John Cook is trying to keep his 46-year-old manufacturing company growing in the U.S., but the federal government is standing squarely in his way. Proposed healthcare legislation targets device manufacturers like Cook Medical Products, in Bloomington, Ind., with major new taxes to help pay for the nationalization of the medical-insurance industry--and Cook is mad as hell.
"It makes me absolutely sick," said Cook, whose $1.6 billion concern is the nation's largest privately held player in the industry and employs about 6,700 people in this country along with another 2,700 around the world. "Everything they're doing is putting obstacles in front of us. That tax burden alone would cause me to automate some processes and have to put about 1,000 Americans out of work." If the government were to create tax breaks for the medical-equipment business instead of financially penalizing the industry, Cook says he would be able to not only refrain from cutting jobs in the U.S., but also repatriate an additional 1,000 manufacturing jobs.
Ironically, Cook's remarks to Chief Executive came on the day President Obama was conducting his so-called jobs summit in Washington, D.C. And Cook is just one of many American CEOs who have concluded, some with great reluctance, that the Obama administration and Congress have set a course that would bring severe harm to a roster of particular industries and long-term, general economic malaise to the nation.
The concerns shared by these CEOs go way beyond their significant doubts about the course and potency of any nascent economic recovery. What vexes them more is that the current administration seems intent on throttling, controlling or at the very least, more tightly regulating a wide swath of the American economy. The list of the threatened industries includes the obvious, such as healthcare providers and coal-fired utilities, and the automotive and banking industries that the Obama administration essentially has taken over already. But it also goes way beyond, to media companies and defense contractors, beverage makers and dairy processors, drug manufacturers and chemical producers.
"You go to trade association meetings, and the CEOs at each and every one feel like they have a bull's-eye on their back," said J. Larry Nichols, chairman and CEO of Devon Energy, a $15-billion oil- and gas-exploration company based in Oklahoma City, and current president of the American Petroleum Institute. "And I'm not just talking about our industry--it's every kind of industry."
Indeed, these CEOs recognize that Washington now is more fundamentally hostile to what businesspeople do and how they think than perhaps ever before. Barely a major-company CEO, for example, was invited to the jobs summit in early December.
One more thing also rankles many of tire CEOs: The Obama administration isn't entirely uniform in its disdain for business, nor vice versa. A handful of CEOs, such as Eric Schmidt of Google and Fred Smith of FedEx--who did attend Obama's summit--clearly are favored by the White House. And in turn some are enamored of the new administration if only because of how their companies in particular are benefiting from its policies...