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Blog Entries from August 2011

Listening to Local Businesses in South Carolina

Under Secretary Nancy Potok tours South Carolina MTU, a German-owned diesel engine company with plant manager Jeorge Klisch.

Guest blog post by Nancy Potok, Commerce Deputy Under Secretary, Economics and Statistics Administration

In the heart of South Carolina’s picturesque horse community, I sat down at the Aiken County Chamber of Commerce to begin the first of two White House Business Council roundtable discussions with local business owners in Aiken and Columbia, S.C.  These discussions, focused on rural communities during the month of August, are designed to provide an intimate forum for local businesses to discuss the obstacles they face in creating jobs and growing their businesses. 

Attending that discussion, along with about 20 others was Jeorge Klisch, the plant manager of MTU, a German-owned diesel engine company formerly known as “Detroit Diesel” that has been located in Aiken about a year.  Earlier that morning I took a tour of MTU’s state of the art facility located about twelve miles outside Aiken in the once thriving manufacturing community of Graniteville, S.C.. Having grown up in Detroit with the required elementary school field trip to an automotive plant, I was expecting a hot, loud and oil covered environment.  In contrast, MTU was temperature controlled, clean and high tech.  During the tour, Klitsch shared with me their plans to  bring another 200 jobs to the Aiken area, the need for a skilled workforce, and his efforts to collaborate with surrounding area high schools and technical colleges to adjust their curriculum and support his “ work and learn” initiative that will help fill MTU’s future  need for engineers and technicians.  I noticed an absence of women in the workplace, but before I asked about it, Klisch said he want to dispel myths held by women about manufacturing jobs and plans to focus on introducing young women and girls to manufacturing, where they are significantly underrepresented at MTU.  MTU exports about 50 percent of its products and has invested more than $77 million in this new site with plans for expansion and increased production.  Very impressive and a great indication of the growth potential in the Aiken area.

BEA Computes that Rural America Personal Income Did Better than Urban America in 2009

Image of combine in a field (Photo: U.S. Census Bureau)

Guest blog post by Steve Landefeld, Director of Commerce's Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Off the top of your head, it probably seems obvious that the economies of America’s major cities differ structurally and behaviorally from our nation’s nonmetropolitan and rural areas, right? You are correct, indeed! But the really interesting question is, What can you learn about this from the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis?  BEA measures our regional economies in several ways, including GDP by State, GDP by Metropolitan Area, State Personal Income, Metropolitan Area Personal Income and County Personal Income (AKA: Local Area Personal Income).

To understand the differences between the big, metropolitan areas and the rural parts of the country, your best bet is to turn to BEA’s Local Area Personal Income which details earnings in all 3,143 counties in the U.S.

Technically speaking, nonmetropolitan counties are those that are not part of a metropolitan statistical area, or MSA, as defined by the Office of Management and Budget.  Population in these counties is generally less than 50,000 people. There are 2,032 nonmetropolitan counties in the U.S., almost twice the number of metropolitan counties.  Of course, not all nonmetropolitan areas are rural, nor are all rural areas excluded from official designated metropolitan areas.  Another important consideration is commuting patterns, certainly plenty of Americans live in areas which may be rural, but drive into MSAs to work which intertwines these economies. (What, you thought we’d make it that easy?)

Largest-ever EDA Grant Helps To Revitalize Downtown Cedar Rapids & Create Jobs Following Iowa Floods

Acting Secretary Rebecca Blank and Other Officials Break Ground on the Cedar Rapids Convention Center

Acting U.S. Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank joined U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, Mayor Ron Corbett and U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development John Fernandez in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, this week to see how federal funds are making a difference following historic floods that ravaged the city and its economy in 2008.

With the help of a $35 million grant–the largest Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) has ever awarded –the city is building a new $75.6 million Convention Complex that will serve as a major catalyst for further economic development and investment in the city–creating hundreds of jobs and leveraging millions in private investment. The 435,000 sq. ft. complex will be the second-largest convention and events center in the state upon its completion in the spring of 2013.

Iowa continues to recover from the economic impact of the floods, which interrupted major manufacturing operations, devastated downtown commercial districts, and damaged or destroyed public infrastructure. The Obama administration continues to invest in rebuilding efforts to strengthen local economies across Iowa. More than $1 billion in federal assistance has been awarded to the state to support flood recovery efforts.

