Obama tells business leaders they are key to job growth

President Barack Obama kicked off a White House jobs forum on Thursday by saying he is 'open to every demonstrably good idea' to reverse the worst job losses in decades. (Dec. 3)
By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 3, 2009; 3:04 PM

President Obama kicked off a much-anticipated jobs summit Thursday, telling 130 business leaders and others summoned to the White House for the afternoon-long session that private business, not government, holds the key to future job growth.

"Ultimately, true economic recovery is only going to come from the private sector," Obama said.

Obama is hosting the forum amid increasing calls from lawmakers of his own party to develop a plan to combat the nation's highest unemployment rate in 26 years, which is growing into both an economic and political liability.

Anxious congressional Democrats want Obama to endorse an employment package that would use federal money to create jobs directly. Instead, Obama and his economic advisers, concerned about balancing the need to create jobs against the need to reduce the staggering $1.4 trillion federal budget deficit, have focused on measures that allow them to use government money to leverage private investment.

The participants separated into six groups to debate specific issues, including creating more "green" jobs, expanding U.S. exports, boosting infrastructure investment and helping small businesses.

"We're looking for fresh perspectives and new ideas," Obama said.

Speaking to the full group before the start of a half dozen break-out sessions, Obama defended his economic record, saying that a $787 billion economic stimulus package and huge financial bailouts of the financial and auto industries have dramatically slowed the pace of job losses and caused the overall economy to begin growing again for the first time in a year.

But with the nation's jobless rate at 10.2 percent and projected to rise well into next year, he acknowledged that more must be done to stem unemployment. Obama said he is "not interested in taking a wait-and-see approach when it comes to creating jobs," but he added that the ability of the government to spur job-creation is limited.

Several participants said they welcome the opportunity to share their job-creation ideas. David Ickert, a senior executive of Air Tractor, a Texas firm that manufactures planes used in agriculture and fire suppression, said he would like to see the administration do more to free up financing for export-oriented firms.

"Exporting is one of the areas that has a lot more potential," he said. "It can create jobs and does not cost a lot of money to fund. There just has not been enough attention paid to it from a policy standpoint.

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