GREENVILLE -- The chairman of President Barack Obama's jobs and competitiveness council said Wednesday there is no magic potion to jobs creation, but the panel is devising pragmatic plans to put people back to work.
General Electric Co. Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt spoke Wednesday with employees and reporters during a visit to his company's South Carolina Upstate gas turbine plant, which employs 3,300 people including 1,700 engineers.
Immelt said his four months on the Obama advisory panel has taught him that even his company can be held accountable for where it creates jobs. He said the panel is working on devising a hundred different business plans for every sector of the economy, with practical steps to help create jobs.
"It's very unlikely the jobs council's going to find something that will be a magic potion to create jobs," he said. But he noted there are things that can be done. For example, he said, America suffers from a shortage of engineers.
He said the panel has asked all Fortune 500 companies to double their hiring of engineers over the coming year, but that the two dozen business leaders in the group believe even more can be done to educate, train and hire engineers.
GE will hire around 1,000 engineers during that time, Immelt told reporters in comments later in the day.
GE relies on engineers to develop innovative products and produce the items that can be exported around the world. The gas turbines at the Greenville plant are all produced for export, Immelt said. India and Saudi Arabia are its biggest customers.
Immelt, a frequent visitor to the Charleston area who owns a vacation home on Kiawah Island, said all high-tech firms should double their hiring of engineers.
"That would send a powerful message," Immelt said, adding it would tell technical schools, universities and workers that an education leads to employment.
"This is the way to generate job security," he said.
The economy has generated only 18,000 net jobs in June and the unemployment rate rose to 9.2 percent, the government reported last week. In May, employers added only 25,000 jobs.
Immelt said, however, that for a huge multinational company like GE, "business is good."
Growing energy demands in countries like Saudi Arabia, Brazil and Russia result in interest in his company's energy-related products, including alternative energy sources like wind and solar power products.
Immelt also defended his role on the president's panel, saying American business leaders should help their country. Obama tapped Immelt to lead the Council on Jobs and Competitiveness in January.
"I think there's nothing wrong with American business leaders helping their own country, particularly at a time like this," he said.
Asked about the fuss over the National Labor Relations Board investigating aircraft maker Boeing Co. for opening a plant in South Carolina, Immelt said he was totally supportive of Boeing in the matter, given that the company is a major jobs creator.
"I can't see one reason why we'd want to go down that road," he said. Immelt added that he felt his company has worked on improving relationships with unions, saying, "They are hungry for jobs."
Getting good union-employer relationships requires an adjustment, he said.
"It's taken change on both sides," Immelt said.
The NLRB sued Chicago-based Boeing in April, saying the aeronautics giant illegally retaliated against unionized Washington state workers when it opened a 787 passenger jet manufacturing line in South Carolina, a right-to-work state.
Boeing hopes more than 1,000 non-union workers will eventually build three of the aircraft per month at the $750 million South Carolina plant, the largest industrial investment in the state's history.