George W. Bush photo

Remarks in a Discussion With Employers and Employees at BMW Manufacturing Corporation in Greer, South Carolina

November 10, 2003

The President. Well, Carl, thanks. Yes, I'm delighted to be here. I appreciate so very much you all letting me come by to say a few words. We're going to have kind of a discussion about jobs. When I hear somebody in our country wants to work and can't find a job, it says to me we've got a problem, we've got to keep working to make sure people are able to work. So we're here to really talk about jobs.

Before we do, I do want to say something, though, about this company. I understand 26 of your employees, your fellow employees, are in Iraq. I know a lot of you have got relatives who serve in the United States military. I want to thank you. I want you to tell them thank you on behalf of a grateful nation for working to see to it that this Nation is secure. You've got to understand that free nations are peaceful nations. The more freedom there is in the world, the more secure America becomes. We must never forget the lessons of September the 11th, 2001. And I want you to pass on to your fellow employees and loved ones, this Commander in Chief is grateful for the sacrifice and service.

Before we get kind of this discussion going on, I want to say a couple of things. I want to thank the Governor for being here. Governor Sanford is here. Senator Lindsey Graham is with us. Congressmen DeMint, Brown, Wilson, and Barrett are with us as well. Speaker Wilkins. When the President shows up, you know, all kinds of people show up. [Laughter] But I'm glad to be in their company. They're good folks. They're friends.

The other thing is, is that we come in a time of pretty upbeat assessment about our economy. More than pretty upbeat— third quarter growth was strong. Last week we saw the unemployment numbers drop. The private sector is growing. Entrepreneurship is vibrant. And about—over 280,000 new jobs were created over the last 3 months, and that's positive. That's really good, particularly if you're somebody looking for work.

But we're here to talk about policies to make it even better. That's what we want. We're not satisfied. And we're not satisfied because I do understand some are struggling.

But with that, Carl, I want to thank you for your hospitality. I look forward to hearing from our fellow citizens about what's on your mind and really am grateful so many of you all showed up and gave me a chance to come and to say hello.

[The discussion continued.]

The President. Well, I appreciate it. First of all, it says to me that our workers are the best in the world. People are really productive. You know, you hear this—a lot of talk about trade. You're living the trade world. And if we do a good job about making sure trade is free and fair, people are going to find work here in America. That's what this is all about. In other words, we welcome people coming here. We welcome their money. I know the workers welcome the chance to work. And we're good about it. We're good at workers. And that's what this plant shows.

And so I appreciate very much, most importantly, the—I appreciate the deployment of capital from overseas to America. But most importantly, I appreciate the hard-working Americans who are making it an attractive place for people to invest right here in South Carolina. We're the most productive workforce in the world right now by far. Our productivity per worker is way out of sight. And we've just got to keep it that way because, you see, high productivity, it creates a short-term problem, unemployment. If one worker can put out more goods, unless the economy grows, it's going to be hard to hire new people. But in the long run, high productivity means better pay, better living.

And so what you've just told me is, this workforce is doing its job. And there's no doubt in my mind this workforce can compete with anybody in the world. And my job is to make sure that we have a level playing field, see that we've got fair trade— free and fair trade. We want free trade because we want you to be able to sell what you make here out of the State of South Carolina overseas. That's what we want. Because if you're not selling those cars overseas, then it's—some of you may not be working, and we want you working.

But I appreciate that, Carl. Thanks.

Carl Flescher, Jr. Steve, I wonder if you might want to tell the President a little bit about your company.

Stephen Thies. Sure, Carl. Mr. President, Spartanburg Steel and Spartanburg Stainless are two privately held manufacturing companies here. We call ourselves "SSP"; it's a little easier to say than the full name. Spartanburg Steel began production here in 1962, so it's an old company. But we make metal stampings—today, we make metal stampings in welded assemblies for BMW, principally for the X5 sport activity vehicle, which is produced here at the plant. You can see some of our parts are surrounding us here today. You see some metal parts around the room, around the stage. A number of these assemblies are made at our company. Spartanburg Steel has grown nicely because of its relationship with BMW. That growth is helping our owners, our associates, and our suppliers as well.

Now, we have a second company here in Spartanburg as well. It's called Spartanburg Stainless Products, also "SSP," okay? And Spartanburg Stainless makes metal stampings and assemblies, but we also make beer kegs. We're the only American beer keg manufacturer in North America. [Laughter]

The President. I quit drinking in '86. [Laughter] But I bet some of the people out here use the product. [Laughter] I'm not going to point out which ones. [Laughter]

Mr. Thies. Well, we did notice a dip in demand at a point in time—[laughter]— but probably no relationship. [Laughter]

The President. Pretty observant fellow, aren't you? [Laughter]

[The discussion continued.]

The President. Yes. Let me amplify on that real quick. Sorry to interrupt. Tax policy—good tax policy is important for economic growth. And if you—and I just want to make sure everybody understands what he's talking about there. First of all, I hope you saw the tax relief. Particularly if you're a mom or a dad, you did, because we increased the child credit. We reduced rates. I'm going to tell you why, just so that you understand the logic. If you have more money in your pocket, you're going to demand an additional good or a service. And when you demand an additional good or a service, somebody is going to produce the good or a service. And when somebody produces it, it means somebody is more likely to, first, keep a job, and if there's enough demand out there, somebody is— it means the job base will expand.

