Obama Turns To GE's Immelt For Job-Creation Advice

President Obama and GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt at a company plant in Schenectady, New York, Jan. 21. 2011. i i

President Obama and GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt at a company plant in Schenectady, New York, Jan. 21. 2011. MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
President Obama and GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt at a company plant in Schenectady, New York, Jan. 21. 2011.

President Obama and GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt at a company plant in Schenectady, New York, Jan. 21. 2011.

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

White House officials may not be able all by themselves to create a slew of private-sector jobs.

But they definitely can create a White House advisory group with "jobs" in its title. And so they have.

Of course, President Obama has done much more than just renaming an advisory group of business executives, labor leaders and economists "the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness."

He also selected one of the biggest names in American business to chair it, General Electric Co.'s CEO, Jeffrey Immelt.

At an event with Immelt in a GE plant in Schenectady, NY, Obama said:

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.

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.

And so now, to help fulfill this new mission, I'm assembling a new group of business leaders and outside advisers. And I am so proud and pleased that Jeff has agreed to chair this panel, my council on jobs and competitiveness, because we think GE has something to teach businesses all across America.

The group Immelt will lead was formerly called the President's Economic Recovery Board when it was chaired by former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, another heavy hitter though a retired one.

The board's initial two-year term ends in February. It was reported earlier in the month that Volcker would be stepping down. Obama thanked Volcker on Friday:

... He offered unvarnished advice and he wasn't afraid to counter the conventional wisdom. He did a great service to this country.

Volcker was also controversial. He advocated strict controls on some of Wall Street's most lucrative but risky practices, including speculative trading for their own accounts, not those of clients. Such practices caused the ruin of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers and destabilized the financial markets.

The White House advisory council's name change is akin to what first responders do when they shift from rescue to recovery mode.

Now that the economy has been avoided the abyss to enter a recovery that's proven fairly stingy on the job-creation front, the new name makes clear that the focus will be on shifting the economy's job-creation machine into higher gear.

Immelt should be a major asset for the White House as it tries to underscore how business friendly and savvy it is.

Because of the Obama administration's efforts to regulate Wall Street and overhaul health care, the gripes from business executives last year about the administration intensified. One of the complaints was that the Obama administration had very few people at senior levels with serious business backgrounds.

Immelt's selection as chair is one in a series of actions the president has taken to repair that breach.

Earlier in the week Obama announced an administration wide review of unnecessary federal regulations that may be hampering economic growth and job creation.

Before that, Obama named the decidedly business friendly Clinton administration Commerce secretary, ex-banker William Daley, to be his new White House chief of staff.

By turning to Immelt, Obama gets on board the leader of one of the nation's most storied and dominant companies, with its global strategy of being a major player in any sector it competes in, a strategy set by its former and legendary leader, Jack Welch.

At number four on the Fortune 500 list, GE's business lines include the type of high tech manufacturing jobs that create high-value exports, the sort of jobs the administration wants to create many more of in the U.S. GE's products include jet engine manufacturing and electric generating turbines. The company also has a large finance arm so it has strong Wall Street ties as well.

It is, in short, a complicated global company whose CEO is perfectly placed to understand a complex world economy and who, in the pecking order of business leaders, is at the top.

As White House officials no doubt hoped, the sounds emanating from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce were encouraging. Part of a statement from the chamber's president, Tom Donohue:

President Obama's appointment of Jeffrey Immelt to head the Council on Jobs and Competitiveness is a promising step toward a renewed focus on creating jobs, boosting economic growth, and enhancing America's global competitiveness. Jeff is an excellent choice to lead this effort with his business experience and acumen, and understanding of global markets.

The ultimate test will not be the administration's words and intentions, but its actions. A more robust economy and stronger job growth will require regulatory restraint and reform, trade expansion, reducing deficits, reining in spending, strengthening our education system, and rebuilding our nation's infrastructure.

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