Obama urges green tech sector to "start here, stay here, hire here"

Echoing his January 2011 State of the Union Address, in which he said "We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world", Obama outlined his new USD$447 billion American Jobs Act.

With six million long-term unemployed Americans – and 86 percent of the U.S. public "frustrated" or "angry" with the federal government, according to a recent poll – Obama took a feisty tone in addressing a Congress that has virtually been deadlocked for the past six months. "You should pass this now," he insisted repeatedly during the half-hour address.

Although he made no direct reference to the "five million green jobs over 10 years" he had promised the U.S. electorate during his campaign, Obama directly targeted the need to provide public and private sector support to technology companies.

"We now live in a world where technology has made it possible for companies to take their business anywhere," he noted. "If we want them to start here and stay here and hire here … that’s a job for all of us. For government and for private companies. For states and for local communities – and for every American citizen. All of us will have to up our game. All of us will have to change the way we do business."

The president made the following commitments that would support green technology, including photovoltaic energy generation, saying that his economic plan has the elements to:

  • Mobilize business leaders to train 10,000 American engineers a year, by providing company internships and training;
  • Cover tuition for workers who learn more skills at community colleges;
  • Provide incentives and support to ensure that “the next generation of manufacturing takes root, not in China or Europe, “but in the United States”;
  • Cut away the red tape that prevents too many rapidly growing startup companies from raising capital and going public;
  • Provide a 50 percent payroll tax cut for small businesses;
  • Give small business owners a tax credit when they hire new workers – and give all companies a $4,000 tax credit if they hire anyone who has spent more than six months looking for a job;
  • Offer a tax credit to anyone who hires a military veteran;
  • Pay small business owners who have contracts with the federal government “in half the time” that it takes now;
  • Allow all businesses to continue writing off the investments they make in 2012; and
  • Clear the way for a series of trade agreements that will make it easier for U.S. companies to sell their products in Panama, Colombia and South Korea, while also helping the workers whose jobs have been affected by global competition.

With support from Congress, Obama said that his plan would be a game-changer, noting, "It will provide a jolt to an economy that has stalled, and give companies confidence that if they invest and if they hire, there will be customers for their products and services."

In response to the speech, America’s largest business lobby organization, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, voiced some disappointment.

"While the president discussed a variety of important issues, his ideas appear to fall short. A workable jobs plan must genuinely reduce regulatory uncertainty, unshackle promising American industries, and not be overly reliant on government spending and subsidies," said U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas J. Donohue.

"Now that many proposals have been put on the table, the time for talking has passed and the time for action is now. Our nation urgently needs an economic growth agenda that accelerates and fires up the powerful job-creating engine of American enterprise. The president and Congress must act faster, be bolder, and put their faith in free enterprise, not in bigger government."

Although the Republican Party delivered no formal response to the speech of their Democratic President, several party leaders weighed in on the plan.

The President’s nemesis during recent budget ceiling talks, Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner (R-Ohio), took a conciliatory tone directly after the address.

"The proposals the President outlined tonight merit consideration. We hope he gives serious consideration to our ideas as well. It’s my hope that we can work together to end the uncertainty facing families and small businesses, and create a better environment for long-term economic growth and private-sector job creation."

Former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson, a Republican, commented, "I suspect I am not the only American asking, if a trillion dollars’ worth of stimulus didn’t work, why will another $450 billion do the trick? Whether it be jobs created with borrowed and newly-printed dollars, temporary extensions of tax cuts, or sending money to the states to postpone layoffs, none of the President’s proposals will remove the real obstacles to job creation."

He added: "Government cannot create jobs. Businesses, entrepreneurs and investors can create jobs, and right now, they are simply afraid to do so. And they should be. They are looking at a national debt that is consuming the private economy, more deficit spending with no end in sight, and a regulatory environment that promises only new and costly surprises every day."

As was to be expected, Democrats largely praised the plan. Republican Gerry Connolly (D-Virginia) said the speech hit just the right tone. "He didn’t go for the sun, the moon, and the stars, but he challenged us to rise above partisan politics and do something for a suffering country right now. And that’s what a leader does."