Jobs and Competitiveness Front and Center

President Obama Unveils Critical New Council

President Barack Obama’s announcement today that General Electric Co.’s chief executive, Jeffery Immelt, will lead a new Council on Jobs and Competitiveness sparks perhaps the most important undertaking now before the Obama administration: bringing public- and private-sector leaders (from companies large and small) together to confront the great economic challenges of our time.

Profound changes in the structure of the global economy over the past decade mean that our future competitiveness as a nation is far from assured. Given the mobility of technology and business jobs and business activity can be shifted to lower-cost markets, the long-term prosperity of American workers and businesses depends on our ability to remain competitive as a nation. The president’s new council aims to equip the United States to better compete in the new global economy.

The White House announced that “the council will focus on finding new ways to promote growth by investing in American business to encourage hiring, to educate and train our workers to compete globally, and to attract the best jobs and businesses to the United States.” Mr. Immelt is the right person to lead this council. In an op-ed published today in The Washington Post, Mr. Immelt noted “we all share a responsibility to drive national competitiveness, particularly during economic unrest. This is one of those times.”

In December, the Center for American Progress held an event in which it released a report, “A Focus on Competitiveness: Restructuring Policymaking for Results,” that called for bringing together the creative strengths of all parts of our economy to boost our economic competitiveness in both the short and long term. In the report, we called for the president to “establish a new advisory panel of leading experts in business, labor, science and technology, think tanks, and academia. This panel would develop policies to promote long-term competitiveness, and serve as a forum for ongoing engagement between policymakers and key stakeholders and experts of diverse backgrounds.”

Our panelists at the event all seemed to agree that there was an urgent need for the government to reorient itself to better ensure the future competitiveness of the American economy. Bill Daley, a panelist at the event and the current chief of staff to President Obama, said that “to address … the difficult issues, whether it’s taxes, entitlements, spending, trade … there’s got to be a better focus by government … and the rest of the world, surely, is not waiting for us to get our act together.”

Our nation has firm ground upon which to build this future vision. Our nation remains the world’s largest economy by far. Our entrepreneurial ethos continues to ensure that American ingenuity and creativity results in cutting-edge products and services creating new markets where no existed before. And our manufacturing prowess remains definitive because of the robust competitiveness of our economy in the face of global challenges.

By bringing together these talents in a concerted effort to ensure our future competitiveness and invest even more in our innovation economy, the president’s new Council on Jobs and Competitiveness can help prepare our nation for the new economic challenges of the 21st century. The administration will need to work closely with the council and use its advice to build a new comprehensive strategy to secure our nation’s future competitiveness. We look forward to offering further advice and analysis on how our nation can meet these new challenges in the coming years.

Sarah Rosen Wartell is the Executive Vice President at American Progress.

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