GE's 'American Competitiveness: What Works' Conference Kicks Off with Innovation Talks

Boeing, Dow Chemical, and GE CEOs discuss jobs, global competitiveness, and innovation.

This week GE is hosting its "American Competitiveness: What Works" conference in Washington D.C. -- a four-day event dedicated to in-depth conversations between top business leaders about Americas economic future and what must be done to expand the manufacturing sector. The conference kicked off Monday with a panel discussion between three powerhouses of U.S. manufacturing Boeing CEO Jim McNerney, Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris, and GE CEO Jeff Immelt -- that spelled out clear instructions for bringing jobs back to the United States and for U.S. manufacturers to compete on the global market: invest in innovation.

"Innovation is where the jobs are," McNerney said. It is only through investment in innovation that America can continue reclaiming its workforce and establish a firm position in the global market. "The economy has to be powered by investment," said Immelt. In order to compete on the global market, he said, "first and foremost we must invest in technology and people."

As an example, McNerney pointed to the development of the new 787 Boeing Dreamliner. This new airliner, utilizing graphite composites and an innovative, fully reconceived manufacturing process, will create as many as 25,000 new jobs over the next 20 to 30 years, he said. This kind of innovation, he explained, is a "huge job creator" that will yield increased profits from global sales that will lead to further investments for other job creating projects. For America to compete, the panel agreed, we need to invest in exactly these kinds of efforts.

There is good hope that manufacturers are working toward this end. After years of outsourcing, there is an increased desire among U.S. manufacturers to return those "Made in the U.S.A." tags back onto products here and abroad, Liveris explained. Immelt added that companies have too long "underestimated the value of our workers here" and have followed a "lemming-like" path of outsourcing in order to compete. Now, however, with rising wages in emerging markets and increased interest in creating a strong domestic base, he expects to see jobs returning to the United States. "Jobs are the most important thing," he said. "We will see [them] coming back to us."

Just bringing these jobs back isnt the only issue facing these companies, though. As Immelt explained, with 95% of the worlds consumers and 70% of the GDP outside the United States, for American manufacturers to compete there is no choice but to do so on the global market. For a company trying to succeed today, "they need to win globally," he said. To accomplish this, they must apply these workers to the development of innovative products and innovative processes.

"Innovation is alive and well here," Liveris said. "We just have to get these pieces to work together."

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