Pella CEO Calls On Lawmakers To Raise Debt Ceiling

Robert Siegel talks with Patrick Meyer, president and CEO of Pella Windows and Doors. He's one of hundreds of business heads who signed a letter to President Obama and members of Congress, urging them to raise the debt ceiling.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

This week, several hundred American business leaders urged Congress and the president to do their job, raise the debt ceiling. Their letter is signed by CEOs of big businesses and small businesses, companies that produce goods and companies that provide services. Yesterday, we heard from the CEO of one of the smaller companies on that list, an Idaho box manufacturer that employs 45 workers.

Today, the CEO of a substantially larger firm, the Pella Corporation - Pella windows and doors. It's based in Pella, Iowa. It employs over 8,000 people. And the CEO is Patrick Meyer. Hiya.

Mr. PATRICK MEYER (CEO, Pella Corporation): Hello, Robert.

SIEGEL: And, first, why did you sign the letter?

Mr. MEYER: Well, Pella Corporation is a strong U.S. manufacturer with an 86-year history of creating good, stable manufacturing jobs. And we have 12 U.S. plants and employ, you know, over 8,000 employees. And we're part of an industry that really is struggling to recover from a very deep and long recession.

And so, that translates into consumer and business confidence that's still weak, and any risk to that confidence will have a negative impact on our industry.

SIEGEL: Is it fair to say that as construction goes, so goes Pella?

Mr. MEYER: It does and, you know, we're in two big business segments - on the commercial side and on the residential side. And both on the new construction side, as repair and remodeling; and so each has a different ebb and flow. One of thing that's actually positive for us right now is our commercial business, and it acts differently than the residential business.

SIEGEL: I believe the favorable tax treatment for getting cleaner, greener windows expired, didn't it? Did the demand fall off at that point? Or did it continue just as strong even without the tax benefit?

Mr. MEYER: No. You're right, Robert. And last year, there was a stimulus to replace your windows on the residential side. And that created a tremendous impact to our business. A lot of consumers responded to that. That really drove up our business till the end of last year.

And you're right, it terminated at the end of 2010 and we did see demand drop off. The consumers did pull back and so, 2011, the market has pulled back quite a bit.

SIEGEL: You know, people are always talking about what it's going to take for our companies, or manufacturers like Pella to hire more people and to expand. And the people talk about cutting your taxes, cutting your regulations, or just getting more demand for your product out there in the marketplace.

As you look ahead, what are your priorities? What would help you most of those possibilities?

Mr. MEYER: Well, I think it really centers around confidence. You know, over the last several years, the homeowners on the residential side are really de-leveraged. And so, their confidence in their ability to have their home be valued well, to invest back in that is very important to us. We see that as an opportunity that's really important - that the consumer has to have confidence that when they invest in their home, they're going to get a good return on that.

SIEGEL: You know, it is said - The Washington Post reported in a story about the letter that was sent to Congress and the president, that no mention was made of taxes in it, because they couldn't achieve unanimity on whether the letter should say: Don't include any tax increase at all or get realistic and include some tax increases. What do you think about that?

Mr. MEYER: Well, I think it's got to be around taking out waste and reducing costs. There's times that we can raise price or raise taxes. I don't think this is time. I think the time is to focus on taking the waste out of the system, looking at this holistically and continue that focus.

SIEGEL: Let me ask you something which I guess this comes from decades of living in Washington now, which is that when we speak to people about what they'd like Washington to do, it's very often quite neat and clean, and all is for the general good. But the very same people would then retain a lobbying firm whose job is to go to the Hill and to the federal agencies, and make sure that they get the best possible treatment they can possibly get, whether it's in an environment program or a tax break.

And all the people who were saying, you know, just be straight and do your job, are also saying and I'm paying a guy a zillion dollars to make sure that I get it played my way. What do you think?

Mr. MEYER: Well, I think - I'd say we always want to play a level playing field. To your point, it would need it to be understandable, fair and predictable. And then we can set up a business and plan for that. I do think there is a strong sense of the lobbyists in Washington. But what we need to count on, again, is just make it fair, understandable and predictable.

SIEGEL: Mr. Meyer, thank you very much for talking with us today.

Mr. MEYER: All right, Robert. Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's Patrick Meyer, who is the CEO of Pella windows and doors. He spoke to us from the headquarters in Pella, Iowa.

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