The U.S. economy doesn't need more service-sector jobs with stagnant wage growth, and the energy sector must play a huge role in bringing back high-paying manufacturing jobs, says the CEO of a major electricity supplier to the Southeast.
During an interview Friday on CNBC's "Squawk Box," Southern Company CEO Tom Fanning said the unemployment rate and new jobs numbers have received too much attention. He suggested following a different metric, which would help people zero in on how much value those jobs actually create.
"I think that's actually really important but it's overwrought," Fanning said of the unemployment rate. "I would start focusing on where you're creating value in terms of wages and personal income."
Fanning said one big way to create growth in high-paying manufacturing jobs remains the energy sector, which has seen a boom in employment alongside growing domestic natural gas and oil industries. Driven by new extraction techniques, the energy sector can create jobs that produce what the economy needs: strengthening wages, he said.
Fanning described his proposal as a way to fight back against a "challenged" labor market.
"We've got to get the high-paying jobs into play," Fanning said. "I swear to you, in our lifetime and our parents' lifetime, energy is poised to do more there than at any time in recent history. ... It's important for Americans today to play offense in this otherwise challenged environment we hear about. This is a way to play offense, and I think people are thirsting for that."
Investments in energy would generate wide-reaching returns, Fanning added.
"Energy security breeds national security, breeds economic security," he said. "We can create an unassailable advantage for manufacturing in America, and grow jobs and personal incomes and make American lives better."
Fanning's comments came shortly before the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its jobs report for March, showing the economy added 192,000 jobs last month. The number was slightly lower than consensus estimates. The unemployment rate was 6.7 percent.
Without wage growth "you're not going to get the economic pickup, even if you see some jobs," Fanning said. "Even if you peel the onion and see what value those jobs are producing."
—By CNBC's Jeff Morganteen. The Associated Press contributed to this report.