Caterpillar CEO to Obama: Get Serious About Job Creation
It may have a been a rollercoaster week for the U.S. stock market, but to the CEO of Caterpillar it's "steady as she goes and the wind is blowing fairly well at our backs."
Doug Oberhelman told CNBC Friday he's optimistic based on the heavy machinery company's day-to-day sales, and discussions with customers and distributors around the world.
The company's also hiring.
Caterpillar has hired 11,000 people since 2010, 300 in just the first 10 days of August, Oberhelman said.
"Every day we’re hiring people because our business is picking up," he said. "Our export business is strong. In the U.S., as weak as it is, we’ve seen such an inventory depletion [that] we’ve seen some buildback. It's from low levels, but any buildback flows right through to our factories."
Oberhelman is still worried about the macro economy. With 80 percent to 90 percent of Caterpillar's machinery exported, Oberhelman said if President Barack Obama is serious about job creation, he should start with getting free-trade agreements signed with Panama, Colombia, and South Korea.
These agreements, supported by Obama, stalled after Congress turned its attention to the debt-ceilingdebate, then adjourned for a month.
"Those are no-brainers right now," Oberhelman said about the agreements. "Our customers in Colombia incur a $300,000 tariff on our big trucks that go there. And guess who wants in badly? Our competitors from Japan and China...We want to keep those jobs and those are jobs right here in Illinois" where Caterpillar is based.
In the past, improving infrastructure, particularly at ports, airports, and roads, "helped in the short term create jobs," he said, and it made the U.S. "more competitive in the long term," he said.
As for the administration's latest infrastructure program as part of the economic stimulus package, "It got some legs and we saw some activity last year — and we're still seeing a little bit from that," he said.
But Oberhelman thinks similar programs worked better in China and elsewhere in the world than they did in the U.S.
"We either didn't do enough or didn't do it the right way," he said of the U.S. program.
There are two big issues, he said. First, it takes time to get an infrastructure program going and second, you have to find a way to pay for it.
"We have to look at creative private/public alternative means of financing, and nobody wants to hear about it, but it’s going to take sacrifice from everybody [because] it puts people back to work immediately," he said, and, "It's an investment in our competitiveness."
An earlier version of this story incorrectly quoted Oberhelman as saying that President Obama's infrastructure bank may be one way to pay for an infrastructure program. The idea of using an infrastructure bank, which would provide initial loans to get infrastructure projects going, was, in fact, a bipartisan proposal and Oberhelman did not endorse the idea.