The U.S. needs comprehensive tax reform "so that U.S. corporations, small, medium-size and large, can have a level playing field," Coca-Cola Chairman Muhtar Kent told CNBC Thursday.
"It's long overdue," he said during the Allen & Co. media conference in Sun Valley, Idaho. Kent said that from a long-term perspective, it is tax reform "that keeps the United States competitive" with foreign corporations.
Along with simplifying the tax code, simplify bureaucracy to make it easier for business to operate, Kent said. "We have to make life less cumbersome and business less cumbersome so it can be more competitive."
To do that there must be a "closer networking and collaboration between government, business and civil society than we have today," he said, adding that state and local governments have a "huge role to play and I do believe that we have low-hanging fruit in terms of what still can be done for small and medium enterprises, which is really the backbone."
Kent said two out of three U.S. jobs have been created by small companies that have only been around a few years.
Meanwhile, for every job Coca-Cola creates "usually there's about 10 jobs down the supply chain" created in advertising, manufacturing and refrigeration, among others. "So we need to make sure that multiplier effect is much stronger than it is."
Coca-Cola is continuing to invest in the U.S., western Europe and emerging markets in China, India and South America. Kent said the company ended 2009 with 700,000 employees globally and by the end of this year that number will rise to 770,000.
"We're investing in the western world [and] the emerging world," he said. "The key is to grow in a balanced way."
However, in the U.S. it can't be business doing all the investment, Kent said. "There's a lot of responsibility, I think, on governors attracting investment to provide the playing field and the right incentives and the right atmosphere in that state for pulling investments in," he said.
New Jersey is one such state, thanks to some of the "progressive policies" of Gov. Chris Christie, Kent said, adding, "We're just building a major facility which will keep another thousand jobs in New Jersey."
The global economy is "still mixed" and so it is "incumbent on business leaders to find the code for growth," Kent said. "How do you find that code for growth? Through new ways of doing business, through new networks, through a new way of engaging with your stakeholders, through innovation and through reinvention...You can't stay where you are. you either go down or you go up."