As head of what he called “the world’s largest infrastructure company,” Jeff Immelt was preaching to the choir in North Charleston on Wednesday.
The General Electric Co. chief executive officer said cities or regions that invest in making their airports and seaports more competitive are “going to get jobs” as U.S. businesses increasingly look to overseas markets for growth.
“This is absolutely paramount,” Immelt said at the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce’s economic outlook conference.
He singled out China as a prime example of how a government can get behind those sorts of big-ticket public-works projects and catapult a country from backwater to boomtown in short order.
It just so happens that Charleston is working to upgrade its airport and deepen its harbor, a point not lost on the audience of about 500. The State Ports Authority wasted no time in parlaying the GE CEO’s comments into a message to promote its dredging effort and other investments on social media.
“Lesson US can learn from China? Invest in infrastructure — like ports — for job creation,” the SPA said on Twitter.
In a broad-based speech about the future of U.S. business, Immelt stressed that it is critical for the nation, states and metropolitan regions to maintain a laser-beam focus on the myriad issues that influence how well they compete for jobs and investment.
“You’re not going to get jobs without competitiveness. ... There’s no other way out,” he said.
A modern infrastructure backbone is just part of the recipe. Another key ingredient is education, he said, noting that the U.S. needs to improve its dismal world rankings in important disciplines like math and science.
Immelt also expressed concerns about the growing gap between job openings and the number of qualified applicants. As chairman of the now-expired President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, he said he would like to see more emphasis on identifying and teaching bankable work skills.
The GE chief has long ties to South Carolina, including a home on Kiawah Island, where he was vacationing in 2000 when he was told that he won the top job at the company founded by Thomas Edison.