What Romney and Obama said about Apple’s iPhone jobs

October 17, 2012, 9:28 AM UTC

Photo: Charles Dharapak/AP

FORTUNE — Toward the end of the second presidential debate, moderator Candy Crowley asked Mitt Romney and Barack Obama about Apple (AAPL).

“iPad, the Macs, the iPhones, they are all manufactured in China,” she began. “One of the major reasons is labor is so much cheaper [there]. How do you convince a great American company to bring that manufacturing back here?”

GOVERNOR ROMNEY: The answer is very straightforward. We can compete with anyone in the world as long as the playing field is level. China’s been cheating over the years. One by holding down the value of their currency. Number two, by stealing our intellectual property; our designs, our patents, our technology. There’s even an Apple store in China that’s a counterfeit Apple store, selling counterfeit goods. They hack into our computers. We will have to have people play on a fair basis, that’s number one.

Number two, we have to make America the most attractive place for entrepreneurs, for people who want to expand their business. That’s what brings jobs in.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Candy, there are some jobs that are not going to come back. Because they are low wage, low skill jobs. I want high wage, high skill jobs. That’s why we have to emphasize manufacturing. That’s why we have to invest in advanced manufacturing. That’s why we’ve got to make sure that we’ve got the best science and research in the world. And when we talk about deficits, if we’re adding to our deficit for tax cuts for folks who don’t need them, and we’re cutting investments in research and science that will create the next Apple, create the next new innovation that will sell products around the world, we will lose that race.

If we’re not training engineers to make sure that they are equipped here in this country, then companies won’t come here. Those investments are what’s going to help to make sure that we continue to lead this world economy, not just next year, but 10 years from now, 50 years from now, 100 years from now.

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Dinner with the President. Photo: The White House

In his answer, the President was actually echoing Steve Jobs, who at a Silicon Valley dinner in early 2011 urged Obama to find a way to train more American engineers. Walter Isaacson begins the story in his
Steve Jobs

Apple had 700,000 factory workers employed in China, [Jobs] said, and that was because it needed 30,000 engineers on-site to support those workers. “You can’t find that many in America to hire,” he said. These factory engineers did not have to be PhDs or geniuses; they simply needed to have basic engineering skills for manufacturing. Tech schools, community colleges, or trade schools could train them. “If you could educate these engineers,” he said, “we could move more manufacturing plants here.”  (Steve Jobs, p. 546).

But according to the New York Times, the exchange continued. The President interrupted Jobs and asked what would it take to make iPhones in the United States?

Mr. Jobs’s reply was unambiguous. “Those jobs aren’t coming back.”