The native of Cuba told business students the nation must either come together on an immigration policy or face a declining economy.
“For me, this is about numbers. It's about arithmetic. It's about reality. I'm trying to stay away from the emotions of immigration,'' said Gutiérrez, who came to the United States with his family in 1960.
Countries around the world are struggling with a declining work force. If lawmakers succeed on immigration reform, the competitive advantages will last for the rest of this century, he said.
Gutiérrez came to the college with Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham. The two became friends while crafting immigration legislation that failed in Congress.
Graham has been criticized by Republicans in the state for backing the immigration bill. Gutiérrez praised Graham as someone willing to tackle tough issues.
Graham said the country desperately needs a temporary worker program “to bring workers into this country on our terms'' who understand English and can fill jobs Americans won't.
``Americans have hopes and dreams for their children up the economic ladder, not down,'' he said. ``If we do not deal with this labor shortage in time, it will hurt us in agriculture and spread throughout the country.''
On other issues, Gutiérrez said the economy will get through the housing crunch.
``Our economy is so big, so diverse and so flexible, it's able to adjust and offset when parts of it are hit,'' he said.
“The economy is now experiencing nearly six years of uninterrupted growth,'' despite the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, corporate scandals, Hurricane Katrina and an increasing energy crisis, Gutiérrez said.
Freedom and the entrepreneur spirit are the core of the economy's strength, he said. He believes a strong economy needs low taxes and regulations friendly to innovation. Companies less than five years old account for half of all new jobs created annually, he said.
“Give everybody an equal opportunity. Give everybody a shot and get out of the way,'' said Gutiérrez, who in 1999 became Kellogg’s youngest ever chief executive.