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Immelt to head new advisory board on job creation; Volcker to step down

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In remarks at a GE plant in Schenectady, N.Y., President Obama said the U.S. struck a deal with China during President Hu Jintao's visit to open American markets in China. The president said the deals with China will mean more than $45 billion in new business and 235,000 new jobs for American workers.

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Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, January 21, 2011; 5:32 PM

SCHENECTADY, N.Y. - President Obama launched an initiative Friday to spur U.S. job growth and global competitiveness, assigning those missions to a new economic advisory council and tapping a prominent, export-oriented business executive to head it.

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In announcing the appointment of General Electric chief executive Jeffrey Immelt to chair the council, Obama hailed him as an innovator who can advance the administration's goal of dramatically boosting U.S. exports as a way to create jobs.

In remarks at a GE plant in this city, the industrial giant's birthplace, Obama said Immelt "understands what it takes for America to compete in the global economy."

Immelt will lead the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, which is replacing the Economic Recovery Advisory Board that Obama created two years ago to help guide the government's response to the nation's economic crisis.

Obama said the new council reflects his administration's shift in focus from steering the nation out of recession to "putting our economy into overdrive."

The recovery board has been chaired by former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker. In a statement, Obama announced that Volcker will step down next month from his role advising the administration.

"For America to compete around the world, we need to export more goods around the world," Obama said after touring the GE turbine plant with Immelt. "That's where the customers are. It's that simple." He said his goal of doubling U.S. exports in five years is "on track," adding: "We're already up 18 percent, and we're just going to keep on going."

"We want an economy that is fueled by what we invent and what we build," Obama said. "We're going to build stuff and invent stuff. Now, nobody understands this better than Jeff Immelt."

By turning to Immelt, Obama chose one of the most prominent corporate chiefs in the country and a self-described Republican. Immelt's vocal support could prove helpful to Obama as he negotiates with the new Republican majority in the House over deficit reduction, jobs programs, the health-care law and regulation.

Immelt also bolsters Obama's business bona fides, following a string of recent appointees who had worked in corporate America. They include William M. Daley, a former J.P. Morgan Chase executive who was named White House chief of staff, and Gene Sperling, who formerly worked for Goldman Sachs and was appointed to head Obama's National Economic Council.

In his speech in Schenectady, the president repeatedly highlighted the issue of competitiveness, a major new theme that the administration has rolled out over the last several days and one that will be featured prominently in Obama's State of the Union address next week. He said it was critical that U.S. companies are innovative enough to sell their goods abroad and therefore create jobs at home.

Volcker, 83, at times expressed frustration with his limited ability to influence economic policy within the administration. And his ideas were generally not embraced by the White House economic team until the president endorsed his idea to limit the activities of major Wall Street firms - the so-called Volcker Rule.


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