Last week I had the privilege of attending the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) for America. CGI is President Bill Clinton's organization and CGI America, which is dedicated to developing ideas for driving economic growth in the United States.
Folks like Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Laura Tyson, professor of global management at the University of California, Berkeley, and Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh were there, along with Roger W. Ferguson, Jr., president and CEO of TIAA-CREF; Robert J. McCann, CEO of UBS Wealth Management Americas, Peter G. Peterson, founder of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, Newsweek editor Tina Brown, former Michigan Governor Jennifer M. Granholm, and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. You could tell from the roster of participants that serious, exciting work and commitments were going to be made and announced.
In his opening remarks, President Clinton got right to the point, noting that "People have been betting against America since we started as a country." But he added, "Those folks who bet against us have always been wrong." He was speaking to all the naysayers and frightened, dispirited people who think America is on the decline. You know who I'm talking about: Those cynics who say things like, "Our children and grandchildren won't do as well as we did, they have no future," blah, blah, blah. Yawn.
Clinton is right: The naysayers have always been wrong about this country. And the news was far from bleak at CGI America. There was plenty of good, promising and challenging information about the economic recovery, including some happy news from Chicago's new mayor Rahm Emanuel, who announced the creation of thousands new of corporate jobs in Chicago. (This after a mere 41 days in office!)
Then there was the national news, which, quite frankly, stunned me. Right now, there are three million job openings in America that are not being filled either due to a mismatch of education and necessary skills, or because of people's inability to move to take jobs in other places because they cannot sell their homes.
OK, so maybe that's not the happiest information. But wait! No sooner did we hear about those three million unfilled jobs than we were introduced to Michael Thurmond, former Georgia Labor Commissioner, who designed a program called Georgia Works, which could be at least a partial solution to filling those three million job openings.
Georgia Works is a statewide program that recruits unemployed people and trains them on the job, giving the employer a chance to audition new staff at no cost to the employer. (Even better: The state provides free childcare. Let me repeat: State-supported free childcare!) If the person works out, he or he is hired; if not, the worker auditions for another opportunity. So far, 62 percent of participants have gotten permanent jobs, with most people being hired after the fourth week of on-the-job training.
I also met and worked with Timothy "Scott" Case, the CEO of the Start Up America Partnership and the founding Chief Technology Officer of a little outfit called Priceline.com, which was one of only a handful of startups in US history to reach a billion dollars in annual sales in less than 24 months. Today, Case is moving around the country inspiring young, growing companies to create jobs with the help of resources. Might I add: President Obama and his team made an excellent choice putting Scott Case in charge of Start Up America Partnership.
Case and I were in a working group that focused on start-ups and high growth businesses; I was also asked to be an advocate for women and girls in the same group. The idea was to explore what "young companies," defined as less than five years old, need for growth/job creation. One of the best meetings I attended at CGI America was a session with advocates representing women veterans and their families, farmers, and business owners.
The other interesting thing I learned is that there's approximately $2 trillion in banks that is not committed to lending. Clinton repeatedly asked people like Peterson and Geithner what it was going to take to inject the $2 trillion into the economy. The answer always had to do with confidence in the economy, and a vision for the future. (That, by the way, is the key to just about everything in life: whether you're a country or company, you need confidence and vision.)
Ten years from now, Clinton envisions a world of peace, freedom, and prosperity. While everyone has a different interpretation of what these all mean, he believes -- and I agree -- that the common issues unite rather than divide us. And it's so important to stay in a positive frame of mind.
I left CGI more confident than ever that we can solve our economic challenges together. And nowhere was that more evident than on July 4th, when my husband and I left our Manhattan home to bike 22 miles to Coney Island, in Brooklyn. Along the way we saw American, Puerto Rican, and Dominican families on the Lower East Side holding choice picnic and barbecue spots by the river. We saw American flags dangling out of apartment windows in Chinatown, hanging along planters through Prospect Park, all the way to Brighton Beach. At the Russian café, Volna, they were decorating the place with red, white and blue balloons, streamers, flags, and stars. And there it was in full display, the America we love so much, the vision that has always attracted the attention of the world: all these people from the four corners of the earth, celebrating an idea, celebrating freedom. Celebrating the future.