Prior to a groundbreaking ceremony for the complex, Blank and Fernandez visited Ovation Networks, a local wireless technology company that was displaced by the flooding in downtown Cedar Rapids. There they announced a new $2.9 million grant to the East Central Iowa Council of Governments to provide additional business assistance and gap financing to companies still recovering from the floods. Three years ago, the Council received $1.5 million from EDA, which they used to assist local businesses like Ovation Networks to rebuild and return to the downtown area.  |  Release  |  Convention Center remarks  |  Ovation Networks remarks 

Six Cities, Ten Days and Hundreds of Businesses

Sanchez is on a tour of a manufacturing facility

Guest blog post by Francisco Sánchez, Under Secretary for International Trade, International Trade Administration

From Los Angeles to Las Vegas and Albuquerque to Walnut Creek, I spent last week traversing the Southwestern United States talking to small businesses, textile manufacturers, exporters and rural communities about the positive impact exporting has on our economic stability and potential to put people back to work.

During this trip, I met with leaders from more than 150 businesses to discuss President Obama’s National Export Initiative and how important it is for small- and medium-sized businesses to expand their markets through exporting. I also reinforced the importance of leveraging the public-private partnerships that will foster investment, support communities and assist rural businesses to succeed, expand and create jobs.

In New Mexico, I spoke to businesses about the importance of the APEC economies, which have generated nearly 200 million new jobs and 70 percent of overall global economic growth during the past decade. APEC members increasingly represent the global economy of the 21st century.

Acting Secretary Blank Announces $1.5 Million Economic Recovery Investment in Louisiana on 6th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina

Map of Louisiana

U.S. Commerce Acting Secretary Rebecca Blank today announced a $1.5 million Economic Development Administration (EDA) grant to the South Central Planning and Development Commission (SCPDC) of Houma, La., to expand emergency command center operations at the Regional Center for Economic Development and Innovation.

Six years after Hurricane Katrina descended on the Gulf Coast, leading to the devastation of parts of Louisiana, the Commission has developed a new permitting and code enforcement software system that enables digital imaging of buildings to allow city reviewers to electronically monitor buildings instead of having to track down and review paper plans, which hindered the city's ability to inspect buildings for structural damage after the hurricanes. Funding will support the new system, which will increase the efficiency of building inspections following disasters, speeding up the rebuilding process.

“The Obama Administration remains deeply committed to recovery efforts in the Gulf Coast and helping those affected rebuild their communities to be stronger and more resilient than ever before,” Blank said. “This EDA grant is just one of many ways this administration is helping to bring innovation and growth back to the Gulf to advance the region’s economic recovery.”

Gulf Coast communities have been hit hard in recent years, but Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida have made significant progress toward recovery since President Obama took office, with help from agencies across the Federal government. The U.S. Commerce Department has invested millions of dollars to jumpstart economic and job growth in the Gulf and has accelerated efforts since President Obama took office. Release

Acting Commerce Secretary Blank Statement on Post-Hurricane Status of Commerce Department

Image of Commerce's Herbert Hoover headquarters with Washington Monument behind

In the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, the Department of Commerce (HCHB) facility was inspected and is open for employees to report to work on Monday, August 29, 2011. Federal employees should check with the Department of Commerce website or the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) website to obtain any information about leave and telework policies and any updates. For Commerce employees, the operating status phone lines are 202-482-7400 or 1-877-860-2329 and will be updated accordingly.

Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank Urges Hurricane Preparedness

NOAA satellite image of Hurricane Irene (NOAA photo, Aug. 26)

As you know, Hurricane Irene is making its way up the East Coast of the United States. Make no mistake: This is a large and destructive storm and needs to be taken seriously, especially by the millions of people who live, work or travel in Irene’s projected path. 

Time is quickly running out for people to make emergency preparations and move out of harm’s way.

According to our meteorologists at Commerce/NOAA’s National Hurricane Center, Irene will approach the coast of North Carolina tonight, then move north and affect the mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Irene is a large storm and its high winds and heavy rain will affect a large area. Hurricanes like Irene are capable of causing other serious and life-threatening hazards, such as coastal surges, inland flooding and tornadoes. 

We strongly urge all affected Commerce employees and their families to finalize their preparations, so that they can meet their basic needs for a minimum of 72 hours. Visit FEMA’s preparedness sites or for tips on how you can make an emergency kit and put an emergency plan in place.

To follow the latest on Hurricane Irene, please visit NOAA’s National Hurricane Center on the Web at and on Twitter at Monitor local media or listen to NOAA Weather Radio for the latest developments and check your local National Weather Service forecast at  We also encourage you to consult our Tropical Cyclone Preparedness Guide.

