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GE Calls For More Exports To Aid Economy

Jun 26, 2009 (Morning Edition)

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General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt is on a mission to improve U.S. exports. That's because General Electric doesn't just sell light bulbs and refrigerators to the American public. The company is a global giant in energy, transportation and financial services.

Immelt tells host Renee Montagne that the U.S. consumer can't be the "sole engine of economic growth" in the same way they've been over the past two decades. "And for this economy to recover fully, it's got to be led by business investment, and it's got to be led by exports," he says.

Trade deficits and the erosion of the manufacturing base in the U.S. are among the things that have to be fixed, he says. Immelt says the government will also have to focus on improving exports.

Uptick In Business During The Recession

"In the depths of this recession, we got bigger orders than at any other time in our history — and not one of those orders was from an airline in the United States," Immelt says. Some of the orders came in from Ethihad Airways in United Arab Emirates and airlines in Canada, and these engines were largely manufactured in the U.S.

"I think inside the company we're doing real decision-making about, have we outsourced too much capability in areas? And if so, what should we bring back and where should we put it?" he says.

Labor costs are also a factor. Immelt says: "In the places where you have relatively high labor costs, they've got to be more productive." The labor in any facility, he says, has to be able to compete on a "global basis."

The Government's Role

Immelt says the government can take steps to help improve productivity. "My sense is that there should be a real definitive desire to make the country more competitive and to try to make sure that we can export more because that's where the growth is going to be."

When it comes to stimulus money, GE may also be in a position to gain more government assistance.

Immelt says the lion's share of GE's business is its $45 billion stake in the energy sector and its $20 billion stake in health care. "And so insofar as there's going to be government stimulus that's in energy and health care, GE is a natural player for those type of investments because we've invested in [research and design] for decades," he says.

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