From Our Report to the President's Lips

By Emily J. Holubowich, Senior Vice President

If you were paying attention during the State of the Union Address, you would have heard President Obama share the powerful story of Andra Rush, the CEO of Detroit Manufacturing Systems and a Native American businesswoman from Michigan.

My jaw dropped. And if I had been in mid-sip of my tea I probably would’ve spit it across my living room.

Of course, we’ve heard enough SOTU’s and political stump speeches to know that stories of personal triumph of every day Americans are par for the course. But it’s different when the President talks about someone you know (or at least know of), and you realize you played a small part in making it happen.

Last November, NDD United released Faces of Austerity: How Budget Cuts Have Made Us Sicker, Poorer, and Less Secure  to educate policymakers, the media, and the public about the value of federally funded “nondefense discretionary” (NDD) programs, and the impact austerity has on real Americans across the country by sharing their personal stories. My colleague and NDD United co-chair, Rachel Gragg of the National Skills Coalition, wrote about Focus: HOPE, a Detroit-based workforce development and education provider that serves low-income, minority individuals and families on their path to becoming self-sufficient. Detroit Manufacturing Systems partners with and relies heavily upon on Focus: HOPE to train a high-skilled workforce.

As we prepared for the launch of Faces of Austerity, including a congressional briefing and press conference, we invited Focus: HOPE and Detroit Manufacturing Systems to join our panel of individuals representing a cross-section of federal programs—job training, Head Start, biomedical research, and the National Parks.

The White House caught wind of our report and invited the NDD United Steering Committee and our panelists to a meeting in the West Wing with Domestic Policy Council Director Cecelia Munoz and other senior advisors to the President. By happenstance, our group was waiting to enter the Roosevelt Room just as the weekly Cabinet meeting was adjourning, and we were able to hand copies of our report to the Cabinet Secretaries on their way out the door. (You can read more from our blog, here).

Soon thereafter, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Secretary of Labor Tom Perez visited Detroit to tour Focus: HOPE and Detroit Manufacturing Systems to see their work, first hand. Secretary Perez recently blogged about his experience, here. In this words:

Andra’s relationship with the local workforce system and the skilled workers it provided Detroit Manufacturing Systems was a principal factor in her decision to invest and locate in Detroit. She knew she could count on having the pipeline of workers with the skills her business needed to grow. Stories like these are happening around the country, but there’s no reason we can’t be writing even more...As Andra and Detroit Manufacturing Systems have demonstrated, investing in and aligning the skills of American workers with businesses looking to hire can make the state of our union even stronger.

So, in some small way, NDD United and Faces of Austerity had an impact on the State of the Union Address—successfully translating the stories of real people to the policymakers who yearn to hear and share them.

Lisa Ellington

Big Thinkery, LLC, 1011 Kenilworth Court Northwest, Concord, NC, 28027