The President is listening to us

Ever wonder who gets to give the President advice before he gives a State of the Union address? Well, the good news is that this year, the answer is: a lot of you.

I know this because I was lucky enough to be invited to the White House last Thursday to talk to President Obama about what we’ve been doing in Minneapolis to help create jobs, as part of a small group of mayors who were asked to offer him advice on the State of the Union speech. The message I brought was that as a nation, we should do more of what we are doing here in Minneapolis: getting business and government working together to create jobs.  Especially impressive here, I told him, is the work we’re doing build the next-generation workforce and to get our region working on a single economic plan.

We met in the Roosevelt Room with a group that included mayors from around the country, including Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles, Michael Nutter of Philadelphia and Newark’s Cory Booker, who gave such a great speech at the Martin Luther King, Jr. breakfast last Monday in Minneapolis. We were also joined by Vice President Joe Biden and Gene Sperling, a Minnesotan who has just taken over as director of the National Economic Council.

The President gave us a preview of what he wants to say in the State of the Union. He will focus on creating jobs and point to clear signs of turnaround in the economy after he inherited an economic calamity two years ago. He will include a call to invest more in infrastructure, especially clean-energy, “green” infrastructure that finally can help us lessen our dependence on foreign oil. He will also lay out an agenda for growing jobs in America by growing our global competitiveness. (For a quick, four-minute preview directly from President Obama, watch this video.)

But for most of the hour he listened to us.   

The first point I made was that right now, people want an honest, non-political assessment of what is going on with the economy. I said I felt people were beginning to see some sense of hope but some parts of the economy don’t make sense yet.  Specifically, people are confused why corporations and banks seem to be sitting on so much money and not investing it in new businesses and creating jobs.

I also suggested that he could offer some examples of what government and business are doing together to create jobs. Two that I pointed to in Minneapolis are the Minneapolis Promise — which promises Minneapolis students that if they are serious about their education, they will have access to college and career centers in every Minneapolis high school, high-quality summer jobs and financial assistance for college — and our efforts to unite the Minneapolis–Saint Paul around one single, common plan for economic development and establish a joint entity responsible for growing jobs and driving economic development across our region.

I told President Obama that this work on regional economic development was inspired in part by the steps that his Administration has taken to get the various arms of the federal government working together to support regional economies. “You may think it’s a big deal to get the U.S. and China working together to help the global economy,” I told him, “but it’s a lot more impressive that we got Minneapolis and Saint Paul united.” (And united we are, by the way — very much so.)

We won’t know what the President will say until he says it, but we do know that in the days leading up to the speech, he took the time to listen to what we are doing here.

I have to admit, it was a lot of fun to be meeting with President Obama and Vice President Biden in the White House. As I left, I was thinking about how lucky we are right now to have a President who doesn’t just think all the answers are in Washington and instead, tries to find ways to put people to work by bringing more people to his table.

According to the Washington Post, special interests are falling all over themselves fighting for a special mention in tomorrow night’s State of the Union address. Reading accounts like that, it can be easy to think that regular folks don’t have a prayer of being heard in Washington — but the good news is, the President is listening to us.