- The Washington Times - Monday, April 5, 2004

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — President Bush yesterday said the United States is embarking on “the beginnings of an innovation economy,” a period of transformation in which outdated professions will be replaced with sophisticated high-tech jobs.

“Think about this: Six years ago, the largest export of this state was tobacco. Just six years ago. And now, it’s computer equipment. That’s an amazing transformation of an economy, isn’t it?” the president said in a speech at the Central Piedmont Community College.

Standing in front of a huge banner that read “Better Training, Better Jobs,” Mr. Bush said his primary job is to “make sure the environment is such that we’re constantly on the leading edge of change so people can find good work.”

“We’ve got workers in this state and other states who hold jobs that didn’t even exist a few decades ago: biological technicians, software engineers, desktop publishers, bioinformatic specialists,” the president said.

During his speech, the president proposed doubling the number of Americans who receive job-training help from the federal government. The program would use $250 million Mr. Bush proposed spending earlier this year to help more than 400,000 people complete formal training.

Yesterday’s speech repositions the White House for the seven-month presidential campaign. Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry and other Democrats have flayed the president over the loss of 2.2 million jobs since he took office and scoffed at the report that the economy created 308,000 new jobs in March.

Kerry spokesman Chad Clanton called Mr. Bush’s proposals for job training “a phony baloney plan that does nothing more than shift money between programs and doesn’t offer a dime to unemployed workers.”

“Under President Bush the economy has lost 2.6 million private-sector jobs. The economy is now 7 million jobs short of the forecast President Bush made in February 2002,” the campaign said in a statement.

But Mr. Bush said he was optimistic about the creation of 300,000 jobs last month and noted that the U.S. economy has created more than 750,000 jobs since August.

“The economy is strong, and it’s getting stronger. We’ve overcome the challenges from the past three years. Listen, most of those challenges would have cratered most economies. Not America’s economy — because the ingredients for growth are there,” he said.

The president picked Charlotte for his 11th trip to North Carolina because the city has moved to reposition itself as a high-tech center and, with more than 600 foreign-owned firms, open for international business.

Mr. Bush also proposed closing loopholes and streamlining employment training programs — especially at community colleges — to three simple goals: “Tell us how many people have actually found a job, how much they earn on their jobs, and how long they stay on those jobs. That’s what ought to be measured. And nothing else.”

The $250 million for the jobs initiative is part of Mr. Bush’s budget proposal for next fiscal year’s budget, which Congress is considering. The soonest the money would become available would be October of this year.

After his speech, Mr. Bush attended a fund-raiser that marks his last planned personal appearance in the record-shattering effort that brought in more than $182.7 million in 11 months. More than 900 supporters who attended the $2,000-a-plate luncheon contributed more than $1.5 million.

Later in the day, the president, former owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team, threw out the first pitch at the St. Louis Cardinals’ home opener against the Milwaukee Brewers. Mr. Bush lobbed a strike, despite earlier claiming that his “wing isn’t what it used to be.”

He then flew to Crawford, Texas, where, after a quick trip today to Arkansas to talk up the economy again, the president and the first lady will spend the Easter holiday.

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