Obama links job growth to exports
In another sign of outreach to the business community, President Barack Obama on Friday named General Electric Chairman and Chief Executive Jeffrey Immelt to head the new White House Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.
And in a speech at a GE plant in Schenectady, N.Y., the president foreshadowed the main theme of next week's State of the Union address and his re-election campaign will be the nation's economic turnaround.
Pointing to the innovation and productivity of the American workforce, Obama said, 'Our challenge is to do everything we can to make it easier for folks to bring products to market and to start and expand new businesses, and to grow and hire new workers.'
He said the tax-cut compromise he signed last month helps do that by providing incentives to businesses to make capital investments.
A critical part of the administration's strategy to re-energize the economy is to promote the manufacturing sector and its ability to export its products to the rest of the world. Last year Obama rolled out his National Export Initiative designed to double exports within five years, and the White House recently revised a languishing trade agreement with South Korea that allows more access to that market for U.S. automakers and beef producers.
Obama has also tried to portray China, which has a huge trade surplus with the United States, as a major export opportunity. Obama announced $45 billion worth of deals recently struck by U.S. companies with China, including $19 billion for Boeing aircraft, during Chinese President Hu's visit to Washington last week.
'In an ever-shrinking world, our success in these efforts will be determined not only by what we build in Schenectady, but also what we can sell in Shanghai. For America to compete around the world, we need to export more goods around the world. That's where the customers are. It's that simple,' Obama said.
America's trade deficit is a function of too much past borrowing by consumers for goods, many of which are made in other countries,' the president said. 'We've got to reverse that. We want an economy that's fueled by what we invent and what we build. We're going back to Thomas Edison's principles. We're going to build stuff and invent stuff.'
Obama said he was putting Immelt in charge of the new advisory board to help the government and industry promote job growth and competitiveness. Among its goals will be to spur manufacturing in clean energy industries, investment in infrastructure and worker training.
The rest of the panel has yet to be named.
The moves represent an effort by the White House to pivot from economic crisis management to economic expansion. The economy has been out of recession for more than 18 months, but it is not growing fast enough to undo the damage from the financial crisis and put millions of people back to work. Economists expect Gross Domestic Product to be 3 percent to 4 percent this year. About 1.1 million jobs were created last year (1.3 million in the private sector minus layoffs by governments), but two to three times that number is necessary to significantly reduce the 9.4 percent unemployment rate.
'The past two years were about pulling our economy back from the brink. The next two years, our job now is putting our economy into overdrive,' Obama said. 'Our job is to do everything we can to ensure that businesses can take root and folks can find good jobs and America is leading the global competition that will determine our success in the 21st century.'
Obama has heavily leaned on Immelt, who heads one of the nation's most iconic and successful companies. GE is a huge conglomerate with manufacturing lines that produce locomotives, wind turbines, and medical imaging devices, as well as financial services and media holdings (GE is selling its NBC Universal subsidiary to Comcast, however, to focus more on core activities). It has been a leader in pushing products to support the renewable energy industry, highlighted by its 'eco-imagination' campaign.
Immelt, a life-long Republican, previously served on the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board. Last fall, the GE chief accompanied Obama to India, where the president helped seal $10 billion worth of sales, including one by GE to provide steam turbines manufactured at the Schenectady plant. Immelt also attended a meeting between Hu and business leaders at the White House and the state dinner last week.
In his weekly radio/Internet address to the nation, Obama stressed that the path to economic growth is through more trade with other countries.
'We're living in a new and challenging time, in which technology has made competition easier and fiercer than ever before. Countries around the world are upping their game and giving their workers and companies every advantage possible. But that shouldn't discourage us. Because I know we can win that competition. I know we can out-compete any other nation on Earth. We just have to make sure we're doing everything we can to unlock the productivity of American workers, unleash the ingenuity of American businesses, and harness the dynamism of America's economy,' he said.
In the past month Obama has tried to counter the perception in the business community that he is not friendly to business interests. He named political centrist William Daley, who served as Commerce Secretary under President Clinton and is a senior executive at JP Morgan Chase, as his new chief of staff; directed a government-wide review aimed at removing red tape from existing or new regulations that industry complained were becoming too burdensome; and is scheduled to address the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in February.
The sense among White House observers is the administration realizes it needs to make industry feel more confident about the future so it can help put people back to work. The White House wants the private sector to deploy some of the $2 trillion it has on its balance sheets to create jobs after largely exhausting its tool kit of stimulus measures through a massive government spending plan and tax cuts. ' Eric Kulisch