(AP) Southern states should try to develop workers resilient enough to switch careers to meet the changing demands of the global economy, the president and chief executive officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta said Saturday.
“In the diverse Southeast economy with the pressure of globalization and technological change – the required skill set will change constantly,” Dennis P. Lockhart said at the Southern Governors’ Association convention that opened Saturday.
“We hear often that a person who will spend 40 years in the labor force may have not only multiple jobs but also three or four distinct careers,” Lockhart said. “For many, personal retooling is not just a choice – it’s a matter of survival.”
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a Republican, said about 800 people – governors, staff members, corporate representatives and others – are expected to attend the three-day convention at the Beau Rivage Casino. SGA’s members are the governors of 16 states from Texas to Virginia, plus the governors of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
William Poole, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, and Richard W. Fisher, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, also spoke at the meeting.
Fisher said the South is “an economic juggernaut.”
“The American public reads almost daily about the great economic power rising on the far side of the Pacific,” Fisher said. “Well, you might remind your constituents and the press every now and then that the 16 states that you govern and that my colleagues and I serve, all told, produce a combined output that is 76 percent greater than China’s.”
He said that for the South to keep its economic footing, leaders must emphasize education and acknowledge that technology has brought dramatic changes to the global economy.
“The development of human capacity through education should be the highest policy priority of any government in the South or anywhere else,” Fisher said.
He said China, India, Vietnam and Eastern Europe are occupying the lower rungs of the global economic ladder.
“There are 3 billion or more fervent, wannabe capitalists among them who want to be rich like us,” Fisher said. “We cannot stop them, nor should we bother trying.”
Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, a Republican, said that within one generation, he has seen the textile industry move from the North to the South within the United States, then to Mexico, then to Asia. He cited an example of a textile mill that closed in the small town of Tallassee. Many of the 400 workers who lost their jobs at the mill found new jobs at an aerospace industry about eight miles away, he said, and their pay went from about $10 an hour to almost $20.
“People are resilient and they are trainable, teachable,” Riley said. “We just have to be ready to change.”
Poole said state leaders need to examine ways to move workers into higher skill jobs that could increase their pay and boost the economy. He said the change can be difficult for some.
“It is often the case that, unfortunately, that some people will sit in these relatively low-value employments until they get a kick from behind that forces them and they end up being happier having gone through the transition,” Poole said.
Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, said people who are “not just native protectionists” often argue that foreign governments subsidize some industries and make trade more difficult.
“We do see benefits of globalism but we also hear the discontent of communities that lose jobs,” Kaine said.
Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, a Democrat, said Southern states are still aggressively seeking manufacturing jobs because they provide economic stability.
“We can talk Internet technologies and trying to make a living off the Internet all we want,” Blanco said. “There are just lots and lots of people who are never going to do that, and they still need to eat and they still need to be able to provide for their families.”