Obama and his economic team invited 130 representatives of business, labor, non-profit and academia to explore ideas on how to grow the U.S. economy and stimulate job creation.
The question facing forum participants is, "How do we get businesses to start hiring again," Obama said, "and start seeing a virtuous cycle (when) recovery starts to feed on itself."
Despite improvements made in the U.S. economy since the first of the year, "many business still are skittish about hiring," Obama said.
The forum was held before the November unemployment report -- expected to remain above 10 percent -- was due.
Obama faces criticism on both sides of the congressional aisle about the pace of job creation, with some Democrats urging a second stimulus package while some Republicans say jobless figures show the stimulus package hasn't worked.
The federal government has a critical role in creating the conditions to stimulate economic growth, but "ultimately, the economic recovery will come only from the private sector," Obama said.
"I am open to every demonstrably good idea," Obama said, but resources are limited.
"We can't make any ill-considered decisions right now even with the best intentions," he said. "we're going to have to be surgical and ... creative."