By Kentucky Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Dave Adkisson
In his opening remarks to welcome President Barack Obama to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Chamber President Tom Donohue noted that the tradition of a president addressing the Chamber audience dates back to President William Howard Taft in 1912. Taft was the first president to recognize the real need for a central body to unite business leaders from across America, something he believed to be a major factor for economic growth.
As a U.S. Chamber board member, I had the opportunity to witness President Obama’s first address to the business community since being elected three years ago. And despite several contentious months between the president and the business community over such policies as health care and financial services legislation, I believe I may have witnessed a glimmer of that Taft-like appreciation for the business community’s role in our nation’s success.
Some have called the president’s rare visit to the Chamber his way of extending an olive branch to the business community. President Obama joked that if he had brought a fruitcake across the street to the Chamber after first moving into the White House, the relationship might have gotten off to a better start. But I would characterize the President’s address as more than an olive branch. In my view, it represents a major gesture – one that can lead to a more positive working relationship between the administration and the business community.
The President addressed an array of issues that have created much consternation for American businesses: “outdated and unnecessary regulations…burdensome corporate tax code with one of the highest rates in the world.” He recognized the need to reform these areas, as they represent major inhibitors to economic growth. He also noted additional areas that need improvement: encouraging innovation, rebuilding our infrastructure, and increasing exports. Two of his top agenda items are also among the Kentucky Chamber’s top priorities: global competition and strengthening education.
During his speech, the president did more than create a “to-do” list for his administration. He called on the business community to do its part. “Get off the sidelines” and “get in the game” were phrases used to inspire those companies with extra money “sitting on their balance sheets” to help expand the job force by hiring American workers.
Businesses in Kentucky and across the nation agree with many of the themes addressed by the President and are committed to pushing for policies that allow free enterprise to thrive. Businesses can do more in terms of investment and job growth, if the President follows through and advocates policies that lead to job creation. In addition to those areas, Congress and the President will need to address the nation’s budget deficit to help ensure global competitiveness. This will require a specific plan to address current spending levels. It also will also be critically important to address our nation’s energy needs in a balanced and thoughtful way. Without using all of our resources – coal, gas, nuclear and renewable – we will not have the energy to fuel the economic growth necessary for prosperity.
The Presidents gesture of walking across the street to speak at the Chamber’s headquarters is a good starting point that will help establish what had otherwise been a fractious dialogue between the business community and the White House. It is time for all of us to roll up our sleeves and take action on a jobs and competitiveness agenda. We all need this recovery to be a “jobs recovery” for American businesses and citizens to prosper.