Las Vegas Chamber chief to be at talk

WASHINGTON — In an e-mail this week, Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce President Kara Kelley asked business owners for ideas to take to today’s White House jobs forum.

In a city where an unemployment rate of 13 percent is just part of the economic wreckage, there was no shortage of suggestions. Hundreds responded with calls for tax relief of all kinds, easier access to capital, expanded federal loans and grants, and more spending on emerging green industries.

"They responded immediately and in great numbers, which shows me how impassioned the small-business community is about the state of the economy," Kelley said Wednesday.

Thus armed, the Las Vegas business executive will take a seat as the sole Nevada participant in the White House Forum on Jobs and Economic Growth.

Kelley is among about 130 representatives from local government, business, organized labor, nonprofits and academia who will brainstorm ways to pull the nation’s unemployment rate below double digits.

The national unemployment rate in October was 10.2 percent, the highest rate since April 1983, according to the Labor Department. In Nevada, the jobless rate in October was 13 percent, with 175,300 people out of work.

The Clark County jobless rate also was 13 percent, state figures show.

President Barack Obama, who is being pressed to do more to create jobs, is expected to sit in on most of what is scheduled to be a three-and-a-half hour session at the executive office building on the White House grounds.

Kelley was uncertain what might emerge from the session, but she expected Obama to get an earful.

"I am not sure there is any great new idea here, but I think people in Washington, just like they do in Carson City, get to be a little isolated from what is happening to day-to-day Americans and to the day-to-day small business person in Southern Nevada who is struggling to stay alive," she said.

Kelley will be the only Nevadan in attendance, the White House confirmed. A spokesman could not say how the invite list was assembled. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., arranged Kelley’s invitation.

"Given the challenges facing our state, I wanted to make sure that Nevada’s voice is heard as the president talks about creating jobs," Reid said in a statement.

The White House had not released a participant list but confirmed several dozen of the invitees to the Politico Web site this week. They include chief executives Eric Schmidt of Google, Randall Stephenson of AT&T and Fred Smith of FedEx Corp.; economists Alan Blinder and Paul Krugman of Princeton University and Joe Stiglitz of Columbia University; and mayors of San Antonio; Des Moines, Iowa; and Allentown, Pa.

To create more jobs, Las Vegas businesses need confidence they can see light at the end of the tunnel, Kelley said.

"We are worried about impending commercial foreclosures which we think will be a crisis and we don’t think anyone is paying attention to that," Kelley said. "We have one of the highest unemployment rates. The tourism industry has been one of the industries hardest hit."

The message, she said: "We are suffering and we need you to pay attention." Kelley said Obama may be able to put some ideas into play through executive order.

As far as the conference resulting in change, "hope springs eternal," she said. "You hope if you are being asked to participate and if you are spending the time, that someone will actually listen."

Christina Romer, chairwoman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said Wednesday that the White House is open to supporting new initiatives designed to help small businesses, provide direct payments to people who retrofit their homes to save energy, and further increase spending on infrastructure projects such as roads, bridges and public buildings.

Additional help to states to avoid layoffs of employees is under consideration. But no decisions have been made about what the White House ultimately will support, and lots of negotiations with Congress remain.

Romer also said the White House supports extending jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed and subsidies for the unemployed to buy health insurance.

At the same time, any new steps would have to have a relatively small deficit impact, Romer said. The administration said its budget for the upcoming fiscal year will take aggressive deficit-cutting steps.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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