ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) — As states struggle to close budget gaps because of high unemployment and dwindling tax revenues, the Southern Governors Association met Friday to discuss ways to create new jobs in a changing economy.

“We’re all here to work,” N.C. Gov. Beverly Perdue told the association at the start of the three-day conference. “The work we do today, tomorrow and Sunday will help energize us.”

The group is holding its annual meeting in Asheville, N.C. Governors, other public officials and business executives were expected to attend. Among the topics on the agenda are how to solve a skills gap suffered by workers looking for jobs in the nation’s largest and fastest growing region.

Not all the governors from the association’s 16 states and two territories plan to attend. For example, Texas Gov. Rick Perry is campaigning for president. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is speaking at an event in Perry’s home state.

Diane Duff, the association’s executive director, said the meeting is a good place to exchange ideas and get feedback from business leaders.

“First of all, I think it’s important to point out that all of the governors that are involved in the association have already independently been focusing on innovation as a job creation strategy. One way or another they are doing things in their own states. But coming together, it really gives them an opportunity to compare what they’re doing at home and really use this as a best practices exchange,” Duff said.

“But in addition to that, it’s also helpful to sort of gut check, if you will, with leaders from the business community about what things they actually consider the most effective in terms of fostering innovation … All of these folks will really be able to give governors that extra percentage of what businesses thinks works and doesn’t work in terms of fostering increased innovation and investment in small business startups,” she said.

Perdue said it’s critical for the region to work together to help “jump-start the economy.”

Like many states, North Carolina is trying to find ways to help create new jobs and deal with budget shortfalls created by the recession. The state’s unemployment is at 9.9 percent.

Perdue has spent this year locked in a battle with Republicans, who took control of the state Legislature for the first time since the 1870s. Perdue urged lawmakers to continue an expiring sales tax increase, framing her argument as protecting education programs from cuts.

The Democratic governor held out as GOP leaders allowed an extension of unemployment benefits to the long-term jobless to expire when she refused to accept a double-digit budget cut as a starting point. The $19.7 billion state budget passed over Perdue’s veto with help from a handful of renegade House Democrats.

With the bad economic news as a backdrop, Friday’s sessions focused on job creation.

“Jobs created by innovative companies builds a resilient economy,” Perdue said.

Several national business leaders told the governors and their staffs that an educated workforce helps attract news companies and fosters creative, innovative thinking that leads to start-ups. They said an emphasis should be placed on math and science in public schools.

Dunn said states don’t always have to spend money to create jobs.

“Not everything we’re talking about in terms of job creation and promoting innovation requires additional expenditures. In fact, there are ways you can be more efficient in terms of how you go about fostering innovation,” she said.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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