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Trump Turns to Manufacturing Executives to Help Develop Jobs Plans
WASHINGTON — President Trump, who has repeatedly promised to bring jobs back to the United States, turned to manufacturing executives on Thursday to help him develop measures to do just that, giving powerful business leaders a potentially influential hand in shaping his still-evolving economic policies.
“My administration’s policies and regulatory reform, tax reform, trade policies will return significant manufacturing jobs to our country,” Mr. Trump said at the White House, sitting around a large table with members of his cabinet and two dozen manufacturing executives. “Everything’s going to be based on bringing our jobs back — the good jobs, the real jobs. They’ve left and they’re coming back. They have to come back.”
Mr. Trump has yet to outline specific proposals for overhauling the tax and regulatory systems, rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure or reshaping the work force, all of which would be essential to accomplishing his ambitious employment goals. He told the group that his campaign pledge to create jobs had played a major role in his winning the White House, and on Thursday he dispatched his cabinet and senior staff members to gather input from the executives on what those packages should look like.
The meetings unfolded less than a month before Mr. Trump plans to submit a budget blueprint that is expected to include a health care package to replace the Affordable Care Act, and to unveil a sweeping plan to cut taxes.
But the president suggested his job-creation strategy was still something of a blank slate.
“We’re going to then go through the room very, very carefully,” Mr. Trump said to the executives as reporters were escorted out of the State Dining Room so that he and the business leaders could meet privately. “We’re going to find out how we bring more jobs back.”
Manufacturing executives appeared elated to be asked.
“Thank you for the opportunity in bringing the language of business back to the White House,” said Andrew Liveris, chief executive of Dow Chemical. “I’m here to make chemistry sexy again.”
Marillyn A. Hewson, chief executive of Lockheed Martin, said she was “very excited about the fact that this is one of the first actions that you want to take on.”
“Do you think Hillary would have asked for $700 million?” Mr. Trump asked, referring to Hillary Clinton, his opponent in the presidential election. “Oh, boy. I assume you wanted her to win,” he added, as Ms. Hewson appeared to shake her head in silence.
The president also singled out Greg Hayes of United Technologies, parent company of Carrier, praising its decision last year to keep hundreds of jobs in the United States.
After Mr. Trump’s win in November, United Technologies, which had drawn his ire in early 2016 when Carrier announced plans to shift more than 2,000 factory jobs to Mexico from Indiana, agreed to keep about 800 jobs in Indianapolis that it had targeted for offshoring. The remainder will move to Mexico.
“Did you bring any more of those jobs back?” Mr. Trump asked Mr. Hayes on Thursday.
United Technologies and many of the other industrial firms Mr. Trump would like to see increase hiring in the United States are under intense pressure from Wall Street, especially activist investors and hedge funds, to generate faster earnings growth. That has forced companies like Mr. Hayes’s to embrace cost cuts, and to move production from the United States to cheaper locations like Mexico, although profit margins are high, and United Technologies’ stock has been a strong performer.
Shares of United Technologies are up 73 percent over the past decade, ahead of the benchmark Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index’s 66 percent gain over the same period.
At Emerson Electric, represented on Thursday by chief executive David Farr, the work force has shrunk to 103,500 from 131,600 over the past three years.
Campbell Soup, whose chief executive, Denise Morrison, sat a few chairs from Mr. Trump in the State Dining Room, has cut employment over the past three years to 16,500 from 20,000, or 18 percent.
“Good soup,” Mr. Trump said as Ms. Morrison introduced herself, though there was no mention of jobs.
The president appeared relaxed and in his element in the room of executives, at one point interrupting to ask Jeffrey R. Immelt, chief executive of General Electric, to tell a story about watching Mr. Trump make a hole-in-one on the golf course.
“I actually said I was the best golfer of all the rich people,” Mr. Trump said. "Then I got a hole-in-one, so it was sort of cool.”
Before the meeting, the executives huddled privately in small groups with cabinet secretaries and senior White House staff members in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building across from the West Wing, trading ideas for job creation initiatives. They complained about the ways in which current tax policy and uncertainty about the fate of federal regulations, particularly environmental restrictions, hurt their profitability and competitiveness. The comments came in portions of the meeting witnessed by reporters under ground rules requiring that individual speakers not be named.
Senior administration officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, wondered aloud about how to pay for a substantial infrastructure initiative — Mr. Trump has proposed $1 trillion — and how to replicate the success of countries like Germany in keeping manufacturing jobs while stepping up the pace of automation.
During a session on taxes and trade, executives and senior officials agreed that the business tax rate should be reduced and that the United States should move toward a so-called territorial tax system in line with many other nations, according to a White House official who described the meeting afterward on the condition of anonymity. Under such a system, countries tax corporations solely on the income generated within their borders.
But the executives were split over the plan’s components, the official said, with those whose companies depend on imported goods raising concerns about one approach being discussed that would effectively place a 20 percent tax on imports.
Mr. Trump has sent mixed signals about his position on the idea, which has been advocated by House Republicans, first expressing opposition, and then saying he was open to the possibility.
On Thursday, he said the approach could spur job creation, telling Reuters in an interview: “I certainly support a form of tax on the border.”
Nelson D. Schwartz contributed reporting from New York.
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