Obama hosts CEOs whose companies are investing, creating jobs in the U.S.

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama played the role of business pitchman Tuesday, saluting executives whose companies have chosen to gain or expand their footprint in the United States.

Obama, at the White House, welcomed leaders of 11 foreign and U.S.-based firms, including Canadian legwear maker Richelieu, that have opened new plants in the United States or brought back overseas operations.

Obama cited low energy costs, a productive workforce and a “dynamic economy” as major U.S. attractions for corporate investment.

“We want folks to know this is a great place to do business,” he told the executives, including Ericsson North America chief executive Angel Ruiz and Lufthansa chairman and chief executive Carsten Spohr.

The roundtable discussion by the executives and top White House officials was part of a week devoted to promoting foreign investments in the United States.

Obama is showcasing the effect of an improving economy on job growth during a congressional election year that finds the public still anxious about employment and financial well-being.

“The rest of the world is seeing the benefits of ‘Made in America,’ and for good reason,” said Jeff Zients, a top Obama adviser and director of the National Economic Council. “Our competitive advantage is very clear.”

Obama’s attention to the influx of foreign business coincided with new concern in Congress with a trend of U.S. companies seeking to set up overseas headquarters in part to avoid U.S. tax rates. A group of 14 senators on Tuesday introduce legislation that would set a two-year moratorium on the ability of corporations to acquire offshore companies in order to shift their addresses to low-tax foreign countries.

The practice, which drew recent prominence when Pfizer Inc. sought to take over British drugmaker AstraZeneca, can cost the U.S. government billions of dollars in lost tax revenue.

The administration, in its 2015 budget, also proposed legislation to dissuade companies from making such transactions.

Seeking to attract business, White House advisers said an effort by Obama to streamline U.S. outreach to foreign companies has resulted in $18 billion in new business investments in the United States in 17 different states and territories. They said the program, called SelectUSA, has helped nearly 500 businesses since October.

Obama announced he will hold a SelectUSA summit next March, with a goal of attracting more than 2,500 people from around the world to discuss job creation and the appeal of investing in the United States.

According to a report prepared by the White House and the Commerce Department, U.S. affiliates of foreign corporations pay average compensation that is higher than the average compensation for workers in the economy as a whole.

Obama advisers point to a survey last fall by the Boston Consulting Group, a global management consulting firm, which found that 54 per cent of executives of large U.S.-based manufacturing companies said they planned on or were considering moving production facilities back to the U.S. from China. That was up from 37 per cent a year earlier.

And the latest survey of confidence in foreign direct investment by A.T. Kearney, another global management consulting firm, found that the United States had regained the top spot as an investment destination for the first time since 2001.

The executives invited to Tuesday’s White House round-table discussion were from Ford, chip manufacturer GlobalFoundries, toy maker K’nex, South Korea’s Hankook Tire, German airline Lufthansa, Swedish technology firm Ericsson, Danish biotechnology company Novozymes, Canadian apparel maker Richelieu, Belgian materials technology company Umicore, French high-tech company Safran and Switzerland-based Zurich Insurance Group.

In 2011, Richelieu invested $7 million to rescue a failing sock company called International Legwear Group based in Burke County, North Carolina, an area particularly hard hit by the recession. Three years later the business is thriving and Richelieu has decided to invest an additional $24 million to open a new state-of-the-art U.S. facility that will bring back production and ultimately create more than 200 new jobs, the company says.

— With files from The Canadian Press