Company executives including UBS AG Chairman for the Americas Robert Wolf and Honeywell International Inc. Chairman David Cote opened a discussion with President Barack Obama today aimed at fostering cooperation and finding ways to spur U.S. economic growth.
The meeting at Blair House across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House was convened by the president as part of an outreach to business and to confer on issues such as education, exports, regulation and the budget deficit. It comes as his administration works to heal a strained relationship with the business community and collaborate on ways to boost jobs, with the nation’s unemployment rate at 9.8 percent.
Obama is generating more optimism among CEOs after a series of business-friendly overtures, including a deal to extend Bush-era tax cuts and efforts to boost exports such as a U.S.-South Korea free-trade agreement and a loosening of controls on some technology sales.
“Things were said on both sides that shouldn’t have been and did not further the opportunity to work together,” Cote said as he arrived at Blair House. “This is our chance to do that. I give the president a lot of credit for being the man big enough to say let’s restart, let’s work on how do we create a more vibrant economy.”
The discussions will cover “our shared mission of building a strong economy for the long run,” Obama said before heading into the meeting. The topics include the tax code, government regulations and what can be done to encourage them to spend and invest “when they’re holding nearly $2 trillion on their books.”
In addition to Cote, several of the executives said they were ready to work with the administration toward the goal of boosting the economy.
“I think we need private and public sector working together to move this country forward,” Wolf said as he arrived. “I’m looking forward to hearing an engaging conversation.”
DuPont Co. Chief Executive Officer Ellen Kullman said the meeting is part of a continuing dialogue between the government and business.
“It’s time to get down to some of the real issues we’re facing,” she said.
Momentum on Economy
Motorola Inc. co-CEO Greg Brown said there’s “great momentum” to move the economy forward. He cited the tax compromise, which may get through Congress this week, and the trade deal with South Korea.
“I think that the political structure is such that I see a lot of compromise, I see a lot of movement,” he told reporters before walking into the meeting with the president.
Brown said he’s pleased that the administration is seeking “continued engagement with the business community with a sense of urgency.”
The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose for a seventh day in its longest rally since 2006, up 0.1 percent to 1,243.33 as of 10:14 a.m. in New York after slipping 0.2 percent earlier. The Dow rose 31.26 points, or 0.3 percent, to 11,507.8. Both gauges are trading at their highest levels since September 2008.
Twenty executives are taking part in this morning’s session, which was closed to the press. Along with Wolf, Cote, Kullman and Brown, those invited include Google Inc. CEO Eric Schmidt, Intel Corp. CEO Paul Otellini and Comcast Corp. CEO Brian Roberts. Other CEOs attending are PepsiCo Inc.’s CEO Indra Nooyi, Dow Chemical Co.’s Andrew Liveris, Cisco Systems Inc.’s John Chambers and Kenneth Chenault of American Express Co., Duke Energy Corp. CEO James E. Rogers, Eli Lilly & Co. President and CEO John Lechleiter, and NextEra Energy Inc. CEO Lew Hay.
A number of the executives attending serve on several of Obama’s outside advisory boards, including Wolf, Cote, General Electric Co. Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Immelt, United Parcel Service Inc. CEO Scott Davis, Boeing Co. CEO James McNerney, Penny Pritzker, who led Obama’s campaign fundraising effort and is chairman of Pritzker Realty Group, Mark Gallogly, founder and managing partner of Centerbridge Partners LP and venture capitalist John Doerr, partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
Obama has been seeking to strengthen relationships with the business community following criticism from some executives and business groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, of the administration’s overhaul of the health-care system and financial regulations. He said private companies are crucial to the U.S. climbing out of the worst recession since the Great Depression.
“I am looking forward to getting good ideas from them, but I am definitely going to talk to them about how we can get more hiring out there,” Obama said as he walked to Blair House.
A survey by the Business Roundtable, which comprises 193 chief executives whose companies employ more than 12 million people, found that CEO optimism during the fourth quarter climbed to the highest levels since 2006 amid a brighter outlook for sales, investment and hiring.
The economic outlook index rose to 101, the Washington-based group said yesterday. Readings higher than 50 coincide with an economic expansion. The gauge increased from a third-quarter reading of 86.
The guest list includes executives the White House has consulted in the past.
GE’s Immelt, who heads the world’s biggest provider of power-generation equipment, is a member of the Presidential Economic Recovery Advisory Board and was in India with Obama last month.
Another frequent visitor is Liveris of Dow, the world’s second-biggest chemical company. Liveris was at the White House last week for a meeting of Obama’s export council as well as a White House dinner May 4 and another administration forum on jobs and energy Dec. 3, 2009.
Nooyi has been to the executive mansion for consultations. Like Immelt, she was one of the guests at a White House dinner Feb. 23 before Obama gave an address to the Business Roundtable and she was among the executives who made last month’s trip to India.