Moreover, please heed the direction of your local officials, and be sure to know your evacuation route in case evacuation orders are given. 

Should you need to seek higher ground or take cover, shelters in North Carolina and other states are being prepared along the East Coast. You can find more information about open Red Cross shelters at

We’re ready. Please be ready, too.

Commerce and NOAA have been actively mobilizing: Our National Hurricane Center meteorologists have been issuing forecasts, watches and warnings to the media, emergency managers and the public. At the same time, we’re also preparing to respond if necessary to Irene’s aftermath when National Weather Service local forecast offices will issue a variety of severe weather alerts for inland high winds, flooding and severe weather, including tornadoes. 

The larger federal government family is aggressively preparing for two phases of this operation–response and recovery–and has teams and assets moving into all of the states/regions across the East Coast that will be impacted by Hurricane Irene. We are continuing to do everything we can to support the governors and their teams.

On a final note, I want to thank all the NOAA staff who have been working hard this week to ensure that Americans have the most accurate and timely storm updates, watches and warnings—as well as those who will be working through the weekend and coming days to see this storm through and assist in the response phase. Your service to Commerce and the nation is deeply appreciated.

High Tech in Rural America

Worker from PRO-TEC inspecting coated steel (Photo: PRO-TEC)

Guest blog post by Patrick D. Gallagher, Commerce's Undersecretary of Standards and Technology and Director, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

That’s right. Rural America is also high tech. From the plains of the heartland to the cattle lands of the West and the rolling hills of farmlands in the East, our smaller communities are home to high-tech businesses that help expand U.S. exports and provide high-skilled, high-paying jobs.

Today, I was honored to take a tour of one such company, PRO-TEC Coating Co. in Leipsic, Ohio, population 2,093. The company employs about 250 people in a state-of-the-art facility surrounded by corn and soybean fields in the northwest corner of the state.  A joint venture between U.S. Steel Corporation and Kobe Steel Ltd. of Japan, PRO-TEC manufactures ultra high-strength coated steel, primarily for the auto industry.  The company is currently constructing an advanced $400 million continuous annealing processing line with an annual capacity of 500,000 tons that will expand its current capacity by 50 percent and create new manufacturing jobs.

Acting Secretary Blank Tours Steel Facility in Warren, Ohio

 Acting Secretary Rebecca Blank Tours Thomas Steel in Warren, OH

Blank highlights Obama administration economic initiatives and new Commerce program designed to attract foreign investment, create jobs

Acting U.S. Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank traveled to Warren, Ohio, today to tour Thomas Steel Strip Corporation, a member of the Tata Steel Europe Group and a manufacturer of cold-rolled strips usually used as steel casings for batteries. Thomas Steel employs more than 250 people.

After the tour, Blank discussed the importance of strengthening our education, infrastructure and innovation capacity as ways to rebuild our economic foundation, create jobs and enhance our global competitiveness. She also underscored the steps the administration has already taken to achieve these priorities–from investing in community colleges and funding transportation projects across the country, to launching the President’s National Export Initiative and pushing to shorten the time it takes to approve a patent. 

Blank also highlighted the significance of foreign direct investment (FDI), citing Tata Steel as an example of foreign companies whose investments the U.S. must attract more of to strengthen economic growth and job creation.  With FDI supporting more than five million American jobs, Blank discussed a new government-wide initiative, housed at Commerce–SelectUSA–which seeks to cut federal red tape for domestic and foreign investors, remove barriers to new investment and boost business growth in the United States. 

From Frozen Sheep Heads to Prairie Dogs, Rural Offices Help Exporters Compete

Winners of an ITA Export Assistance Center Excellence Award

Guest blog post by Carrie Bevis, intern in Commerce's International Trade Administration, Office of Public Affairs

Many of the U.S. Export Assistance Centers (USEACs) are small offices that serve a wide territory mainly made up of rural communities. The specialists at these offices must be flexible, resourceful, and willing to accommodate the needs of a diverse clientele. Recently, three of them spoke with International Trade Update about their work: Carey Hester, director of the Missoula, Montana, USEAC; Cinnamon King, director of the Sioux Falls, South Dakota, USEAC; and Heather Ranck, an international trade specialist in the Fargo, North Dakota, USEAC.

