Will Obama administration kill jobs?

The nation's unemployment rate unexpectedly rose to 9.8% in November. With that glum news, one would think our government would be doing everything it can to promote job creation, including a more balanced and helpful approach to enforcing labor laws.

This is especially true of the Obama administration, which beginning Jan. 3 will not be able to get much of its agenda through the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Enter the ever-helpful Center for American Progress, which has written a game plan to harass employers by administrative fiat or executive order. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, this includes tactics like "shaming" and turning more lawyers loose though greater use of court injunctions.

I hope the Obama administration ignores this "advice" because if the U-3 unemployment rate still is approaching 10% when he runs for re-election in 2012, he can kiss a second term goodbye. A better strategy would be to understand that employment law imposed by different levels of government can be contradictory and confusing, and that job creation would be better served by a collaborative approach to compliance.

A perfect example is the definition of a contracted worker. According to Madison attorney Meg Vergeront of the Stafford Rosenbaum law firm, there are three different classifications by different levels of government and different agencies. They are similar but not identical. One consistent definition would be nice because it's almost like they are setting businesses up for fines and penalties.

The relationship between business and government is a symbiotic one. Government depends on a thriving business sector to generate healthy tax revenues, and business needs intelligent government policies and an accommodating agency culture to create a pro-growth environment.

The latter point is often overlooked, as our most recent industry roundtable panel noted when dispensing advice to Gov.-elect Scott Walker. The new Governor will need to appoint strong agency heads to ensure that bureaucrats don't assume the position recommended by the strangely named Center for American Progress. I don't know what kind of progress they are referring to, but it can't be the business variety.

Speaking of progress, Wisconsin isn't making enough on the digital front, according the 2010 State New Economy Index, published by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation and the Kauffman Foundation for Entrepreneurship. The index monitors the IT-based economic transformation unfolding in all 50 states by measuring 26 categories, including the number of IT professionals, workforce education, value-added manufacturing, broadband telecommunications, and venture capital.

Wisconsin ranked 29th overall, ahead of Indiana and Iowa, but behind Midwestern brethren like Minnesota, the highest ranking heartland state at 13, and Illinois (15), Michigan (17), and Ohio (25).

Wisconsin's highest indicator performance was in online population, where it ranked 15. The state also finished in the top 20 in the following: migration of U.S. knowledge workers, 16; industry investment in R&D, 17; value-added manufacturing, 17; inventor patents, 19; and online agriculture, 20.

The rest of it isn't so good. In fact, it's somewhat depressing, but here goes: IT professionals, 24; high-wage traded services, 25; alternative energy use, 25; workforce education, 26; broadband, 26; immigration of knowledge workers, 27; non-industry investment in R&D, 27; IPOs, 28th; scientists and engineers, 28; managerial and professional technical jobs, 29; fast-growing firms, 29; patents, 32; e-government, 33; high-tech jobs, 33; entrepreneurial activity, 34; export focus of manufacturing and services, 36; job churning, 37; foreign direct investment, 39; venture capital, 40; and health IT, 43.

Not all of those indicators worry me, but several do. We have to do better in entrepreneurial activity, early-stage venture capital, fast-growing firms, high-tech jobs, health care IT deployment, and broadband. If we do, several other measures will take care of themselves.

In the end, our progress in these areas might be the best way to evaluate the Walker administration.

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