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Obama Speaks to Jobs Council

President Barack Obama

President Obama on Thursday presided over the first meeting of his new Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. During a more than hour long session, Mr. Obama told its members they have an important mission to help build American's confidence about prospects for job growth and their ability to compete in the global marketplace.

The 23-member council represents every sector of the U.S. economy, from service industries, manufacturing and high technology, to banking and communications. It also includes the head of the AFL-CIO, the nation's largest trade union federation.

Flanked by his chief of staff, William Daley, and the chairman of the new council, General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt, Mr. Obama told the group it has a crucial role to play in making it possible to extend economic recovery at a time when unemployment remains "way too high across the country."

During a time of significant fiscal restraint, the president said, it will be even more critical to create a public-private partnership to help the U.S "up [it's] game" in an extraordinarily competitive world.

"We want to make sure we narrow the focus to think about how do we ensure that we are putting people to work right now, but also how do we lay the foundation for us to win the future over the long-term," he said.

The president's remarks to the council traveled familiar territory as he reiterated a pledge he made in a recent speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which represents thousands of U.S. businesses, to remove "any barriers and any impediments" preventing success and growth.

But Mr. Obama also put a challenge to the business representatives on the jobs council, saying they need to provide ideas about creating an economy in which progress is distributed more evenly.

"How do we make sure that the economy is working for everybody. How do we make sure that every child out there who is working hard is going to be able to succeed? How do we make certain that working families across the country are sharing in growing productivity and that we're not simply creating an economy in which one segment of it is doing very well but the rest of the folks out there are treading water," he said.

The chairman of the council, General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt, spoke to reporters after the meeting with the president. "We want to stay laser-focused on job creation in America, that is the challenge that the president gave us. We know that the private sector has to lead the way in job creation. We want to do some short term things that are tactical that hopefully can move the needle in the short term, as well as things that are going to build competitiveness of the country over the long term," he said.

In his remarks to the council, President Obama said he is concerned about what he called an "increasing bifurcation" in the U.S. economy, and what he called a "whole swath of employment" that will not be returning, requiring Americans to re-train.

Mr. Obama said he hopes the council will help identify where future job growth will be as part of efforts to close the gap between more affluent and less affluent sectors of the economy.

General Electric CEO Immelt told reporters he believes private sector competitiveness and investment will be driving job creation, adding that he thinks companies will be spending more on investment as confidence about the economy improves.