ATLANTA — American manufacturing is hindered in global competition by high taxes, burdensome regulations and aging infrastructure like its seaports, according to the CEO of Caterpillar Inc.
Doug Oberhelman, the chairman and chief executive officer of the machinery maker, told members of Georgia State University’s World Affairs Council of Atlanta Thursday night that the United States policies discourage companies.
“We’re finding in other countries a lot more business friendly atmospheres,” he said.
When he began his career in the early 1970s working on the company’s taxes, the United States had the lowest corporate income tax rate of any major country. Now, it’s among the highest, twice that of some competing countries.
“All I know is higher taxes will not bring more jobs,” he said, calling instead for cuts in entitlement spending. “... I worry an awful lot about that.”
He complained that regulations, like those on immigration, were troubling, noting that often Caterpillar executives have wound up across the table from their former foreign interns and co-operative students who had been hired by competitors when forced to leave the United States.
Oberhelman, who earlier in the day presided over the ribbon cutting of Caterpillar’s new plant outside Athens that will employ 1,400, said Georgia offers better taxes, worker training and infrastructure than most states, which is why Athens was chosen. But he still warned that America is investing too little in transportation infrastructure and that its ports are behind those in many countries in having modern equipment and ability to handle the world’s largest ships.
Developing countries are investing in roads, railroads and ports at the rate the United States used to.
“That’s going to come back to bite us in the not-too-distant future,” he warned, adding that American economic dominance would be eclipsed in the next decade.
Roughly 95 percent of Caterpillar’s customers are overseas, making it a major U.S. exporter. That compares to 99 percent of American companies that have no international sales, and most of those who do have foreign business are limited to Canada, notes David Abney, chief operating officer of Georgia-based UPS and chairman of the World Affairs Council.
“U.S. citizens need to find a way to compete,” Abney said. “For those of us in corporate America, we can’t wait for the day when the stars align to begin foreign trade.”