According to Ranck, the USEACs play a greater role in rural areas. “We become a precious resource to businesses because we can connect companies to resources that are perceived as distant, through our amazing network.” Hester added that “often, small rural companies are less familiar and less trusting of trade, thus requiring more dependence on their Commercial Service officer. We really have to sell the idea of exporting to these companies. I am the face of the federal government to a lot of the companies out here.”

Personal contact is very important, according to Ranck. “Our work with clients is very relationship based. You have to drive out to visit them, learn about their company, and build trust before you begin export assistance. A lot of our clients become our friends.”

EDA Promotes Economic and Job Growth in Rural America

August 24, 2011 - U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development John Fernandez, Federal Co-Chairman of the Delta Regional Authority Chris Masingill and Doug O'Brien, Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, participate in White House Rural Council Roundtable in Pine Bluff, AR.

Guest Blog by John Fernandez, Assistant Secretary for Economic Development.

President Obama has taken significant steps to improve the lives of rural Americans and has provided broad support for rural communities. He signed an Executive Order in June establishing the first White House Rural Council. The Administration has also set goals of modernizing infrastructure by providing broadband access to 10 million Americans, expanding educational opportunities for students in rural areas, providing affordable health care, promoting innovation and expanding the production of renewable energy.  

Last week, as part of his three day bus tour, President Obama stopped in Peosta, Iowa to participate in the White House Rural Economic Forum, which brought together farmers, small business owners, private sector leaders, rural organizations, and government officials to discuss ideas and initiatives to accelerate hiring and spur innovation in rural America. The President has also announced a series of initiatives that leverage existing programs and funding to help small businesses and meet the critical needs in rural communities. In the coming weeks, the President will put forth additional proposals that will help put people back to work and give the middle class greater economic security. Promoting economic and job growth in rural communities is central to these goals.

The U.S. Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) has been investing to strengthen rural economic ecosystems for over four decades. Earlier this week, I traveled to Louisiana, Tennessee and Arkansas with Federal Co-Chairman of the Delta Regional Authority (DRA) Chris Masingill and Doug O'Brien, Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development at the U.S. Department of Agriculture to conduct project site visits and participate in White House Rural Council Roundtables in Houma and Bastrop, LA as well as Pine Bluff, AR. We heard from stakeholders in the region about how the federal government has and can be a better partner as we invest in rural economies.

On August 26, 2011, EDA will host a webinar to discuss best practices to promote rural small business development. White House Rural Council members Chris Masingill of DRA and Federal Co-Chairman of the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) Earl Gohl will share best practices and successes with close to 400 participants.

Department of Commerce Headquarters to Open On Schedule Wednesday, August 24

Image of HCHB headquarters ith view of Washington Monument

All structural checks indicate that the Department of Commerce headquarters building (HCHB) is safe and we expect all employees to report to work Wednesday, August 24th, at their regularly scheduled time.  Federal employees should check with for further updates and leave guidelines, which will be posted by 4:00 AM Wednesday.  The DOC Status Line (202-482-7400) will be updated accordingly.

Commerce's NOAA Launches National Initiative to Build "Weather-Ready" Nation

Commerce's NOAA Launches National Initiative to Build "Weather-Ready" Nation

As communities across the country become increasingly vulnerable to severe weather events, the Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently launched a comprehensive initiative to build a “Weather-ready” nation to make America safer by saving more lives and protecting livelihoods during such events as tornado outbreaks, intense heat waves, flooding, active hurricane seasons, and solar storms that threaten electrical and communication systems.

NOAA also announced that 2011 tied the 2008 record for billion-dollar disasters in the United States so far experiencing nine separate disasters, each with an economic loss of $1 billion or more. The latest event to surpass the $1 billion price tag is this summer’s flooding along the Missouri and Souris rivers in the upper Midwest. This year’s losses have so far amounted to more than $35 billion. Release

Rural America: Wellspring of Innovation

Staff seated in classroom listening to instructor

Guest blog post by Robert L. Stoll, Commissioner for Patents, United States Patent and Trademark Office

Looking at today’s sophisticated high-definition television sets it is hard to imagine that their very foundation could have ever been conceived by a rural farm boy. Yet the legendary account of this farm boy’s inspiration for his image dissector occurred as he was plowing a field.  His name was Philo Farnsworth and at that moment the idea that would become electronic television was born. Just like his 19th century counterparts, John Deere, Cyrus McCormick, Eli Whitney and George Washington Carver, one of the fathers of the modern television industry found inspiration from his rural environment. 