What he's talking about was incentives we provided to encourage businesses to invest. And when a business invests in, say, a piece of equipment, somebody has to make the equipment. That in itself encourages economic vitality and growth. The tax relief we passed came at the right time. What we now need to do is make it permanent. Interestingly enough, because of a quirk in the rules in the United States Senate, the tax relief we passed begins to go away in '05. In order to make sure that people can plan for capital investment and you can plan your lives, the Congress needs to make the tax relief permanent.

[The discussion continued.]

The President. Good. Well, I presume your company wouldn't be doing well if it hadn't been for somebody willing to invest here in South Carolina and the BMW plant. What people have got to understand is that when BMW builds cars, there's a spinoff effect. Businesses in the area benefit as well. The more work you all do at BMW, the more likely somebody is going to be doing work in an associated supplier. Economic vitality depends upon the money circulating in our economy. And not only does tax policy help, but good trade policy helps, being willing to welcome foreign investment into the State of South Carolina.

What I'm more interested in is, are you working? I don't really care who owns the plant. What I want to know is, are they paying you when they say they're going to pay you? Is your job—is your check showing up?

[The discussion continued.]

The President. Yes, I appreciate that. These stories are stories of an economy that's changing. We went through—we've been through a tough time. There's no doubt about it. We've been through a recession. The enemy hit us on September the 11th. It affected not only our psychology but it affected the economy. It just did. It's just a reality.

Unfortunately, we had some corporate citizens who didn't tell the truth. They forgot what it means to be a responsible citizen. They kind of fudged the numbers. They're going to be held to account, by the way. That's how you need to treat people who—[applause].

We marched to war. I don't if you remember, on your TV screens last summer it—a year ago, summer—it said, "March to War." You turn on the TV, and there it says, "March to War." That's not a very conducive environment in which people are willing to take risk. It's not a positive thought. It's a—necessary, in my judgment, obviously, to make America secure, but it's not positive. I know it's not.

So we've overcome a lot. Plus, the economy is restructuring. And so the fundamental question is, what do you do about it? One, you encourage growth, the creation of new jobs. Most new jobs in America are created by small businesses. And so we had a small-business focus. But the other thing we've got to understand is that as the society becomes more productive and the nature of the jobs change, we've got to make sure there's worker training programs. We've got over 1,700 one-stop sites for workers to go to. These guys did their own one-stop shopping. But not everybody may have the same ability to do that. And you can get on a computer and find out the jobs available in your neighborhood.

And as importantly, the job training programs available—I mean, somebody listening out there today who is wondering whether or not they can find work, there are ample opportunities to find job training programs that will help train you for jobs which actually exist. And that's a very important concept. There's a little bit of a change—it used to be that Government would judge you on just, did you have job training programs. And therefore, they have 1,000 hairdressers for 50 jobs, which didn't make sense. What you're trying to do now is match demand for jobs with jobs—with the people.

There's a lot of Pell grant money available, and that's important for people to know, so they can go to a community college. And then there's monies available for community colleges—I know the Governor is working on this—to make sure the community colleges become laboratories for educating workforce for the jobs which exist. There are jobs available.

And so the fundamental question is, how do we help people find those jobs? And one thing we've got to do is focus on— you know, technology roars through the economy and society, and labor is left behind. And so we've got to make sure labor stays caught up. As society changes, as the economy changes, we've got to have programs that actually make sense and programs that focus—the job training programs—on making sure that the workforce, the most productive in the world, has got the skills necessary to meet the jobs of the future.

I want to thank you two guys for taking the initiative. We can have every job training program in the world sitting out there, but it also requires people willing to take the initiative and be responsible citizens. I appreciate the example you set. I'm glad BMW is vibrant and doing well. I'm glad you're selling products overseas as well as here at home, so Spartanburg has had the opportunity to hire these two guys. This is a success story. And I want to thank you very much for being a part of it. I appreciate you.

[The discussion continued.]

The President. Good job. Remember, I talked about job training. A good company is one that works hard to train the workforce. A good company is a company which says, "How do we keep our workers on the front edge of change?" It sounds like BMW does that, and I appreciate you then passing on the skills you learned. And a good company also provides good health care, good retirement, and obviously, the added benefit of letting people travel to see a different part of the world, which is a pretty interesting concept when you think about it, yes.

Well, thank you for sharing your story with us.

[The discussion continued.]

The President. Well, I appreciate that story. Look, I know there's a lot of textile workers here in this State who are worried about their future. Some have lost their job, and obviously we care about that a lot. And in the Government we'll try to do everything we can to make sure that the rules are fair.

But Henry's story is an interesting story, and the wife's story is an interesting story, about somebody who said, "Wait a minute, there's a better job." And it does take— and it's hard to leave work; I understand that. It's unsettling. But you've just got to know—and I want to emphasize again what Henry said—there are programs to help people transition from one kind of job to a job which has got more security and a better paying job—and a better paying job.

