DETROIT — (WWJ) In what could be a dress rehearsal for a planned Wednesday protest, noisy demonstrators interrupted General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt’s speech to open the SAE World Congress.

As Immelt started talking about creating new jobs, he was interrupted by protesters who said “We pay taxes and you should too.”  About 20 other protesters were out in a hall chanting, “We are the 99 percent, pay your fair share.”

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VIDEO: Protesters escorted from Cobo Center during SAE World Congress.

“We pay 29 per cent,” Immelt responded, before three protesters were escorted out of Cobo’s Riverfront ballroom.   Later, a GE spokesman said the 29 percent tax rate was what the company payed globally in 2011.  In the U.S., the rate was 25 percent.

The spokesman also denied protesters charges that GE paid no taxes in 2010.  He said the rate was around 8 percent, because of GE’s losses and investments.

One of those investments is a new technical center in Van Buren Township.  GE’s already hired 850 engineers and related staffers, and is now planning to add 300 more.

“These are great jobs that didn’t exist, could have gone anywhere,” said Immelt.  It allows us to access the great talent in this town, University of Michigan, Michigan State, other great schools.”

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Immelt said the economy does appear to be improving every day.  But he added job creation had to be a big goal, along with training for jobs that are open.

“You know there’s about two million open jobs in the United States that are unfilled,” Immelt said.  “So, the first question, every town, or every state, or every country should ask is, ‘How do we get people trained to do the jobs that are open today.”

The small protest at Immelt’s speech could be a preview of larger things on Wednesday, when General Electric holds its annual meeting at the Renaissance Center.  Security will be tight.  Although the Detroit News has reported that the UAW is backing off its part in the protest, because of concern of the harm it may do to Detroit’s image.

General Electric has also been a big supporter of the electric vehicle industry, purchasing Chevy Volt’s and Nissan Leaf’s for its fleet.  GE sells EV charging stations, and is working on programs to recycle batteries.

Immelt says while electric vehicles are “empowering,” high costs will keep acceptance low over the short term.  But he said GE is in the EV business for the long haul.

“We don’t do things because they are popular,” he said.  “We do things because we think they make good business sense over time.”

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Connect with Jeff Gilbert
Twitter: @jefferygilbert