Woodrow Wilson rated 14 points. FDR got it done with four freedoms, which is how many Noble Truths the Buddha used. For Bob Forrant today at the UML ICC, there were Seven Ways laid out for helping us get out of the current Great Recession and helping to ensure that we don't find our way back into the abyss anytime too soon.
After warming the audience up with enough dismal economic statistics to remind us how he earned the moniker "Doctor Doom," Forrant began outlining steps that the city and the Greater Merrimack Valley can take to improve our economic footing.
First, some of the most chilling statistics: That 1 in every 4 children in the U.S. today relies on food stamps for basic caloric intake; that the FDIC is now 8.2 billion dollars in the red; that the official unemployment rate in Lawrence is 18 percent; and that if under-employment and the total discouragement of former job-seekers is factored in, we're actually approaching 25 percent of able-bodied, non-institutionalized American adults out of work. Another key statistic -- repeated twice for emphasis -- was that the proportion of workers who've been out of work for 26 or more weeks is now higher than at any point since the Great Depression.
Some of the local problems (9% current unemployment here in the Commonwealth) stem from the bleeding away of manufacturing jobs. In 2000, there were 417,000 total manufacturing jobs in the state; now, there are only 295,000. Nationally, we rank behind all our industrialized peers (except France) in terms of the percentage of our workforce engaged in manufacturing.
As Bob Forrant has said before on a couple local blogs, to include Left in Lowell and richardhowe.com, a regional jobs summit involving all the key business and political "players" is needed, and it needs to happen yesterday.
Here are Dr. Forrant's seven recommendations:
I. Allow children of undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at public universities like UML. This is an investment in the future that would prevent us from developing a long-term underclass by denying people an affordable education.
II. Support and expand partnerships across Lowell High School, Middlesex Community College, UMass-Lowell and other area schools, esp. in the science and health fields. Forrant called for an expansion of programs such as Governor Patrick's Commonwealth Corps. He cited programs such as the one that puts 15 UML student tutors in algebra classes at LHS. During the lecture and then during the question-and-answer session, it was agreed that there is already tremendous traction in regards to this recommendation -- it just needs to be solidified and expanded further.
III. City and university partnerships for specific 'incubator' programs. Forrant cited the example of Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the City of Worcester coming together to put the Life Science and Bioengineering Institute in downtown Worcester just off 290 as a specific case study.
IV. Dramatic expansion of nursing programs and other health career fields between the two major hospitals (LGH, Saints Memorial) and the city's educational bodies. This point wasn't re-addressed during the Q and A, but study after study shows 'health care' as a field projected to grow by leaps and bounds in the coming years.
V. Partnerships that will help foster long-term development in the 'Creative Economy.' Internships, training programs, and the use of venues like the recently-opened "The Space" on Western Avenue would help comprise a concerted effort to foster youth creativity and to retain the 'corporate knowledge' that is developed by the generations of Creative Economy participants now living in Lowell.
VI. Expanded partnerships with Merrimack Valley Groups. Forrant cited numerous non-profits and other community organizations as positive examples of citizens working together to educate others about things like how to avoid bank foreclosures and how to navigate the treacherous job market. Partnerships among the groups themselves would enable easier flow of ideas, social capital, and pooling of resources.
VII. Lowell as a center for 'Green Urbanism.' Forrant mentioned that in the past five years, several corporations have moved into Lowell and focused on green issues like building reuse, public transportation, and energy efficiency. Forrant called for Lowell to "build on that core" and see where it can help lead to a blueprint for economic recovery.
Forrant mentioned that when Lowell hit a time of crisis approximately 30 years ago, the opportunity it presented for a new way forward helped spawn things like the Lowell National Historical Park and the Lowell Plan. We may be at a similar juncture now -- with more economic woes forecast on the horizon and no clear path out of the current joblessness crisis, forward-thinking business and political leaders may be able to chart a course forward to calmer seas.
And at least on that note, even Dr. Doom broke into a smile and pointed to a half-full glass on the podium.