President Barack Obama claimed the role of champion of U.S. businesses on Jan. 21, vowing to slip the economy into "overdrive" and enlisting corporate America in his crusade to create jobs.
"The past two years were about pulling our economy back from the brink," Obama said after touring a GE plant in upstate New York, which manufactures hardware for solar, steam and wind power energy industries. "The next two years, our job now, is putting our economy into overdrive," Obama said, in a thematic shift for his presidency ahead of next week's State of the Union address.
"For America to compete around the world, we need to export more goods around the world," he said, in a city where Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb, founded the precursor to GE.
"We're going back to Thomas Edison's principles. We're going to build stuff and invent stuff," Obama said, arguing that specific administration policies had helped to spur small businesses and job growth.
Obama critics frequently complained during his first two years in office that the president disdained the business community, as he pursued historic health care reforms and regulatory changes that alienated the corporate sector.
But in recent weeks Obama has repeatedly reached out to business leaders, as he strives to bring down an unemployment rate of 9.4%.
On Jan. 21, he styled his major recent foreign policy initiatives as a bid to expand U.S. business opportunities to spur jobs growth at home, including his trips to India and South Korea last year, and his White House state visit this week with Chinese President Hu Jintao.
"In an ever-shrinking world, our success ... will be determined not only by what we build in Schenectady, but also what we can sell in Shanghai," said Obama, who has vowed to double U.S. exports in five years.
Obama said that his new jobs and competitiveness panel would find new ways to encourage the private sector to hire and invest and to train workers to compete globally.
He said that Jeffrey Immelt, the new head of the panel, "understands what it takes for America to compete in the global economy." Immelt is no stranger to the impact of severe financial crises, having had to steer GE through tough times, which caused heavy losses at GE Capital.
He has however made foreign markets the underpinning of the vast firm's strategy, to the point where international activities now make up more than half its revenue. The firm is especially aggressive in China and Russia, two major focal points of Obama's foreign policy.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2011