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How Increasing Exports Would Create Jobs

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

President Obama will be in upstate New York today touring a General Electric factory and showcasing that company's successes. Mr. Obama just named GE's chief executive the head of a new panel on jobs and competitiveness. GE boss Jeff Immelt has been speaking about the need to focus on manufacturing and increase the country's exports.

Here's NPR's Chris Arnold.

CHRIS ARNOLD: In 1969, manufacturers employed 25 percent of American workers. These days, it's less than 10 percent. You look at a chart and it's just a steady and relentless downward trend.

Mr. FRANK VARGO (Vice president, National Association of Manufacturers): In employment. Not in manufacturing.

ARNOLD: Frank Vargo is a vice president at the National Association of Manufacturers. He says that people see job declines and they think that manufacturing itself is dying. In fact, he says, if you look at the products sold or shipped by U.S. manufacturers...

Mr. VARGO: In 2008, we shipped $5.5 trillion of product, an all-time record. So while employment steadily goes down, our sales or production steadily goes up.

ARNOLD: A big part of the reason is better technology. Smarter and better machines mean that U.S. factories can make more with fewer workers. That's why, as the president looks for ways to create manufacturing jobs, Vargo says he needs to look at increasing exports to boost sales.

Mr. VARGO: People say oh, you know, everything's made in China. They're not looking at the stuff that we make: the locomotives, the aircraft, the engines, the plastics and the pharmaceuticals. But the domestic market for manufactured goods, it grows slowly. The fast markets are overseas. We've got to sell overseas.

ARNOLD: Vargo says that means getting other countries to knock down trade barriers on everything from U.S. chemicals to Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

Chris Arnold, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR correspondent Chris Arnold is based in Boston. His reports are heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. He joined NPR in 1996 and was based in San Francisco before moving to Boston in 2001.