In an economic pep talk to a packed house at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center on Tuesday afternoon, former President Bill Clinton shared anecdotes from his presidency, offered tips for economic development and pitched optimism about the future.
“What you’re doing is the right thing,” Clinton said about the state’s 10 Regional Economic Development Councils, which had assembled for a statewide conference.
The former president was introduced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who spent eight years in Clinton’s administration, including four as secretary of Housing and Urban Development. He characterized Clinton as one of the two major mentors in his life and credited him with inspiring New York’s new economic model.
“We’re following the state version of his playbook,” Cuomo said.
The first step was balancing the budget, Cuomo said, attributing his regional councils to development principles implemented under Clinton’s presidency. Cuomo predicted his State-of-the-State address will reveal some initiatives that would make his old boss smile.
For his part, Clinton expressed admiration for Cuomo’s actions as governor, stating that confidence in New York has “exploded,” and indicating Cuomo has hit the nail on the head with the regional councils. “I doubt I have much to contribute to what you’re doing,” Clinton said, “but I strongly support it.”
Clinton endorsed the councils’ flexibility, which he said make them capable of tailoring programs to meet specific circumstances. “This is about asking the right questions,” he said, adding they are strongly reminiscent of the empowerment zones he created.
Clinton suggested that an easy way to cut unemployment would be to fill existing job postings. He said there were 3.2 million jobs that have been posted for three weeks or longer that have yet to be filled in the country and that these openings exist in New York.
There was also a message of hope aimed at the councils that aren’t the big winners when $200 million in state funding and tax incentives are distributed. “If you don’t get the money, don’t give up,” Clinton said, arguing that the entire process better prepares regions to create jobs.
Referencing an empowerment zone from his presidency that wasn’t initially targeted for funding, he said an official told him, “We didn’t get [the money], but we have a plan now … We’re coming back for the second round.”
Clinton also saw potential in the Power NY Act of 2011, which was signed into law this summer and provides “on-bill financing.” He said this practice of pursuing efficiency and paying for it from savings was a guaranteed way to create jobs. “This on-bill financing is a very big deal.”
Clinton also touted green energy, which acting Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy said is an area where the city could benefit. He argued that the presence of General Electric makes the city very interested in dealing with global warming through green energy technology. McCarthy added that the speech served as a good rallying cry for the 10 regional councils.
Clinton urged New York to remain focused on the future and said there was a real benefit in collaboration. “America needs to get back in the future business,” he said. “The most important thing is that if you’re in the future business, you’re already a winner.”
As Clinton finished his remarks, Cuomo took to the podium to encourage the crowd to offer one more round of applause. “How lucky are we that he’s a New Yorker,” Cuomo said of Clinton, who has an office in Harlem.
This summer, Clinton authored a 14-point plan for job creation. He was not paid for his appearance on Tuesday.
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