SUSIE GHARIB: So, what`s corporate America`s take on the economy? To answer that, we turned to the CEO of Dow Chemical (NYSE: DOW), Andrew Liveris. He runs one of the largest chemical companies in the world.
As we continue our series “How to Fix the Economy,” I talked with Liveris, and began by asking him if he sees the global economy going into recession.
ANDREW LIVERIS, CHMN. & CEO, DOW CHEMICAL: So far we haven`t seen a recessionary turn down apart from the Japans and the Greeces and the economies of Southern (NYSE: SO) Europe. The rest of the world has continued to grow, albeit at a jagged and slow pace in the developed world.
GHARIB: We saw once again today the connection between Europe`s problems on the U.S.
GHARIB: Are you seeing the problems in Europe impacting your orders?
LIVERIS: No, not yet. We`ve seen really in essence a two-speed economy in Europe now for the better part of two years. Germany and German-speaking countries have had robust demand. And we haven`t seen anything that slowed that or changed that in the last, let`s call it, weeks and even days.
Of course, Southern (NYSE: SO) Europe and, you know, latter day — beyond building construction in countries like Italy and Spain are a new concern. We`re not overly exposed to those markets as in new (ph) sectors.
GHARIB: What do you think is the fix for Europe`s problems?
LIVERIS: Well, the banks have to work across borders and have to be supported by their sovereigns. But if it is a sovereign system failing, then the banks have to be almost ordered to support the other sovereigns by their central bankers. That`s the fix.
And to give us confidence. I mean, this is all about confidence. You can see what happens to a market when you get lack of confidence and lack of certainty.
GHARIB: We got more evidence today that the labor market is still very weak. Are you hiring?
LIVERIS: We are. We are hiring because we`re investing. We`re investing in this economy and we`re investing for two very different reasons. One is shale gas and what that means to the United States in terms of competitiveness of energy, and in our case feedstock. So we`re building new facilities in Texas and Louisiana, $4 billion worth. So we`re hiring for that.
And in Michigan — in particular in Michigan, but in other states, we`re investing in the alternative energy economy, batteries and battery materials and solar panels. And in Michigan that has been quite a welcome thing because we are retooling displaced automotive workers, giving them through community college programs, we`re retraining them, re-skilling them, and getting them to work in our new factories.
So yes, we are hiring.
GHARIB: What about other businesses that aren`t hiring in a big way like Dow? What do they need to see happen? What is the missing element?
LIVERIS: One word, certainty. So policies and policies that we can count on in the regulatory world, the tax world, energy world, trade, all these things very necessary work agenda items in Washington.
GHARIB: You know, as you know today we got a report showing a significant drop in U.S. manufacturing activity. And you say in your book, “Make It in America,” that manufacturing is critical to reinventing the economy. What do we have to do to get companies to build in America?
LIVERIS: Well, I partly answered that by talking about policy certainty, whether it be R&D tax credits and making it more permanent, whether it be ratifying the free trade agreements so we can export to countries that want our products. How we can simplify the tax code and get a territorial tax system place. Lower the effective corporate tax rate. Address issues that are addressable today that Congress and the White House need to work together on.
GHARIB: Well, speaking of trade, you also say in this book how important trade is to jump-starting the economy. What would you like to see happen with trade?
LIVERIS: I think if we need to sell helicopters to China, we should. And if we need to open our tourism sector, we should. We should also rebuild our infrastructure, put an infrastructure bank together so we can enable exports.
It is really wrong this economy exports 7 percent of the GDP while Germany exports 50 percent of its GDP. So we need to change our entire mindset, “Make It in America,” and export it from America.
GHARIB: People see that American businesses are sitting on a pile of cash. What do American businesses need to do to fix the economy?
LIVERIS: They need to see markets that are growing in the domestic economy to invest in them. It`s a large economy. It needs to be served, but if it is only growing at 1 percent, it will be served from existing capacity.
And so the absence of the consumer means, what is the reason I would invest in the United States versus investing somewhere else? So I get back to the policy regimen, so certainty around policy. And I get around to short-term demand drivers such as, can we cause the U.S. demand to grow again through exports or other spends like in infrastructure?
GHARIB: Mr. Liveris, thank you so much for your time.
LIVERIS: Always a pleasure to be with you.
GHARIB: Tomorrow, we continue our series “How to Fix the Economy” with some outside-the-box ideas to boost job growth. And we`ll talk to a small business that`s dancing its way to success, despite the tough economy.