South Carolina hailed for insourcing jobs to U.S.

President Obama praised companies that are bringing manufacturing jobs back to the United States from abroad at a White House conference Wednesday where he met with leaders of firms investing in South Carolina and other states.

Obama said the 2012 budget proposal he’ll send to Congress in a few weeks will include tax credits for businesses that repatriate overseas jobs and will eliminate subsidies for companies that ship them abroad.

“You heard of outsourcing,” Obama told the business leaders, members of his Cabinet and the heads of two large unions. “Well, these companies are insourcing. These companies are choosing to invest in the one country with the most productive workers, the best universities, and the most creative and innovative entrepreneurs in the world, and that is the United States of America.”

Randy Wilcox, head of Otis Elevators’ North America operations, said during a break in the White House session that his firm is bringing back 260 mainly American workers from Mexico to make energy-efficient lifts at a former Maytag laundry machine factory in Florence.

Otis Elevators will locate an additional 100 people at the $40 million fabrication, research and shipping plant, with some hired locally and others brought in from its sites in other states.

Wilcox praised Gov. Nikki Haley and other state leaders for helping his company choose South Carolina from a short list of states to build the factory, where workers will earn an average of $25 per hour.

“We found a facility that met our needs and required very little work in Florence,” Wilcox said. “And frankly the state of South Carolina worked with us. They were very helpful. They helped with some incentives, they helped with training.”

Haley responded to criticism of the $127,000 she and staff spent at the Paris Air Show last June by saying she recruited suppliers for Otis Elevators, Boeing, BMW and other manufacturers in South Carolina.

South Carolina’s unemployment rate was 9.9 percent in November, among the worst in the country and above the national level of 8.6 percent.

Wilcox said he talked extensively with Obama, who showed a keen interest in how Otis Elevators came to choose South Carolina and how the state had cooperated with the firm to bring it there.

Otis Elevators is part of United Technologies Corp., a Connecticut-based multinational conglomerate with 208,000 employees, including 75,000 in the United States.

“Sometimes we get lumped into the category of exporting jobs,” Wilcox said. “I think it’s important to remind [Obama] that that success globally allows us to reinvest here in the United States. Sometimes we [at Otis Elevators] can take advantage of some of the improvements and manufacturing techniques other parts of our company have developed, maybe even offshore, and bring them back and really accelerate the in-shoring of jobs, particularly when they’re focused on our market here in the United States.”

Mark Vergnano, executive vice president of Dupont, also attended the White House session. He talked about the $500 million plant his company started last year outside Charleston to produce Kevlar anti-ballistic fiber.

Vergnano said the plant has created 500 construction and 135 full-time jobs.

Among other conference participants were executives from Ford, Intel, Siemens, Rolls Royce and Lincolnton Furniture in North Carolina.

Bruce Cochrane, owner of the furniture company, opened his business two years ago in the vacant plant where his family once made furniture and is adding 130 jobs at the operation near Hickory.

“It was a great opportunity to move back into the same facility that my family used to produce furniture in,” he said.

Hal Sirkin, an analyst with the Boston Consulting Group who attended the session, said the outsourcing of jobs to China, India and other countries has slowed as wages have increased in those nations and American workers’ productivity has risen.

“The U.S. worker is three to four times more productive than the Chinese worker,” he said. “It will be a lot easier to retain jobs in the United States, and it will be a lot easier to attract jobs. The economics are favoring the United States at this point in time.”

Cabinet members and other senior Obama administration officials at the meeting included Vice President Joe Biden, Commerce Secretary John Bryson, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, Small Business Administration head Karen Mills and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk.

Obama didn’t allay Republicans’ criticism that he is using such events as part of his burgeoning re-election campaign, as he cited four key swing states he’s targeting for manufacturing renewals.

“I don’t want the next generation of manufacturing jobs taking root in countries like China or Germany,” Obama said. “I want them taking root in places like Michigan and Ohio and Virginia and North Carolina.”