Public Papers

Remarks at the California Chamber of Commerce Centennial Dinner in Los Angeles


Thank you, Governor Deukmejian, for those kind words. It's great to be back in California and to be invited to such a wonderful party. I got to L.A. yesterday, and they told me I'd be appearing before the movers and shakers. [Laughter] I thought they were talking about people, not houses. But nevertheless -- [laughter] -- Steve, I want to congratulate you as the dinner chairman. And to Chairman Stanley Wainer, thank you, sir, for inviting me here tonight.

You know, when we landed at the airport, I was deeply touched to see a red carpet rolled out, 21-gun salute, balloons, confetti -- truly moving. And then I looked around and realized it was the L.A. Coliseum Commission welcoming Al Davis back from Oakland. [Laughter]

Some of you all were up in San Francisco, some of the members of the Chamber, and last night we had some demonstrators there. And on the way over here, I did encounter a few demonstrators. One protester from UCLA was shouting, ``U.S. out of Panama! U.S. out of El Salvador! USC out of Los Angeles!'' [Laughter]

But something that really impresses me about California is the west coast's will to survive, even triumph, in adversity. New ways to cope spring up, no matter what kind of disaster strikes. Somebody told me there's even a new support group in Malibu called Parents Without Perrier. [Laughter]

What brings me here tonight, though, is the same appeal that brought so many to California a century ago: a sense that something powerful is happening here in this State. Your heritage was borne by those with the imagination and courage to press westward. After the century of shared progress that you celebrate tonight -- from sailing ships to silicon chips -- you're still the State that sets the pace, breaks the barriers, and defines the future.

The gold rush never really ended in California; it just took on new and truer colors -- from the green abundance of agriculture to the black gold in the earth, the silver screen, the wealth of the blue Pacific. The list of California's first-place rankings reads like the what's what of American business -- number one in aerospace; construction; exports; in business owned by women, by black and Hispanic Americans; in numbers of college graduates, scientists, engineers, Nobel laureates, patents, and Ph.D.'s -- California leads America. And America leads the world.

But California in business isn't just first-class; it's world-class -- home to over 40 Fortune 500 firms, a dynamic job-creating small business sector, and a gross State product that the Duke referred to -- my friend George Deukmejian -- that outside of America ranks among the top 5 nations.

So, if California is the rock-solid edifice of America's economic strength, the California Chamber should be a room with a view, with a vision for the future, where decisions are made and actions taken that will lead the rest of the country in the coming century. You understand that California's economic prospects are strong, thanks to your natural resources and your geographic position on the Pacific rim. Let me add, it's fitting that I'll be meeting in California tomorrow and for the weekend with Prime Minister Kaifu of Japan. We have very important business to do with Japan, and these will be important meetings; I think they're fitting that they be held in California.

But what will truly lead California to success in the new century is her people and the way they do business. As our economy continues to grow and labor markets continue to tighten up, businesses like yours will need to turn to sources of talent once left untapped: youth at risk, who need to see the connection between school and work; the underskilled, who need training; older and more experienced workers, who need new skills; the disabled, who need only a chance to prove their abilities; and dual-career families, who need flexible, creative child-care solutions.

Flexible workplace policies will allow you to find and keep the best talent. And one of the most promising of these new business frontiers is telecommuting: taking advantage of new technology to enable your people to work at home 1 or 2 days a week. Clearly this exciting concept will not apply to every business or every kind of employee, but consider: A typical 20-minute roundtrip commute to work over the course of a year adds up to 2 very stressful 40-hour weeks lost on the road. But if only 5 percent of the commuters in L.A. County telecommuted 1 day each week, they'd save 205 million miles of travel each year and keep 47,000 tons of pollutants from entering the atmosphere. So, telecommuting means saving energy, improving air quality and quality of life -- not a bad deal.

This administration is profoundly committed to protecting the environment that we all share. That's why I'm pleased to say that today we've reached an agreement with a bipartisan group of leaders in the United States Senate for environmentally aggressive and still economically sound revisions to the Clean Air Act. It's a new approach to clean air that will permanently reduce emissions that cause acid rain; greatly reduce the threat from air toxins; and bring clean, healthy air to every city in America, including this important city, Los Angeles.

I know that many of your companies, many represented right here tonight, are involved in forward-looking stewardship efforts for our precious environment. That's a measure of the enlightened management here in California. Along with looking inward for better ways to run your operations, you're also looking outward as active partners in your communities. And we all know that some of your communities will demand -- the problems -- long-term, consistent, collective effort -- work involving worthy sacrifice, but with profound, long-term results.

