Caterpillar, Community Colleges, Exports and Infrastructure

Jim Owens, chairman and former CEO of Caterpillar, touched on several important topics for manufacturers, U.S. workers, and economic growth in his remarks Monday at the meeting of the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board.

Owens’ remarks about exports and job creation are particularly timely given The Wall Street Journal’s recent prominent report, “Americans Sour on Trade.” Americans aren’t souring on the jobs, are they?

On exports and jobs:

I told you earlier in the year I thought our exports this year would be up about 65 percent, and I raised that estimate a bit. It’s maybe going to be considerably better than that. We’re seeing a very sharp V recovery in most of the developing-market theater of the world economy to where global mining, global oil and gas industries are back at all-time record levels. We have hired — and mostly driven by exports — about 4,000 people directly in the U.S. already this year and we’ll be adding to that over the next few months as our schedules are continuing to ramp up. And our suppliers have probably added on the order of four times that number. And most of those are small and midsize companies.

On training and community colleges:

We, in fact, with our dealers have a partnership with about 12 of them that have a great curriculum to develop skilled service mechanics to do field service work. And these skills are transferable to other industries…Now we have four new plants being built in the United States and every one of those cities has community colleges partnering with us on the training that we need for the people coming into those facilities. So I couldn’t be more positive about this program.

On infrastructure:

I want to come back to infrastructure. I know it sounds self-serving, since we work with that industry, but we’ve got, in the skill trades and building construction in general, because of this very sharp downturn in housing, the unemployment rates are over 20 percent.

So there are a lot of skilled people ready to go to work that don’t have an opportunity. There’s clearly a lack of demand in this area. And I think we have a deficit in terms of investment in this country in the infrastructure we need to help us compete in the world market in the future.

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