That practice remains alive and well today.  We see it in places like Blaine, Minnesota where Pam Turner invented the Spiral Eye™ Sewing Needle; Athens, Texas where Lesia Farmer invented products for the kitchen; Wake Forest, North Carolina where Michael Sykes invented a home building system; and Sonora, California where Julia Rhodes invented KleenSlate Concepts®, dry erase products.  Today, in the age of the Internet, more inventions are collaborative efforts rather than creations in isolation like Farnsworth’s invention.  But even with all that is available at the touch of a keystroke it is still important to have experts readily accessible to support today’s American innovators wherever they may be.

Acting Secretary Blank Hosts Meeting with Local Business Leaders in Martinsville, Va. , Tours Foreign Direct Investment Facility in N.C.

Blank tours AlBaad USA in Reidsville, N.C.

Today, Acting Secretary Rebecca Blank traveled to Martinsville, Va., to host a roundtable meeting with local business leaders.  The discussion, part of the Obama Administration’s White House Business Council’s ongoing Winning the Future roundtable event series, is to better communicate with America’s business community about the challenges they are facing and turn that input into concrete action that will improve U.S. economic competitiveness. The meeting was also an opportunity for businesses to learn about help that is available from agencies across the federal government.

After  the roundtable, she toured the production facility of AlBaad USA with Gov. Bev Perdue and U.S. Rep. Brad Miller in Reidsville, N.C. AlBaad USA is an Israeli-owned wet wipe and cleaning supply company that has made a $35 million investment in its U.S. operation, employing nearly 200 people. 

After the tour, Blank discussed the importance of strengthening our education, infrastructure and innovation capacity as ways to rebuild our economic foundation, create jobs and enhance our global competitiveness. She also underscored the steps the administration has already taken to achieve these priorities – from investing in community colleges and funding transportation projects across the country, to launching the President’s National Export Initiative and pushing to shorten the time it takes to approve a patent. 

Blank also highlighted the significance of foreign direct investment (FDI), citing AlBaad USA as an example of foreign companies whose investments the U.S. must attract more of to strengthen economic growth and job creation.  With FDI supporting more than 5 million American jobs, Blank discussed a new government-wide initiative, housed at Commerce – SelectUSA – which seeks to cut federal red tape for domestic and foreign investors, remove barriers to new investment and boost business growth in the United States. 

Launched in June, SelectUSA was created by Executive Order in direct response to concerns the Obama administration has heard from the business community. In addition to its work removing federal-level barriers to foreign investment, SelectUSA also brings together information on federal programs and services available to companies looking to invest in the United States in one, easy-to-access location, supported by a comprehensive website at The website also provides snapshots of the competitive landscape in major U.S. industries and a direct line to state and local economic development agencies.

NOAA’s Lubchenco: Putting Science to Work for Everyone

ABC correspondent and town hall moderator Clayton Sandell, Lubchenco and Jim Crocker, Trustee, Denver Museum of Nature and Science

Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator Jane Lubchenco kicked off a nine-day trip to Colorado, California and Alaska with a town hall discussion at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science on Wednesday, Aug. 17. ABC Denver correspondent Clayton Sandell moderated the discussion.  Dr. Lubchenco, a Colorado native, focused the discussion on NOAA’s value to the nation and Colorado, especially at a time when extreme weather events are creating serious challenges for people and communities. Later in Aspen, she spoke at the 8th  Annual American Renewable Energy Day Conference.

At the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, she said:

Our scientists build and improve our understanding of how the world works and how it is changing.  But we do so much more than that.  But we do so much more than that. NOAA puts that science to work for everyone – each and every day.  NOAA scientists use science to create and share trusted information and solutions to some of the greatest challenges on this planet:  such as knowing when and where severe storms will strike, testing seafood for safety, tracking and understanding climate change, using satellite to guide search and rescue operation, responding to oil spills, and working to restore oceans to a healthy state. So, these may seem like a disparate collection of services and stewardship, but they center around oceans, coasts, climate and weather- and are all based on science.


Science plays a pivotal role in our lives every day.  All things NOAA start with science. For less than a nickel a day, per person per year, NOAA puts that science to work for every American providing essential services:

  • Like healthy oceans.
  • Like severe weather forecasting, warnings and research.
  • Like disaster preparedness, and oil spill response and habitat restoration.
  • Like seafood safety testing and satellite-aided search and rescue.
One of the best bargains in the country! Using science, we develop solutions for a sustainable future– a future with natural resources that our families, our grandchildren, and generations to come can enjoy and use, if we use them wisely first.

