Our economy is in dire straits. The employment levels are hitting new lows and no end is in sight.
The one thing we have going for us is a visionary who will become President of the United States on Jan. 20, 2009. This provides us with hope and motivation for positive change.
One of his biggest challenges will be putting people back to work. The only way this is going to happen is for us to innovate and spring new opportunities because business as usual will no longer work.
We must first recognize the fact that the US Auto Industry will no longer be the same. Chrysler will probably go under and Ford and GM will shrink to small entities. Toyota will be king and Nissan, Honda, Hyundai, etc. will not be far behind. A layman may say that the jobs will simply shift over to the Asian companies.
The fact is they won't. Asian automakers do not hold a permanent workforce. Most of their hourly workers are managed by staffing agencies. That's right, they work for independent contractors and are, thus, tenuous. The Asian firms don't even have to account for payroll, social security taxes and reports to the IRS. Thus, there are no retirement benefits for these workers as opposed to the good UAW agreements for US auto workers. My cousin worked over 16 years for Toyota as a construction manager.
All the while she was an independent contractor. When she left all she had was what she alone saved as there was no company participation. While U.S. auto companies shrink the Asian counterparts are having "their cake and eating it too".
Another big factor that is shrinking the American workforce is outsourcing to foreign shores. Corporate America is turning its back on the American worker. Even if the work is not outsourced, many of the jobs go to illegal immigrants or H-1B visa holders.
This accounts for millions of jobs. The nation of Mexico receives over $29 billion annually from its citizens who are working in the United States – legally or illegally. That's a lot of money that is being pulled away from American households.
What we need is a big fix or alternatives to the above. One huge opportunity is right before our eyes. American communities are in need of updating and repair. Our infrastructure is outdated and unsafe. The bridge that fell in Minneapolis was a superb wake up call.
House Majority Whip James Clyburn stated a couple of weeks ago, "In South Carolina alone we have over 6000 bridges in need of repair.
That's South Carolina alone." Bridges, roads, government buildings, schools, hospitals, etc. must be repaired and that is going to demand millions of new jobs in construction, design and engineering.
We are going to have to train a lot of citizens and we must start doing this now. In addition, utility companies such as electricity, gas, water, telephone, cable, broad band etc. are in the same state.
These private/public repairs are going to start now and last for the next couple of decades. It is an excellent opportunity to get our workers prepared and assist them in the integration of this new workforce.
A good model for this is what was done after the Katrina debacle. We trained thousands of people who are now in the construction or ship building industry via full time and permanent positions. (www.imgreat.org)
In addition to the infrastructure needs, is the demand for Green Industry innovation. The Obama Administration is going to demand a new focus on alternative energy production and increased independence on oil, gas, coal, etc.
Solar energy, windmill energy, alternative fuel, traditional drilling and pumping are going to bring jobs that will support a family very well. African Americans must ensure that we are there when these doors of opportunity open. Let's go to work!
We must also demand that construction unions finally start to integrate their roles via affirmative action and equal opportunity. Executive Order 11246 is over 46 years old and the Civil Rights Act is more than 43 years old. The time has come for us to confront construction unions and demand a level playing field.
Let's not fall for that old game known as "pre-apprentice programs." Every new hire must become a full-time apprentice with all the normal benefits. African Americans are going to integrate these unions from top to bottom or any such union defying this responsibility must be decertified.
Community activists, organizers, associations, elected officials now is the time to start preparing for these new opportunities. We can't be traditional and wait and see what happens. We must be at the forefront and advocate for our chances. YES WE CAN!
Harry Alford is the co-founder, president and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Website: www.nationalbcc.org.