Community Jobs Forum – Feedback for the White House

Rincon Vitova Insectaries takes part in the White Houses community jobs forum program

Duke Gribble talks green jobs during the "Let's Talk Jobs" forum hosted by Rincon-Vitova Insectaries on January 5, 2010.

We accepted an invitation to participate in giving feedback to the White House about how to create jobs in our community. We received five discussion questions from the White House. We had a total of 12 participants of which ten were our coworkers  and two guests. We invited five neighboring businesses and 15 friends and sent news releases to local media.  We had eight men and four  women;  five over 57 years, five under 27, two in between. At least half of us have college degrees. We provided refreshments in our shipping room. Older participants were impressed by the constructive thoughtful outlook of younger coworkers. We all felt energized that our ideas have a direct channel to policy makers. The following results were sent back to the White House.

1. What is relevant to our community regarding Obama’s Plans presented December 3?

a. Payroll tax holiday to small businesses that hire: Concensus is it would help the business and employees have extra cash, but is questionable as an incentive for businesses to create more jobs.  The main question being how long would these benefits last.

b. Loans to small businesses: We agreed that banks need to support smaller/micro loans as opposed to current tendency that they don’t want to process applications of less than $100,000.  Must  streamline the process. Small fixed rate loans with fair interest and easy application process would encourage small business expansion rather than current lending that only helps larger well established businesses.

c.  Investing in infrastructure: The focus on fundamental change is more important than band-aid fixes which give quick fix jobs, but help to perpetuate the problems in the long run.  We don’t feel that the immediate fixes being discussed, i.e. highway repairs and expansion,  will have long term benefits.  Are we still producing at a loss as soon these new jobs will fade?   e.g. “Adding another lane on a freeway instead of building an infrastructure which encourages less traffic.”

Need to streamline the planning and contracting process: Someone heard on the news about a highway built across China that took 18 months from conception to completion whereas it takes 8-10 years just to complete the paperwork for a highway project in our country.

The infrastructure we want is mass transit in all cities and between cities just like in the Bay Area and New York with a vision of a whole new way of doing things and helping the transition from peak oil.  Is this what Obama’s proposals refer to when they say “expand transit”?

“This is a moment for the president… to follow through on [the vision of] foundations for a green infrastructure.”

We want to see the first steps of infrastructure upgrades interwoven into a long-range evolution of a green culture.  We believe we can move in a different direction reflecting different societal values to accomplish the jobs creation goal. Weatherizing homes is not enough. What about weathering all buildings? What about upgrading the electrical grid? We want  to see programs for small businesses to set up solar powered systems to not only provide for themselves, but to sell/earn credit for excess pushed back into the grid.  This would add massive incentive for big and small businesses, as well as homes down the line.  It would also help to offset the cost of installing such a system.

c. Extending benefits for unemployed: Retraining programs. We strongly agreed that these would be more beneficial for the unemployed in the long run. Some were shocked to learn from those who have been on unemployment that if they signed up for a training program they lost their benefits. It should be the opposite where you cannot be on unemployment benefits unless you are in a retraining program. This led to discussion about encouraging living wages and affordable housing.

PERSONAL STORY related to unemployment benefits
Encourage programs such as food stamps that have greater return on the dollar for the money in circulation ($1.73 for every dollar given out as food stamps).  One member stated that when his family went on food stamps all those years ago, they ate better than they ever had.  As the father could no longer spend family funds on cigarettes and alcohol.

PERSONAL STORY regarding outsourcing

One member mentioned that she had been a part of a company that had found it cheaper to outsource than employ at home.  We feel that there should be no tax credits to companies that outsource, but rather the opposite.  Company stakeholders don’t just exist on Wall Street, but are also people in the community that rely on the company’s existence.   The point was also made that NAFTA needs to work through FAIR TRADE, not just free trade, and grow from there to equity in the global economy.

All agreed that what we really need is the government to put its foot down with regulations (preferably green) that push us forward.  When jobs are outsourced under legitimate motives based on fair trade, but there is still a need to push our infrastructure and economy forward,  enforcement of  laws to achieve greater social and economic justice will stimulate business to find ways to satisfy needs. We welcome investment in jobs to expand the monitoring and enforcement of fair non-polluting trade.

We discussed the difference between fair trade in response to regulations and fair trade for moral reasons.  Laws aren’t enough and corporate leaders need moral transformation. However, many big corporations argue on moral points when it is a cover-up for clearly unjust decisions. The government could invest in moral education to transform our business leaders to authentically care about other people.

“Our values as a society are shifting from ‘do whatever it takes’  to consideration of growth for all countries, developed and developing….by expanding the stakeholder perspective…and avoid the ‘him vs me’ attitude.”

e. Assisting states and local governments:

Unfunded Mandates: get rid of them!  When states receive these, they have to take funding away from existing programs (e.g. education, law enforcement, etc….).  No law should be signed that does not have the funds to go with it.
2. What parts of local economy are working/thriving?
Oil companies, solar installation, simple pleasures, medical marijuana, pet industry, apartment rentals (as people aren’t buying homes), small home remodelling like bathrooms, biological pest control, vegetable garden installation services, other organic industries. Health services are expanding (Kaiser has hire several new doctors for our County. However, we hear of fraudulent billing of Medicare by local hospitals.  Both hospitals are doing extensive renovations that no other institution can afford.

