State Farm Chairman Ed Rust Jr. is emphasizing the importance of workforce development to future economic prosperity in the U.S. The head of the Bloomington-based insurance giant and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spoke to a business audience in Peoria, defending the new nationwide Common Core curriculum standards for schools from attacks by the right.
"There is some discussion education should remain at the local level and I don't disagree with that, provided it is informed about what's going on not just within the state or within the country, but across the world as we understand more and more what are the skillsets, what is the capacity our children will need."
Rust calls Common Core standards "really a no-brainer." If the education system fails, Rust says economic inequality will increase and living standards will stagnate. Rust called on business to become more involved in boosting education at the state and local level in a sustained and positive way.
Rust also defended corporations that have accumulated large reserves of cash. There is pressure on companies to invest that cash or distribute it to shareholders, But Rust says the uncertainty over the budget sequester, the economic impact of the end of the payroll tax holiday and conditions in Europe have made businesses reluctant to make big decisions.
Rust says there remains a lot of economic uncertainty. U-S Chamber of Commerce forecasts call for a stronger second half of the year. Rust, though, says a lot remains unknown.
"There is also continued work to try to understand, it's still early, but the impact on consumer spending of the expiration of the payroll holiday. Fortunately, Washington let that holiday expire. It may have been helpful. Only time will tell."
Rust says the housing market shows some growth, but that's a relative term since the base is much lower than in 2005 and 2006, before the recession. Rust also says uncertainty in how the government will handle the budget sequester and deficit reduction is causing businesses to hold off on some big decisions.
Rust also took at shot at burdensome government regulation. He mentioned a commercial that aired during the Superbowl involving a paean to farmers by famed broadcaster Paul Harvey. Rust says the commercial did not mention a few things that farmers do in their long long days of work.
"The annual census required by the USDA. It's an interesting 14 page document. Sitting down preparing to take my recertification exam required by the EPA so I can continue to apply pesticides-herbicides on the crop. Also coming through looking at the requisite mileage hour documentation that I need to make sure is accurate in the cab of my truck for the DOT regulation."
Rust still overseas a farm his family has had since the 1930s. He says regulatory overkill can stifle innovation, business and growth in the marketplace.
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