Sometimes I think we miss the forest for the trees...or the trees for the forest…or both at the same time. We can all fall into this trap from time to time.
At work, we can slip into an endless maze of process, meetings, and conference calls to talk about problems, but never make that jump to actually solving the problem. At home, we can spend our days running carpool and breaking up fights instead of focusing on the real goal of spending quality time together as a family and helping our kids to one day become responsible, productive and accountable citizens.
The same is true in how we as a society focus on what really matters. We all want communities that are safe, enjoyable and filled with good jobs, education and leadership. To get where we want to go, the policies matter. The decisions we make matter. Too often, we debate the random noise of the day instead of the real policy decisions that can make a difference.
In Washington DC right now, the endless debate centers on the temporary government shutdown. Lost are the true policy debates on our national debt, federal mandates, and the other policies actually causing this temporary standoff. The reality is, this temporary standoff will end, and then we will again endlessly debate who won, who lost and who is in the best political position to win the next soap opera.
All the while, small-business owners across the country are standing on the tracks, as the Obamacare train arrives at full speed. There is no real debate on how we help them. There is no thoughtful debate on what this new mandate will do to their ability to hire and insure their employees, or whether it will freeze any investment or expansion plans they have, or how in the world they comply with this new cobweb of regulations and mandates.
This week also brought huge flood insurance rate increases for our individuals and business owners that will threaten the viability and affordability of property in many parts of Louisiana. This will not only swamp property holders with unaffordable costs, but it will also prevent the sale or expansions of properties, and business investments in communities across the state. Congress must focus on a solution to this problem.
Closer to home, there is ample discussion about the drama surrounding Common Core State Standards and the levee lawsuits. On common core, the average citizen must be very confused. One day they hear the math is too hard, then they hear it is too easy. The next day they hear the curriculum is federal, and then they hear curriculum decisions made by locals are inconsistent. One day they hear the porridge is too hot, the next day they hear it is too cold. This “goldilocks syndrome” misses the real point that these standards will help better prepare our kids to be successful in the workforce.
Our world economy forces us to compete for jobs. Twenty-five years ago, the United States was first in high school and post-secondary graduation rates. Today, we are 20th and 16th, respectively. Recently, the State of Louisiana announced more than $60 billion in new economic projects that will require 250,000 qualified workers to support the boom. At least 69,000 of those workers need to be STEM qualified. This tells us that strong math and critical thinking skills are the real issues here, and we have to produce students to meet that demand. We need to be talking about properly educating our workforce, and how we best work together to accomplish it. Instead, we usually fall into the trap of endlessly debating rumors, misperceptions and the she said/he said of it all.
Another local example is the decision by one levee board to sue countless oil and gas companies to blame them for a huge portion of coastal erosion. The real issues are protecting our coast and creating a business environment where companies want to employ our people and invest in our infrastructure. Thus far, we have simply just debated the personalities behind who is on what board or giving what speech about this topic. The reality is that oil and gas companies have invested untold millions into coastal restoration efforts. They are major employers and active citizens in communities across our state. We want an environment where these businesses can grow, but our legal climate has traditionally been a concern for those looking to invest here. I can assure you our neighboring states are using this new lawsuit as Exhibit A against us in the national battle for jobs and investment.
We need to focus on some real issues. The real issues matter. Our education system needs to prepare kids for the economy of tomorrow. Our legal climate needs to promote fair access to the courts and robust investment. Rising business costs coming from federal programs like Obamacare and the national flood insurance program are going to stifle investment and job creation. Those are real issues. They are the trees…or maybe they are the forest…or both. Well, you know what I mean.
by Stephen Waguespack, President and CEO of Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, LABI