On Thursday, the Department of Commerce reported that the economy grew at a slower than expected rate in the first quarter of this year. GDP growth was only 1.8 percent, compared with 3.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010. This slow down in economic growth reflected lower consumer spending, a decrease in federal government spending and a surge in imports.

Seizing on this news of anemic growth, both the administration and Congressional Republicans responded by announcing their plans to spur economic growth and job creation.

President Obama’s plan focuses on reform to create a 21st century regulatory system, and calls for a government-wide review to eliminate unnecessary, redundant and costly regulations, while at the same time protecting the health and safety of the American people.

This effort to reduce burdensome regulations and reporting requirements would save hundreds of millions of dollars annually for companies, and would eliminate millions of hours of paperwork and red-tape, according to White House officials. The scope of the reform is vast, and touches on regulations across departments and agencies, including the Departments of Defense, Transportation, Energy and Health and Human Services. The Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are also undertaking efforts to identify and eliminate unnecessary regulatory requirements.

Cass Sunstein, the administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, said in a speech Thursday:

“I hope that this process might inaugurate a broader, less polarized, more evidence-based conversation about how we might promote economic growth and job creation while protecting the health and safety of the American people.”

Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress proposed a plan that would also aim to ease regulatory burdens on businesses to spur productivity and job growth, however their plan emphasizes a lowering of personal and corporate income taxes. Their plan also focuses on strengthening patent protection, increasing domestic oil production and making large cuts in government spending.

The administration’s plan builds on President Obama’s State of the Union Address where he emphasized the need for ensuring the competitiveness of our economy. It also follows the Executive Order he issued in January ordering federal agencies to review existing regulations, with the goal of balancing the interests of protecting public health and safety with creating an environment conducive to business. The plan was also announced just before President Obama indicated he would nominate John Bryson, former chief executive and chairman of Edison International, to become the next U.S. Secretary of Commerce. This latest move further emphasizes the President’s commitment to fostering growth and job creation.

At a time when the national dialogue is focused on the need to stimulate growth in the economy, we should also consider other innovative ways the business community can take part in creating a more productive and competitive workforce, and how public policy can support businesses in doing so.

Engaging the business community in advancing policies and practices to strengthen our workforce and to improve the quality of life for working families is something that Corporate Voices for Working Families sees as critical to our ability to compete in a global economy.

Business practices like offering flexible work arrangements, supporting nursing mothers at work, educating low-income workers about tax benefits and investing in the training and education of workers all serve to make our workforce more competitive. Stephen M. Wing, president of Corporate Voices for Working Families, said:

“In an economy which has experienced dramatic demographic shifts over the past decade, work-life and talent development programs are becoming more about creating effective workplaces for the future and adopting successful business strategies.”

Updated research from Corporate Voices documents the positive business impact–both domestically and globally–of creating flexible workplaces, especially regarding improved recruitment, retention, reduced stress levels and employee productivity. And a recent Corporate Voices report illustrates the many innovative ways companies are partnering with community colleges and local governments to increase the training and skill base of their workers, and documents the imperative of doing so.

While documenting the business case for these kinds of programs is needed, businesses also need resources, practical guides and tools to adopt best practices. That is why Corporate Voices has published:

  • Healthy Babies Make Happy Moms, and Excellent Employees!” a workplace lactation toolkit to help employers comply with federal law and implement lactation programs to support hourly, nursing mothers at work
  • 2010 Employer Guide,” which provides companies with tools to help employees take advantage of tax credits and other benefits, like the Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, Medicaid and other benefits
  • A series of Learn and Earn micro business case studies, which document best practice examples of how and why businesses partner with community colleges to help low-income young adults complete their postsecondary education.

As we continue to engage in the national dialogue about economic growth and job creation, let us also keep in mind how the business community can shape the competitiveness of tomorrow’s workforce and our future economy.