GE CEO: Germany points the way for a U.S. manufacturing revival

In an April 2 interview with Fareed Zakaria on CNN’s “Global Public Square,” GE CEO Jeff Immelt made the case for looking to Germany for clues to reviving manufacturing in hard-hit areas in the U.S. Midwest. Immelt pointed to Germany’s “great training, great infrastructure…export bank [and] tax policy.”

As the U.S. debates whether trade policy has a role to play in raising the share of manufacturing in the economy, the important contribution of home-grown tools like education, training, fiscal policy, and government investment needs to be at the center of the conversation.

Below is an excerpt from the exchange, and the video can found here. —Peter Rashish


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ZAKARIA: I know you think very broadly about these issues and you’re very close to that world of the steel worker, the auto parts — and you’ve seen the anger and anxiety in, you know, Ohio and Michigan and Pennsylvania. What do you think the answer is?

Is there a way to re-industrialize the Upper Midwest or are these just — you know, that’s a world that’s gone away?

IMMELT: Look, I think there’s a way to create more manufacturing jobs in the country. I don’t know exactly where it is. And the reason why they’re good jobs is, look, if somebody is working for G.E. and they’re making 25, 30 bucks an hour and, let’s say, they lost that job because the markets are terrible or things like that. They don’t go to another job down the street that pays them the same amount. They go to a job that pays $15 an hour. And that’s why people are so angry.

So I stand back, you know, Fareed, and say, let’s look at Germany. Germany has high wages; 24 percent of their labor is manufacturing, 9 percent in the U.S. What do they do? Great training, great infrastructure; they have an export bank; they have a tax policy that encourages it. The banks have to lend money to small business, right?

ZAKARIA: Let me…

IMMELT: So — so…

ZAKARIA: You have a highly intrusive government that both demands certain things of industry and pays for it. I mean, during the recession the German government paid firms to not lay off workers.

IMMELT: Look, I — the reason why I raise the case is that we all want to migrate right away to Mexico and China, when we can look in the mirror and see another country that actually has won, is winning in this regard.

Now, look, we have 5 percent of the people in the world in the U.S., 25 percent of the global economy. We’re not going to sustain that unless we know how to make things here and sell them every place in the world, and that’s where the most valuable manufacturing jobs are created.

The views expressed are those of the author(s) alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies.

Peter S. Rashish

Senior Fellow; Director, Geoeconomics Program

Peter S. Rashish, who counts over 25 years of experience counseling corporations, think tanks, foundations, and international organizations on transatlantic trade and economic strategy, is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Geoeconomics Program at AICGS. He also writes The Wider Atlantic blog.

Mr. Rashish serves as a Senior Advisor to Transnational Strategy Group LLC, a Washington-based international business and government affairs consultancy, and to the Brussels-based European Policy Centre. He has served as Vice President for Europe and Eurasia at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, where he spearheaded the Chamber’s advocacy for an ambitious and comprehensive trade agreement between the United States and the European Union, which was officially launched as the “Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership,” and developed new engagements in the continent’s emerging markets.

Previously, Mr. Rashish was a Senior Advisor for Europe at McLarty Associates, and has held positions as Executive Vice President of the European Institute, on the Paris-based staff of the International Energy Agency, and as a consultant to the World Bank, the German Marshall Fund of the United States, the Atlantic Council, the Bertelsmann Foundation, and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. Mr. Rashish has testified on the euro zone and U.S.-European economic relations before the House Financial Services Subcommittee on International Monetary Policy and Trade and the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe and Eurasia and has advised two U.S. presidential campaigns.

He earned his B.A. from Harvard College and an M.Phil. in international relations from Oxford University. He speaks French, German, Italian, and Spanish.