Revitalizing Main Street, USA by Investing in Opportunity

According to economists, the U.S. economy has grown every year since 2010 and is gradually recovering from the 2007–08 recession. It certainly doesn’t feel that way to many Americans, however, because overall economic growth has been so slow and the recovery’s gains have been so unevenly distributed.

The latest report from the Commerce Department shows that the U.S. economy expanded by only a paltry 1.6 percent in 2016. This marked the eleventh year in a row in which growth did not hit 3 percent — the longest streak of economic stagnation in our country’s history. By contrast, the U.S. averaged annual growth of 3.4 percent per year between 1980 and 2000.

If we accept that such slow growth is the “new normal,” then the American dream of continually increasing prosperity for each successive generation has come to an end. Slow growth is a key reason why more and more Americans say that the country is on the wrong track, and why they fear that their children and grandchildren won’t live as well as they have.

Worse yet, a new report from the Economic Innovation Group finds that the U.S. economy is becoming less innovative and entrepreneurial. In most parts of the country, established businesses are dying faster than new businesses are being born. While past economic recoveries depended on new firms being established in metropolitan and rural regions across the country, now just five cities — New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Houston, and Dallas — account for half of the net increase in businesses. The rest of the country is getting left behind.

More than 50 million Americans now live in distressed communities. Another Economic Innovation Group report from last year that found that in the most depressed areas of the country, conditions are even worse than they were in 2009, at the end of the Great Recession. Housing is older and in worse shape, population growth is flat or falling, and more than half of adults lack jobs. Our new President was elected on the promise to bring jobs back and improve quality of life in areas of the country that the economic recovery has left behind. Main Street Republicans are ready and eager to get to work on legislation that brings economic growth back to these communities all across the country.

I grew up in the Finger Lakes region of central New York. It’s a beautiful part of the world, but the tourists who drive past the lakes and vineyards rarely notice the grinding poverty alongside the natural splendor. In many rural districts, just as in impoverished urban areas, unemployment is high and credit is tight. There’s little access to startup capital, and little incentive for the private sector to make investments that would put people back to work.

That’s why I’m pleased to see that the Investing in Opportunity Act has been reintroduced in the House of Representatives. It’s the work of Ohio Rep. Pat Tiberi, who’s a member of the Republican Main Street Partnership. Rep. Tiberi’s bill aims to bring jobs, new businesses, and economic growth to the distressed communities like the one where I grew up.

As off-putting as some of these distressed communities can look from the outside, I know from my own experience that they contain a wealth of unused potential. There are blighted properties to be rehabilitated, infrastructure to be developed, and facilities to be built or repaired. Most important, there are talented people from many different backgrounds who lack only the capital and encouragement to make their dreams come true.

The Investing in Opportunity Act will jumpstart new business development in the left-behind regions of the country, while avoiding the heavy-handed approach of big government and the accompanying hit to taxpayers’ wallets. This bill is an innovative solution to the country’s decade-long absence of robust economic growth that’s widely shared beyond a mere handful of wealthy metropolitan areas. I hope it will receive bipartisan support and that it will succeed in bringing jobs, investment, and hope to the places that need them most.