Commerce's NIST Tests Help Ensure Reliable Wireless Alarm Beacons for First Responders

NIST engineer Kate Remley holds two Personal Alert Safety System (PASS) devices with wireless alarm capability. Photo copyright: Paul Trantow/Altitude Arts

Wireless emergency safety equipment could save lives—if signals are transmitted reliably. But few performance standards exist. Now, tests at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are helping to ensure that alarm beacons for firefighters and other emergency responders will operate reliably in the presence of other wireless devices.

NIST is providing technical support for industry consensus standards by developing test methods to evaluate how well these devices work under realistic conditions. The latest NIST study focused on interference between Personal Alert Safety Systems (PASS) with wireless alarm capability, and radio-frequency identification (RFID) systems. The methods developed in the study can test interference in other wireless devices such as radios, hands-free cell phone headsets, local area networks, and urban search and rescue robots.  |  Read the full NIST "Tech Beat" story

New Promise for Rural North Carolina

State and local officials celebrate groundbreaking with shovelsful of earth (Photo credit: MCNC)

Guest blog post by Lawrence E. Strickling, Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information and Administrator, NTIA

Last Friday, I visited Kannapolis, North Carolina to attend a groundbreaking ceremony for the second phase of an infrastructure project that will deploy or improve broadband networks throughout much of the state, particularly in rural areas. The effort is led by MCNC, a nonprofit broadband provider that has operated the North Carolina Research and Education Network (NCREN) for more than 25 years. The project—funded by a $104 million Recovery Act investment and $40 million in private sector matching funds—will deploy approximately 1,650 miles of new fiber. Combined with upgraded facilities, the project will add 2,600 miles of new or improved infrastructure to MCNC’s network, extending broadband to nearly 1,200 community anchor institutions, including universities, schools, community colleges, libraries, healthcare providers, and public safety facilities.  Nearly 500 of those anchor institutions have already benefitted from improved access to the broadband network.

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Issues its 8 Millionth Patent

The USPTO issued patent number 8,000,000 to Second Sight Medical Products, Inc., for a visual prosthesis apparatus that enhances visual perception for people who have gone blind due to outer retinal degeneration. The invention uses electrical stimulation of the retina to produce the visual perception of patterns of light.

Today the USPTO issued its 8 millionth patent to Second Sight Medical Products, Inc., a California-based company founded in 1998, for a visual prosthesis apparatus that enhances visual perception for people who have gone blind due to outer retinal degeneration. The invention uses electrical stimulation of the retina to produce the visual perception of patterns of light. The now patented Argus® II is currently in U.S. clinical trials and has received marketing approval in Europe.  

It took 75 years to get to patent 1 million in August 1911, yet just six years to get from patent 7 million to today’s 8 millionth patent.

“This kind of innovation is a driver of our nation’s economic growth and job creation,” said Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO David Kappos. “The USPTO plays a major role in serving America’s innovators by granting the intellectual property rights they need to secure investment capital, build companies and bring their products and services to the global marketplace.”

The signing and presentation of the 8 millionth patent by Director Kappos will take place at the Smithsonian American Art Museum on Sept. 8, 2011.

Read the full press release for more information on the 8 millionth patent.

Interested in the previous patent milestones? Here's more information on patent milestones at the USPTO.

Minority Business Development Agency: Helping Rural Business Owners Create Jobs

Image of products from Sister Sky

Since the start of this administration, the Minority Business Development Agency has helped minority-owned firms gain access to $7 billion in contracts. Those firms are located in cities and rural communities throughout the country. However, what these firms have in common is their tenacity, innovation and creativity.

MBDA has made a point of ensuring that minority-owned firms are given access through our 50 center touch points located throughout the country. Among our MBDA business centers is the Native American Business Enterprise Center (NABEC) program.

Each NABEC leverages project staff and professional consultants to provide a wide range of direct business assistance services to eligible Native American, tribal entity and minority-owned firms.

MBDA’s NABEC services include initial consultation and assessments, business technical assistance, and access to federal and non-federal procurement and finance opportunities.

NHC'S Bill Read: A Hurricane by Any Other Name. . . .

