Remarks Prepared for Delivery by U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao For WIRED Initiative Town Hall Event

February 26, 2006

I am so pleased to welcome all of you — the winners of the WIRED competition — to Washington. You should be very proud of your achievement because this was a very competitive process. We received more than 100 proposals. After a rigorous review, 13 projects were chosen. So congratulations for putting together such innovative, creative proposals.

This is one of the largest economic development initiatives ever launched by the U.S. Department of Labor. It represents a $195 million investment in 13 regional economies, encompassing 14 states.

And the most exciting thing about this initiative is that it brings communities together in a collaborative way to address their economic development needs.

As you know better than anyone, technology has accelerated the pace of change and our country is part of a worldwide economy. Our nation must take the steps necessary to ensure that America remains competitive.

To address this challenge, the President announced the American Competitiveness Initiative in his State of the Union address. The goal is to encourage American innovation, to create new jobs here at home and to strengthen our nation’s ability to compete in the worldwide economy.

A key part of this initiative is workforce development. The President recognizes, as you do, that education and training are the gateways to opportunity and the foundation of a knowledge-based economy. The WIRED initiative directly addresses this challenge.
With these proposals, you will show other communities how to create powerful partnerships between education providers, innovators and workers that can revitalize regional economies and create new jobs.

We are fortunate because our country is facing the future from a position of strength. The overall economy is strong and getting stronger every day. In the last three months, 687,000 new jobs were added to our economy. 4.8 million net new jobs have been added in the last 2-and-a-half years. The unemployment rate has fallen to 4.7 percent, lower than the 5.7 percent average unemployment rate of the decade of the 1990’s!

The economy grew at a solid rate of 3.5 percent in 2005 — stronger than any major industrialized nation. In fact, our country has created more jobs than the European Union and Japan combined.

Yet, there is still more to be done. Some areas of our country, as you know well, are experiencing difficult, painful transitions. That’s what the WIRED initiative is all about — revitalizing regions that are experiencing rapid change.

A large part of that change is reflected in the fact that the majority of new jobs being created require more education and higher skills. In fact, more than 90 percent of the fastest growing jobs in our economy require post-secondary training or education.
So we must ensure that our nation’s greatest asset — our workforce — has the opportunity to continually upgrade their skills. And that’s a key factor in each of the proposals that won this competition.

The WIRED initiative is built around the thesis that talent development is critical to economic development. Your projects will provide a 3-year demonstration of how talent development can be a driver in regional economic development, job creation and growth. That’s becoming so important in today’s worldwide economy.

A new study released last week found that two elements are essential to attracting new jobs: developing a high quality work force and building a productive collaboration between employers and education providers. That’s what employers are looking for. And they are searching the world over to find environments that offer these advantages.

So the results you produce will not only help revitalize your regional economies — they will help to ensure that our country remains globally competitive.

Emily [DeRocco] has a great program for you today. You will be hearing from other officials, who will share with you the many tools and strategies available to help implement your proposals.

But the future is in your hands. The Department will be looking to you to show that the WIRED strategy produces real, concrete results for workers through measurable outcomes, such as employment.

So thank you for coming to Washington to help us launch this important new program. And thank you for everything you are doing to create hope and opportunity in your communities.
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