On paper, our nation’s economic recovery looks solid. We’ve had 11 straight quarters of GDP growth and 48 straight months of private sector job growth. Unemployment is down and consumer confidence and spending is up.
But there are significant problems underneath those statistics — wages have stagnated since the Great Recession, and millions of Americans are unable to find good-paying jobs. The problem is we’re not making enough smart investments that will create those jobs, make America more competitive, and help us save money in the long run.Business, organized labor, and government don’t always agree. But we stand united in our belief in a strategy that will put people back to work and boost the economy — investing in America’s infrastructure.
Today in Los Angeles, mayors and other elected officials from across the country are meeting with experts on public policy and private investment to discuss how to jump-start infrastructure investment. This meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, co-hosted by President Clinton, Mayor Garcetti and the West Coast Infrastructure Exchange, examines solutions to problems that local officials and businesses encounter in financing, developing and constructing infrastructure projects. Finding the answers, including promoting the private public partnerships so pivotal to this work, will help us build a financially and environmentally sustainable American economy.
Los Angeles provides an example. The city had been spending almost $15 million a year on streetlights and emitting 110,000 tons of carbon dioxide to power them. With help from the business community and the Clinton Foundation, the city has retrofitted over 140,000 lamps with more efficient LED bulbs. This project put people to work and is now saving the city around 60 percent on its energy costs. Carbon emissions have dropped by over 40,000 tons each year — the equivalent of 10,000 cars off of the road. The project will pay for itself within seven years, after which the city will save $10 million annually. This is a model for cities across America.
Buildings are an essential part of our national infrastructure, and they present another big opportunity to create good-paying jobs and save energy. This weekend will mark five years since the building’s owner launched a massive energy retrofit of the Empire State Building. The project, which included things like replacing windows and lights and improving the cooling system, created 275 jobs and exceeded projections on energy savings and carbon output reductions every year. Not every community has a building as tall or iconic as the Empire State Building, but they all have schools, hospitals or government offices that can be retrofitted in a way that saves money and creates jobs.
Key to this strategy is helping local communities identify and finance the many opportunities that exist for infrastructure investment. For example, the AFL-CIO has made a Clinton Global Initiative Commitment to Action, to encourage AFL-CIO members’ pension funds to invest in $10 billion worth of infrastructure projects. Initial investments from the California Public Employees’ Retirement System and California State Teachers’ Retirement System have created more than 13,000 jobs. In addition, organized labor has invested a remarkable amount of resources into worker education, apprenticeship, and retraining to ensure that when we make these critical investments, we’ll have the skilled workforce needed to do the job.
The opportunities to create jobs and economic prosperity are in front of us. Now we must find the strategies that make public-private partnerships work for our nation’s largest cities, our rural communities and workers across the country. As representatives of business, government and labor, we are fully united behind the goal of harnessing the full power of America’s workforce to build better communities, stronger industries, and a brighter economic future. This week’s meeting in Los Angeles is an important step toward achieving that goal.
This op-ed originally appeared in the Los Angeles Daily News on Thursday, April 3, 2014.