Selleck said the most important thing Washington could do to improve the economy is “get its fiscal house in order” by adopting a debt-reduction plan that would cut spending and overhaul the tax code to raise more money. But he said he would also like to see more funds plowed into preparing ports for the super-ships expected to begin traversing a newly expanded Panama Canal in 2014.
Smaller firms are desperate for workforce development. Optimax, a company just outside Rochester, N.Y., that made lenses for the Mars rover Curiosity, has 25 open positions. President Mike Mandina said Optimax’s growth has been “absolutely limited” by the number of skilled workers emerging from local schools.
“Any region committed to developing a highly skilled workforce is going to excel,” Mandina said, “whether they’re milking cows or making precision optics.”
None of the executives interviewed cited the level of taxation as an overriding issue, though they agreed that the United States should simplify its code and bring the corporate rate — now the highest in the developed world, at 35 percent — in line with other countries. Both candidates have proposed to do so, with Obama calling for a corporate rate of 28 percent and Romney proposing 25 percent.
Meanwhile, Spiegel and others criticized the recent push by both parties to create tax breaks explicitly tied to hiring.
“You don’t hire people just because there’s a tax credit there,” he said. “You hire people if there is demand . . . to produce more.”
Demand, of course, is the most fundamental factor in a company’s decision to create jobs. For Michelin, Selleck said, the demand for giant tires is driven by the demand for big vehicles to extract raw materials, which, in turn, is driven by rising wealth in India, China and Brazil, where millions of people can suddenly afford cars, air conditioners and other consumer goods. For Siemens, Spiegel said, the demand for gas turbines is driven by a trend among electric utilities away from coal and toward cheaper, cleaner natural gas.
Plans for economic growth
But demand is not easy for politicians to create, particularly when the government is low on cash. Obama says he would spur growth by keeping tax rates low for most Americans and making investments in education, infrastructure and clean energy, paid for with higher taxes on the wealthy.
Spiegel, who attended a White House event in January on bringing jobs back to the United States, praised the president’s focus on increasing exports and recasting federal job-training programs. Obama has made manufacturing a centerpiece of his campaign, and he cited Siemens worker Jackie Bray in his State of the Union address as an example of the power of investment in job training.