Satellite photo of Hurricane Dora, July21,  2011

Guest blog by Bill Read, Director of NOAA's National Hurricane Center

One of the customs of my job as Director that has been most interesting is the practice of naming of tropical cyclones. For several hundred years, many hurricanes in the West Indies were named after the particular saint's day on which the hurricane occurred. Ivan R. Tannehill describes in his book, Hurricanes the major tropical storms of recorded history and mentions many hurricanes named after saints. For example, there was Hurricane "Santa Ana," which struck Puerto Rico with exceptional violence on July 26, 1825, and "San Felipe" (the first) and "San Felipe" (the second) which hit Puerto Rico on September 13 in both 1876 and 1928.

Prior to the current naming scheme, storms were identified mostly by the current position (latitude and longitude). Not all of us are geographically oriented, and experience shows that the use of short, distinctive given names in written as well as spoken communications is quicker and less subject to error than the older more cumbersome latitude-longitude identification methods. In the pre-Internet, 24/7 news cycle era, these advantages were important in exchanging detailed storm information between hundreds of widely scattered stations, coastal bases and ships at sea.

While not officially adopted until after 1950, the use of common people names dates back to the last century. An early example of the use of a woman's name for a storm (a winter storm called “Maria”) was in the novel Storm, by George R. Stewart, published by Random House in 1941, also filmed by Walt Disney. During World War II, this informal naming practice became widespread in weather map discussions among forecasters, especially Air Force and Navy meteorologists who plotted the movements of storms over the wide expanses of the Pacific Ocean.

Winning the Future in Detroit: Public-Private Partnerships Advance Economic Transformation

Members of the Detroit Regional Chamber pictured meeting with Fernandez and Baruah

Guest blog post by John Fernandez, U.S Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development, Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration

Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting Detroit, Mich., to see firsthand how close collaboration between the public and private sectors is working to transform the region’s economy and create the businesses and jobs of the future.  I was pleased to be joined by Sandy Baruah, President and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber and also my predecessor at the U.S. Department of Commerce during the Bush administration. 

The trip was a great opportunity to witness how the economic landscape in America’s "Motor City" is being transformed, particularly around the emerging and robust information technology and robotics cluster, which is thriving due to the city’s skilled talent pool, affordable retail opportunities and urban attractions such as the Fox Theater and Detroit Opera House.

There is something positive in the air in Detroit and the local economy is reaping the benefits. From the mayor, to members of Congress, to business leaders, to community stakeholders—there is a shared commitment to strengthen the city and create new jobs. Vibrant public-private partnerships are being leveraged and driving growth.

Women and STEM: My Perspective, and My Story

Image of female scientists

Guest blog post by Jane Lubchenco, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator

Last week, as the administration and Congress agreed on a debt ceiling deal, those of us in the science world were reminded of another looming deficit: the lack of women with jobs – and education – in science, engineering, technology and mathematics (STEM).

According to the “Women in STEM” report issued by Commerce’s Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA), nearly half of U.S. jobs are filled by women, yet they hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs. This is despite the fact that women with STEM jobs earn 33 percent more than women in other fields.

A country, especially one in the throes of tough economic times, needs all of the skilled brainpower it has to “win the future.”  Science and technological innovation have a key role to play in creating jobs, stimulating a robust economy and creating durable solutions to tough problems.  Women and people of color have more to offer than is currently being tapped.  Since the ESA report focuses on women, I’ll do the same here.

We at NOAA are doing our best to identify, hire, promote and engage talented people. I am surrounded by women in all stages of their careers who are pursuing their passions for science and science policy.

We have a history of distinguished women scientists working at NOAA and continue to actively seek new talent. In addition, women of distinction also fill the uppermost ranks of the NOAA leadership team.

What differentiates NOAA from other science-based institutions, and what attracts budding scientists and students to NOAA? One obvious answer is our mission to create and use cutting-edge science to provide services and stewardship—our weather, climate and ocean science enterprises.

Kids are especially intrigued and excited by weather and climate as “see and feel” phenomena that touch them daily. The same can be said for the ocean, which like space, is a largely unexplored frontier that offers the promise of adventure and discovery.

This is, in fact, what hooked me.

NOAA: Heat Wave Leads to Fourth-Warmest July on Record for the U.S.

Infographic of U.S. showing temperature differences

Persistent, scorching heat in the central and eastern regions of the United States shattered long-standing daily and monthly temperature records last month, making it the fourth warmest July on record nationally, according to scientists at NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center. The heat exacerbated drought conditions, resulting in the largest “exceptional” drought footprint in the 12-year history of the U.S. Drought Monitor. “Exceptional” is the most severe category of drought on the drought monitor scale. Drought conditions at several locations in the South region are not as long lived, but are as dry, or drier, than the historic droughts of the 1930s and 1950s. July NCDC report.

