What Will It Take To Get Companies Hiring Again?

Sep 8, 2011

President Obama on Thursday will outline for Congress his new jobs-creation plan amid the grimmest employment picture in decades, with private sector hiring at a virtual standstill and state and local governments cutting jobs by the thousands to plug budget shortfalls.

The president is expected to outline a jobs package worth at least $300 billion that includes temporary tax cuts, an extension of unemployment insurance, new spending on infrastructure such as roads and bridges, and aid to states to keep people employed. He is also expected to announce new tax breaks for businesses.

The president's speech comes on the heels of last week's dismal Labor Department report on unemployment, which showed no new net jobs creation in August and an unemployment rate stuck at 9.1 percent. The department also reported this week that companies had advertised more job openings in July than they had in nearly three years, but weekly applications for unemployment benefits rose.

Jumpstarting private-sector employment is considered imperative if the U.S. economy is to recover. NPR spoke with four CEOs about what it would take to create jobs in their respective industries.

What are the concerns in your industry that have prevented hiring?

BOB MITCHELL, chairman and CEO of Mitchell & Best home builders in Rockville, Md.: "The biggest problem as I see it is a lack of consumer confidence. Consumers right now are in a complete state of uncertainty. People don't make big decisions, such as buying a new house, when they're uncertain."

SALLY SMITH, CEO of the Minneapolis-based restaurant chain Buffalo Wild Wings, points to several things, including fuel costs, price increases in commodities such as corn and beans, and "uncertainty around government mandates and regulations."

"When I talk to fellow restaurateurs, they don't know what impact health care is going to have on them. It's near the end of 2011; some of the new regulations [such as rules on wages and tips] don't come into effect until 2012," she says. "It's very difficult to plan. No one knows what's going to happen."

What will it take to get things back on track for your industry?

JOAN MAXWELL, co-founder and president of Edenton, N.C.-based Regulator Marine Inc.: "What it's really going to take is a flow of credit to consumers and small businesses. We do not sell our boats directly to the end-user. We sell them through a dealer network, so if the dealer cannot get credit, he cannot purchase our product and sell it to the consumer."

MASON HOLLAND, chairman and CEO of Albuquerque, N.M.-based Eclipse Aerospace Inc.: "It's not because of a lack of money. There's tons of money sitting on the sidelines in corporate America that's just not getting invested because there's no visibility as to where the economy is going over the next couple of years."

MITCHELL: Under Dodd-Frank [act], regulations are going into effect that are making bankers petrified. Congress is also talking about implementing Qualified Residential Mortgages that would require 20 percent down payment to get a home loan. That should be taken off the table right now. Twenty percent down payments may have been all right 50 years ago, but the price of land and the price of houses has gone up faster than people's wages, and young people cannot afford it now."

What would you like to hear President Obama say in his speech?

MITCHELL: "Housing has always been the thing that pulled the economy out in the past. So far, the president has done very little to benefit housing. We hear him saying that those shovel-ready projects weren't as shovel-ready as first thought. I'm all for roads and bridges, but they take time. In housing, it doesn't take that long to get going again, and the reason we can't get going is that the number of people who are underwater in their houses or eventually facing foreclosure is so high. We need to do something about that."

MAXWELL: "What I would like to hear him say is that in order to stimulate jobs, we need to stimulate a need for the products being built. In order to do that, people have to have credit — they've got to be able to buy it in some way, shape or form. Just going out and creating jobs, you can't do it without demand. Demand drives the job market."

HOLLAND: "The more the government ... takes a position to sort of stay out of the way, it's probably better. Corporations don't really care what the policy is as long as the policy is stable.

"So now we are in this period of an unstable policy," she says. "We don't know what's going to happen — you don't know what's going to happen with the tax situation for corporations over the next 12 to 24 to 36 months. I think any kind of corporate tax cuts would stimulate the economy and help the aviation industry immensely."

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