Louis?

Healthcare is huge. Our largest employer in the state of Missouri is [Barnes-Jewish] Hospital. We are thehe second largest city in terms of our headquarters for financial institutions. Edward Jones, Wells Fargo are headquartered in St. Louis. Another is tourism. And another is transportation and logistics.

What makes for St. Louis' 9 percent unemployment rate?