Rinvon Vitova "Let's Talk Jobs" Forum

We had 12 people attend the Jobs Forum which we held in our shipping area.

3. What parts of the local economy are suffering?
Construction, video rentals, landscaping, nurseries, small farms.
4. Opportunities for growth/ jobs of the future:
Generally: Government needs to put foot down with laws, regulation, enforcement and incentives towards greener technologies.  Private business will fill in the gaps or adjust and create many jobs to address new services, infrastructure and markets.

Specifically:

Water infrastructure:  set up water catchments to fill aquifers, change codes to require gray water recycling and fund skills training and property tax credits.

Fish and shrimp farming in sustainable systems.

Recycling and repurposing waste: for example shredding tires insulation and for sidewalks and playgrounds and recycled plastic mixed with calcium carbonate to make paper
Mesquite and mulberry trees planted on roadsides: mesquite seeds can be harvested and the flour sells for a high price, people can grow silkworms like in Uzbekistan

Create small green business incubators:  low or no rent and technical support for people with new business concepts (Definition of green biz:  drives a cleaner, more efficient and more competitive economy)

Expand certificate training programs like Green Gardener of Santa Barbara to certify business and residential landscapes—stimulates expanded production of tools and materials for non-toxic gardening and foodscaping, stimulates demand for  green landscapers  (also develop ideas for helping landscapers develop income-producing revenue in the winter)

Give grants to train managers and support staff to use the latest software to grow their businesses: focus on marketing, sales, contact relationship management, cost accounting, cash flow management. High quality, intensive, handson training at low cost with paid internships in small businesses. The green biz incubators can hire unemployed graduates of the technology training to form a free consulting pool so they get experience with different kinds of businesses.

Replicate the Entrepreneurial Academy that was given by Ventura County but with more intensive hands-on support from consultants like those at SCORE.

Build community energy co-generation projects.

Electric vehicles – yesterday!!

Revamp Uniform Building Code to reward use of energy and water efficient and environmentally friendly designs and construction, requirements for all buildings, unlike LEEDS.

Give grants to retrain manufacturing and construction workers in skills related to organic and sustainable agriculture, resource conservation, natural building, gray water recycling, etc. Could be through non-profit regional development, demonstration and training centers, like Seed Savers Exchange and The Land Institute.

Clean up toxic waste everywhere and increase education how to stop pollution.

Require airlines tow the planes on the runway instead of running the jet fuel engines that produce enormous amounts of CO2, employs more people at the airport and does a lot to combat global warming.

5. What are the obstacles to job creation:

Markets. Companies need to change through market and product development that requires more learning, more new skills.

“We must restructure institutions from growth-dependent to steady-state economy. It’s impossible to have a perpetrually growing number of jobs.” … easy!!

6. Other observations our owner-managers would like to share with the President:

Rincon-Vitova Insectaries business has been stable.  An extraordinary boost in assets at the beginning of 2009 allowed us to hire unemployed college graduates as low-paid interns for internet marketing projects and employ our production workers more than usual in the off-season doing energy conservation facility development . Hence, we expanded rather than decreased jobs in 2009.

Our customer base has shifted toward more urban pest management and a few larger industrial customers have gone under. Our sales of natural pesticide products and insect traps and lures has increased relative to our sales of beneficial insects. Our sales of vacuum insect collectors has gone up — scientists now have funds to study the effects on insect populations from global warming, an example of many small ways in which intelligent response to global changes supports jobs creation.

We could grow our business more quickly if the following obstacles were removed:

Having to administer health care benefits for employees: It is a burden to be responsible for the health care of our employees.  A single-payer health care system not tied to employment would release our potential in our field of specialty without having to become expert about purchasing medical insurance.

Having to wait so long for approval of building permits and difficult communication with plan checkers: Uniform Building Code and local political forces make it difficult to do energy and water conserving projects and there aren’t many local subcontractors with the skills to do the most green technologies.

Hiring  people qualified in their specialty who lack basic business skills and have limited access to relevant, reasonable cost outside training. Learning the basics of our business operations takes over a year and learning to do advanced skills for our company to grow takes over three years of experience and training that is not accessible at any educational institutions and few other companies. If the educational system made relevant basic training more available, our company would be growing at three to four times the rate that it is with the managers spending  so much time doing basic in-house training. SCORE has helped a little, but there is so much potential for SCORE to help with this.

If we could have spent the amount of time and resources carrying out our development and marketing plans that we spent during the past three years on health insurance, jumping through hoops for building permits and basic business training, we might have been able to lead our group to double the sales of our company, create two to four permanent new jobs, improve everyone’s compensation, and help twice as many customers stop using polluting chemical pesticides.

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