Some of the top energy companies in the country are helping to move the U.S. economy, not through super-human feats but rather as investment heroes, using billions in business spending to create thousands of jobs, according to the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI).

The think tank on Tuesday chronicled the top 25 domestic nonfinancial business investors in 2011 in "Investment Heroes: Who's Betting on America's Future?" The report was authored by Diana G. Carew and Michael Mandel.

Telecom and energy ventures dominated the list, led by AT&T and Verizon Communications, followed by ExxonMobil Corp. at No. 3. The top 25 companies were named "investment heroes" to make a point, said the authors.

"The U.S. economy is at its best -- in terms of growth and job creation -- when companies and workers are partners with the same objectives. Half of the leading companies are telecom and energy, but the list also includes tech, retail, automotive and entertainment companies.

"The fact that telecom and energy companies find it the most financially worthwhile to invest large volumes in America is quite telling about which sectors are doing well. Telecom companies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast are making huge investments in broadband infrastructure. Energy companies like Exxon are investing in the discovery of new sources of oil and natural gas."

The authors used company financial reports and filings for fiscal year 2011 to compile capital expenditures in plants, property and equipment spending. Separately they also compiled energy companies' investments in domestic exploration. The totals didn't include research and development outlays.

AT&T had $20.1 billion in U.S. investments in 2011, while Verizon Communications was No. 2 with $16.2 billion.

ExxonMobil Corp. was No. 3 on the list with its $11.7 billion in domestic investments last year. Occidental Petroleum Corp. was ranked sixth at $6.2 billion, while ConocoPhillips was seventh at $5.6 billion in domestic investments. Ninth on the list was Chevron Corp. with $4.8 billion of U.S. capital spending last year, while Southern Company rounded out the top 10 with an estimated $4.5 billion in domestic investments.

Hess Corp. ranked No. 11 with $4.4 billion of U.S. capital investments, and in 12th place was Exelon Corp. with $4 billion. Enterprise Products Partners rounded out the energy companies in the 15th spot at $3.6 billion in domestic investments in 2011.

The top 25 companies invested about $136 billion in the United States last year, according to PPI.

"Domestic business investment generates growth, raises productivity, increases wages and creates jobs for Americans," the authors said. "It can span the gamut from new office buildings to improved production lines to faster communications equipment to deeper natural gas wells."

U.S. investments "tanked" during the recent recession and they haven't yet recovered, the authors said. Today many companies are investing overseas rather than in the United States. "Multiple layers of regulation, even if well intentioned, have the impact of discouraging capital investment and innovation. And the continued weakness in demand at home makes it difficult to justify building new factories.

"But no matter what the reason, this weakness is having an adverse effect on economic growth and is one of the main reasons behind the job drought."

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