Ford Exec: Crisis Was A "Wake-Up Call"

Ford Motor Co. Chairman Bill Ford Jr. welcomes attendees to the National Summit in Detroit, Monday, June 15, 2009. The event is a three-day summit bringing the country's top business, labor, government and academic leaders together to develop a national economic agenda. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman Bill Ford says the worst economic crisis in decades has been a wake-up call to the nation that its industrial base is eroding and should be rebuilt.

Ford spoke at the kick-off Monday of the National Summit, a conference of prominent business, government and academic leaders.

Ford said he didn't know the ramifications of having the U.S. government so heavily involved and invested in the auto industry.

But he said the Automotive Task Force acted very responsibly in quickly addressing the industry as it threatened the health of supplier firms. "Because if the supply base melted down, it would take down not just Ford, GM and Chrysler but, frankly, Toyota, Honda and everybody else who produces here as well."

The goal of the summit is to craft a plan to keep the U.S. competitive in manufacturing, energy, technology and the environment.

Nearly 3,000 attendees are expected during the 3-day event.

Ford is co-chairing the summit with Dow Chemical Co. CEO Andrew Liveris.

Liveris says the summit's goal is to turn a "to-do list into a national agenda."

"We still have an economic engine that is sluggish at best," Liveris said. "It's sluggish because we have forgotten that the life force and strength of this country was built by American industry. We became enamored with making money from money … and we forgot that making things - real, tangible things - still matters."

He called for policies to rebuild a strong industrial base, improve education, secure a stable energy supply, encourage environmental sustainability, and support a technology and R&D sector that is "second-to-none."

"As much as we'd like to believe in it, there is no silver bullet" to the current economic crisis, Liveris said. "There is no one single policy or regulation that will raise us above the problems we have today. The solutions - when they come - must be expansive."

Detroit is also the site of the People's Summit. Thousands converged on Grand Circus Park to participate in marches and rallies to raise awareness about the effects of the economic crisis.

A rally is scheduled Tuesday outside General Motors' headquarters.

"We need to have to declare Detroit and the Midwest area 'ground zero,'" said demonstrator Teresa Gutierrez. "So if the Obama administration and the government finds trillions to bail out the banks and the corporations, then we know that there's money for the people."

"Working people are losing their jobs, who are losing their homes, losing their healthcare and pensions. So we feel only the people can come up with a proper economic stimulus program to actually turn the economy around," said another participant, Abayomi Azikilue.

Organizers said the economic problems of U.S. citizens are being overlooked. They want the federal government to design an economic bill of rights for poor and working people. They also seek a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions and universal health care.

Matt Friedman, a spokesperson for the National Summit, said the Summit's participants are "very serious about coming here to Detroit to begin to address problems."