And that's what's happening in the workforce, the jobs are better paying. There's health care jobs; there's jobs in the manufacturing sector. And a productive workforce means that people are going to be able to make more money over the long term. That's what that means. And we've just got to make sure that we help people get there.

And part of the reason I've come to talk with people who've been through this before is, I want people who are listening to know that there is hope, that they're going to have to have a little drive, but there's plenty of help for people who are trying to transition from an industry that may not be on firm footing to other jobs that will be long-lasting jobs. It's important for people here in South Carolina to know that. And I want to thank you, Henry, for sharing your story, and tell your wife congratulations on being—where is she? Yes, I'll tell her. I'll tell her myself. [Laughter] Thank you for doing what you did. It's a great example to set. And congratulations.

[The discussion continued.]

The President. Yes, Barry, before you begin, tell them what you told me about Texas. Remember, you were going to——

Barry Bell. Well, actually, I was supposed to be going to Texas this week for a hunting trip. But I sort of backed out of that, and I'm here with you now. [Laughter]

The President. That's right, yes. I knew he was my kind of guy when he said he wanted to go on a hunting trip. I don't know if I would have canceled if I'd have been him, but thank you. [Laughter]

[The discussion continued.]

The President. I appreciate the story. Let me pick up on one thing. Again, obviously it's a good company, which is one that keeps your people on the cutting edge of change by having training.

I also want to pick up on what he just said. It's a little off the subject, but a responsible citizen is somebody who loves their child with all their heart, a citizen who says, "I want to put my family"—is a citizen I'd love to have working for me— a citizen who said, "I want my family first, I weep when I think about the thought of missing my child's baseball games," the kind of guy I want working for me, the kind of guy I want working with me. I appreciate that.

[The discussion continued.]

The President. Well, I appreciate that. It's like, I was in North Carolina the other day, and the hospital people are looking for work, so they went to this junior college, a community college, and helped the people design a curriculum that would then enable people to come out of the course with the skills necessary to be hired. And that's what we've got to do. We've got to make sure that we tailor curriculum for the jobs which will exist, because there's a lot of fine people in our country, hard-working, decent, honorable people, that all they want is a chance. And when the economy races by them, all they're asking for is, "Give me some skills so I can go out and be a productive employee." And sometimes you find it inside your company. Sometimes it requires a community college to have the program necessary. All the time it requires a citizen initiative; that's what it requires.

You did mention Government. Just remember, the role of the Government is to see to it that this economy gets going by having good policy. The tax policy is good policy. The health care policy for small business is important. We've got one other thing—education policy is important, obviously.

There's one other thing I want to mention right quick, because it's now up in Congress. Manufacturing companies need energy. Like, you're not going to be working long if you don't have energy to run this plant. It's a practical matter. And we've got an energy bill that we're trying to get out, an energy bill which says we'll work on conservation, an energy bill that says our electricity system needs to be modern. You may remember what happened last summer. I mean, there was a pretty clear signal that parts of the electricity grid need to be modernized; they're old and ancient and tired. The utilities—we're working on voluntary reliability standards; I think they ought to be mandatory reliability standards. That means if you're responsible for moving electricity, it must be mandatory that you've got reliability in your system.

So we've got an energy bill up there. Let me just make this very clear to you. We can find energy at home, and we need to do that. We can do it in environmentally friendly ways by using technology. We need to have clean coal technology. We need to be finding natural gas in our own hemisphere. For the sake of your economic security and your job security and for the sake of national security, this country must become less dependent on foreign sources of energy.

Listen, I'm honored you all came out to say hello. I appreciate you giving me a chance to—Carl and you all—to come and talk about jobs and what's happening in the economy and how we can continue to create an environment for job creation. I'm excited about the future because I know the nature of America. We've overcome a lot in this country. We really have. But I'm not surprised, because I know the nature of the citizens who live in this country. People are tough when they need to be tough and compassionate when they need to be compassionate, people who work hard. As I said, and I meant it, the best workforce in the world is right here in America, right here in front of me.

There's going to be other challenges in front of America. But there's no doubt in my mind we will meet every challenge because of the nature of this country. This country is freedom's home. This country is freedom's defender. And this country believes the American Dream ought to be available to everybody. And we need to create that environment so people can realize that dream.

I am so proud to be with you all. I want to thank you for your hospitality. May God bless you and your families, and may God continue to bless our great country. Thank you very much.

NOTE: The President spoke at 4:10 p.m. Participants in the discussion included: Barry Bell, production section leader, Carl Flescher, Jr., vice president for corporate communications, and Archie "Lane" Gist and Henry Campbell, production associates, BMW Manufacturing Corp.; Brian Ludwiczak, maintenance supervisor, and Fred Wilson, quality manager, Spartanburg Steel Products; and Stephen Thies, president and chief executive officer, Spartanburg Steel Products and Spartanburg Stainless Products. In his remarks, the President also referred to Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina; and David H. Wilkins, speaker, South Carolina State House of Representatives.

George W. Bush, Remarks in a Discussion With Employers and Employees at BMW Manufacturing Corporation in Greer, South Carolina Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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