By Josh Fisher, Manager

NGA Chair Adopts FocusAs the National Governors Association (NGA) Annual Meeting drew to a close in Williamsburg, Virginia, it was clear that not only will economic development continue to be a priority for the association, but so will job creation under the Chair’s 2012-2013 Initiative, which is focused specifically on employing America’s disabled.

At the closing session of the NGA Annual Meeting, Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman (R) handed the reins to incoming Chair for 2012-2013, Delaware Governor Jack Markell (D). Governor Heineman’s major initiative as chairman was improving state economies by focusing on small business development and fast-growing companies. Sticking with the job-creation theme of his predecessor, Governor Markell, who served as the Vice Chair of NGA for the past year, took the time at the meeting’s closing session to announce his initiative as Chair will be A Better Bottom Line: Employing People with Disabilities.

In addition to Governor Markell assuming the role of NGA Chair, Republican Governor Mary Fallin, of Oklahoma, will serve as Vice Chair. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R) had been expected to fill the Vice Chair role but decided he did not have the time to take on another leadership position. Governor Christie will remain an active leader of the NGA as he was reelected to the NGA Executive Committee. Also elected to the NGA Executive Committee for 2012-2013 were Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe (D), Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper (D), Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton (D), Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman (R), Utah Governor Gary Herbert (R) and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R).

Calling his initiative one that “governors all across the country can embrace” Governor Markell’s goal is to increase employment opportunities for Americans with disabilities. The centerpiece of the initiative will be identifying the employment challenges affecting those with disabilities and developing strategies and best practices to assist those seeking employment.

This issue is one that Governor Markell believes will require close cooperation between states and the private sector. The Governor stated that he wants to actively engage the business community and plans to gather and meet with business leaders throughout the next year to address this issue. Recognizing that only 20% of Americans with disabilities are employed and believing that this initiative just “makes good business sense,” the new NGA Chair plans to work with the private sector in the development of new employment strategies. This is an opportunity for the private sector to engage public officials surrounding the preferences and incentives for hiring disabled employees.

Included in the group Governor Markell wants to help are veterans living with disabilities. “The bottom line is that there are so many people with disabilities who have the time, talent and desire to make meaningful contributions to interested employers,” he said.

The initiative has its roots in a CEO summit held in June that focused on employment of people with disabilities. That summit was attended by executives from more than a dozen companies and included U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (R) of Iowa, U.S. Congressman Pete Sessions (R) of Texas and Governor Markell.

This initial summit will be followed by meetings around the country in which Governor Markell gathers feedback from business leaders and public and private stakeholders in order to develop a set of blueprints that states and businesses can use to boost employment among the disabled. Several companies are already active on this issue, but the NGA Chair’s focus on this issue will no doubt open up new opportunities for the private sector to interface with state leaders in the development of policies and incentives for hiring disabled employees.

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Josh Fisher is Manager of State Issues. His work at Stateside Associates has given him an intimate knowledge of the legislative process in all 50 states. He works with clients on a wide range of state and local government affairs issues and was most recently Manager of the Legislative Information Division at Stateside Associates.