Coke CEO bullish about economy, concerned about government policies

WASHINGTON -- Coca-Cola Co.'s CEO doesn't like the U.S. government's policies on corporate taxation, foreign trade and entrepreneurship.

But despite more favorable policies and growth opportunities elsewhere, the company that has its roots in Atlanta has no plans to leave Atlanta, Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent indicated Thursday in Washington.

"We have been proud to be part of Atlanta for 124 years ... and we will continue to be a very, very proud supporter of the local communities in Georgia and Atlanta," Kent said at the National Press Club. The company is doing a major renovation of its North Avenue campus in Atlanta.

Speaking about a block away from the White House, Kent said unfavorable tax rates on foreign profits and low national investments in education and entrepreneurship in the United States worry him.

But Kent made it clear he's very bullish on the U.S. economy.

"Our darkest days have passed," he said. "We’re beginning to see the first rays of light through that long, dark tunnel."

He pointed out that the volume of Coca-Cola's beverage sales has grown for two straight quarters in North America -- the first time that has happened in five years. The company's $12 billion purchase of its biggest bottling company, Coca-Cola Enterprises, and a $115 million expansion of a citrus processing plant in Florida earlier this year, he added, are evidence that the company feels good about the direction of the economy.

"Our bullishness on America is not some form of blind optimism," Kent said. "There are trends and dynamics here that are real and tangible and have long-term positive implications."

For the economy to keep growing, however, the country must to do more to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation, invest more in education and improve foreign trade policies, Kent said. He also said the government should focus less on regulation and taxes -- not surprising given rumblings of possible soda taxes this year in New York and other locales.

"If we -- together -- create the right climate for investment, entrepreneurship and competitiveness, there is no limit to how far we can advance over the coming decade," he added.

Staff writer Jeremiah McWilliams contributed to this article.