The round-table discussion focused on the impact President Bush's proposed budget might have on unemployment benefits and job-training programs.
Several of the conference attendees expressed concerns that the budget proposal might force cuts to such programs.
"We sort of downplay job training, and we forget the importance of it," said Ted Abernathy, executive vice president of the Research Triangle Regional Partnership. "The idea that it's not an issue is completely wrong."
Employment analysts at the conference attributed the growth of Triangle area layoffs to recent national economic trends. "I think what we've seen in the last few years is a lot of the manufacturing going away," said Mike Ahern, a senior policy analyst at the N.C. Department of Commerce.
According to data from the N.C. Employment Security Commission, the statewide unemployment rate is 6.1 percent, compared with 4.2 percent in Wake County and 4.3 percent in Durham County. Orange County has the lowest unemployment rate in the state at 2.4 percent.
"(Orange County) always has one of the lowest rates because the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill never has any layoffs," said Wayne Beverly, the Raleigh-Durham regional manager for the N.C. Employment Security Commission.
Price, who sat quietly and listened to attendees' comments for much of the meeting, said it is likely the U.S. Congress will pass an extension of unemployment benefits.
Bush supported this idea last month in his State of the Union address.
But Price added that additional funding for job training might meet resistance in Congress. "I think the heat is on on the first issue we discussed, the extension of unemployment benefits," Price said. "This job training program is a little different -- it's a little off everybody's radar screen.
"I think the focus on job training and the things we were talking about this morning were not the first things on the news, but that doesn't mean they are not important."
Price said he will take information from the conference back to Washington, D.C. He added that he will work to allocate more money for unemployment benefits and job training programs in the national budget, before it is passed by Congress.
He said, "We've somehow got to figure out how to shore up that budget."
The State & National Editor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.