Banner Staff Writer
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, fielded questions on everything from exporting to employment rates from local business leaders Monday.
Corker visited Cleveland to speak to members of Cleveland Associated Industries on the campus of Cleveland State Community College.
Corker updated local businessmen on what he expects to happen soon in Washington and fielded a variety of questions.
Corker explained that, before he became a U.S. senator or even the mayor of Chattanooga, he was a businessman.
“I really do miss business,” Corker said. “I miss the energy of it.”
After a brief update on issues in Washington, he invited the business leaders in attendence to share questions with him.
One local leader asked the senator whether exporting with help of the “Ex-Im Bank” was in the best interest of businesses.
The Export-Import Bank of the United States is a federally backed bank that assists businesses with loans to address issues like export costs.
Corker explained the bank ensures companies’ investments so they do not lose profits. However, he said the bank has earned a bad reputation for “crony capitalism” because of its dealings with large companies like Boeing.
However, he stressed that many countries have similar programs to protect their business’ interests, and the federal government may soon be looking at ways to make sure it provides equal opportunities for small businesses involved in international trade.
One business representative asked for Corker’s opinion on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement between the U.S. and 11 other countries.
With countries like China dominating the international trade market, Corker said the partnership encourages the U.S. to focus more on exporting.
“It’s something that I strongly support,” Corker said.
While he admitted the partnership has its critics, he said it is “our way of countering” China’s trade practices “with western forms of capitalism.”
He said he would also be a strong supporter of a trade agreement between the U.S. and the European Union.
As an example, Corker pointed out that when the Volkswagen car manufacturing plant has to have materials shipped from Germany, the company has to pay steep trade tariffs on those items. He said a trade agreement that would make it easier for European countries to trade with the U.S. could bode well for the U.S. when European companies decide to expand into new countries.
Another business leader asked how Corker would characterize the job market.
The National Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released numbers that said the national unemployment rate had fallen to 6.1 percent.
“I was thrilled with the numbers that came out Friday,” he said.
While “not as robust as we’d like to see it,” Corker stressed that it was progress in the right direction.
Still, the United States has seen some “changing demographics” that likely impacted the recent job numbers. He pointed out that more people are reaching retirement age.
A bigger concern than just the unemployment rate itself, Corker said, might be what those who are employed are getting paid. Corker said he is “worried” about the middle class and that he has not seen much of an “upward push” toward ensuring higher wages for those workers.
He said obtaining the American Dream has become a loftier goal for some. He said the country needs to be looking for ways to not only keep the unemployment rate low, but to ensure that people are also earning livable wages.