To make sure our educational system gives our kids the skills they need to thrive in the future, new partnerships between schools and, yes, businesses need to be expanded. Projects to improve schools, like the California Compact, show great promise and deserve all the help you possibly can give them. In fact, I understand there are already over 3,000 educational partnerships here in California, from multimillion-dollar projects for sweeping reform to adopt-a-school programs to low-cost volunteer efforts. Our schools need your time and talents, and if you're already involved, keep at it -- and if you're not, this is your decade to do it.

And where the most troubling challenge to our communities is concerned, the enslavement of illegal drugs, your members can help us turn the tables against the dealers, turn them forever. So-called casual users and their money keep these merchants of death in business. So, anyone who still considers drugs a victimless diversion needs to hear this: You shame yourselves, and you shame your great country. And America now condemns what has too long been condoned. The country has had enough. And I believe we can and will win this battle against drugs. Many of you and your businesses already do preemployment drug screening. Let me encourage all of you: We need to make it very clear to every American that if you do drugs you don't get hired.

Those of you who are involved with the nationwide Partnership for a Drug-Free America are getting far-reaching results. But let me also encourage you to get involved with local efforts, at street level. On every block, in every town, in every city in America, there should be a home or a business willing to serve as a safe house for kids, where they can go for help; for information about drugs; for refuge from dealers; or just for the comfort of somebody who cares, of a caring, listening heart.

As I think of my job, I often think an important priority -- our kids need our help. And that will mean a lot to your communities. But there's one thing more that we should consider for the sake of the world community. We've all watched with wonder and delight the transformations that took place in Eastern Europe during the Revolution of 1989. We greet the triumph of democracy like a miraculous dawn that might somehow cast the whole world in its light at once. But it is not ordained and will not be the work of miracles. It must be the work of the newly liberated peoples themselves, and it must be America's work.

Forty years ago a world wounded, rent asunder by war, was built with America's leadership. In this decade, nations impoverished by ideology and ravaged by dictatorship -- in Eastern Europe, in Latin America -- are also ready to be reborn and rebuilt with the tools of free enterprise, the wisdom of free markets, and the skills of American business. As the political dust settles, the real struggle now begins. The cry for democracy, the redemption of the individual voice, is only the first step. As I said in my State of the Union Address, democracy is a cornerstone of free societies that must be joined with competition, opportunity, private investment, stewardship, and of course, leadership.

Now is the time for our country, for America, to provide that leadership, to do her quiet but crucial work to help lay the cornerstones of free societies and to widen the circle of freedom. We can rely on what we know. We know that prosperity preserves peace, that the troubled waters of political turmoil are calmed by economic growth, and that our economic influence can be a force for great good.

We are using that influence at the international level, marshaling assistance for nations making a courageous break from their totalitarian past. We're providing direct U.S. aid. And we're working with the Congress and with other nations to do more for these exciting fledgling democracies. But America's leadership in the world does not depend solely on government initiatives. Our influence is profound because our private sector has shown the leadership, and we need your engagement again today.

Every business and community organization, here in California and across the country -- business leagues, Rotaries, clubs of every kind -- all can find ways to help the people of Eastern Europe and Central America as they make this transition to market economies. In this, your national chamber is on the right track. Consider donating some time and expertise to the emerging businesses that are now struggling in Eastern Europe. Work with our important friends and neighbors to the south, in Panama and now in Nicaragua, as the transfer of power takes place. Whatever your specialty -- strategic planning, marketing, inventory, line operations -- it is needed now. Find a sister city or a business that would benefit from what you know of free enterprise and free markets and put your talents to work. Today there is an unprecedented opportunity, certainly an urgent need, for American business leaders to lead the world toward free enterprise.

You know, back in 1890, there were a lot of newspaper articles suggesting that California was in decline or, as one observer put it, ``in a state of decadence.'' The critics claimed that industry and agriculture were struggling, and it looked like the gold had all been rushed. You know what happened. You know the history. California became a world-class economic superpower. Today you are called upon and privileged as few have been before to bring the world new and unprecedented prosperity. Show the world that commerce has conscience, that prosperity has a purpose, and that any definition of a successful life really must include serving others. In your own businesses, in your communities, and in the community of nations, gather strength and use it to help people.

I am privileged to be President of the United States at this terribly exciting time in not only our history but in the history of freedom and democracy around the world. Let me just say I feel that all of you in this room have an important part to play in this new decade in helping solidify the freedom that people have struggled for, the democracies that they revere, and the future they deserve.

Let me wish this chamber a very happy 100th birthday. Thank you for inviting me. God bless you, and God bless the United States of America. Thank you very, very much. Nice to be with you. Sorry to eat and run like this, but I'm still on Eastern Time.

Note: The President spoke at 7:50 p.m. in the Los Angeles Ballroom at the Century Plaza Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to Steven Mersamer, dinner chairman; Stanley Wainer, chairman of the board of the chamber; and Al Davis, owner of the Los Angeles Raiders football team. A tape was not available for verification of the content of these remarks.