The average U.S. temperature in July was 77.0 degrees F, which is 2.7 degrees F above the long-term (1901-2000) average. Precipitation, averaged across the nation, was 2.46 inches. This was 0.32 inch below the long-term average, with large variability between regions. The monthly analysis is based on records dating back to 1895.  Read more of NOAA's release.

USPTO Director David Kappos Talks Innovation with Business Leaders in Florida’s Space Coast

Kappos with roundtable participants

This week, the Commerce Department's Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) David Kappos is in Orlando, Fla., to hear directly from small business leaders as part of the White House Business Council Roundtable series being held across the country. Engaging with innovators and entrepreneurs in the state’s vibrant Space Coast community, Kappos is gaining additional perspective on the regional business climate and using that feedback to identify resources, partnerships and investments that will strengthen the Space Coast economy by boosting its diversity and global competitiveness.

Touring the Kennedy Space Center and the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Simulation and Training, Kappos is observing firsthand how research centers and labs in the region are developing the cutting-edge tools and programs that will inspire the next frontier of innovation and exploration. He is also talking with area businesses about the critical steps the USPTO is taking to streamline the patent system—arming high-tech entrepreneurs in the Space Coast with the strongest and most consistent intellectual property protections to swiftly bring their innovations to the marketplace and jumpstart their companies.

Senior administration officials across the federal government have participated in several business roundtables around the country this summer to determine how the administration can best support the very businesses that are doing the innovating and hiring that will write the next chapters of 21st century growth.

Research and development being unleashed in states like Florida are the building blocks of innovation, Working together, the federal government and local partners can establish an environment ripe for small businesses to flourish, create jobs and help America win the future.

NOAA's Atlantic Hurricane Season Update Calls for Increase in Named Storms

Satellite photo of Emily as of 8-3-11

Forecasters have a higher confidence for an active season

The Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued its updated 2011 Atlantic hurricane season outlook today raising the number of expected named storms from its pre-season outlook issued in May. Forecasters also increased their confidence that 2011 will be an active Atlantic hurricane season. NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, a division of the National Weather Service, updates its Atlantic hurricane season outlook every August.

“The atmosphere and Atlantic Ocean are primed for high hurricane activity during August through October,” said Gerry Bell, Ph.D., lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at the Climate Prediction Center.  “Storms through October will form more frequently and become more intense than we’ve seen so far this season.”

Key climate factors predicted in May continue to support an active season. These include: the tropical multi-decadal signal, which since 1995 has brought favorable ocean and atmospheric conditions, leading to more active seasons; exceptionally warm Atlantic Ocean temperatures (the third warmest on record); and the possible redevelopment of La Niña.  Reduced vertical wind shear and lower air pressure across the tropical Atlantic also favor an active season.

Based on these conditions and on climate model forecasts, the confidence for an above-normal season has increased from 65 percent in May to 85 percent. Also, the expected number of named storms has increased from 12-18 in May to 14-19, and the expected number of hurricanes has increased from 6-10 in May to 7-10. Read NOAA's full release

Rural and Suburban America: When One Definition is Not Enough

Graphic of three possible ways to define Peoria, Illinois

Guest blog post by Robert M. Groves, Director, U.S. Census Bureau

Cross-posted on the Census Director's blog

Last week I was pleased to speak to the Rural Philanthropy Conference. They are a set of private and community foundations that identify problems and issues facing rural America and seek to improve the areas through foundation investments. They want to do good works and see the lives of rural peoples improve. 

There was discussion about what “rural” really means. It is fair to say that rurality as a concept has for years been derived from first identifying various types of urban areas. In that sense, rural areas are residual to urban areas; everything that’s not urban is rural.

For example, looking at the area around Peoria, Illinois, illustrates the problem (see graphic). If we use the city limits of Peoria as the urban unit, then we deduce more land as rural adjacent to it. If we identify land use patterns, then we bring into a Peoria urban area more space, mainly suburban ring areas. If we use commuting patterns and other data to describe a cohesive economic center, then the rural fringe shrinks even more.

So, “urbanicity” (and thus “rurality”) is currently defined by various combinations of civil jurisdictions, population density, land use and economic notions.

Women in STEM: An Opportunity and An Imperative

Gender Shares of Total and STEM Jobs, 2009

Today Commerce's Economic and Statistics Administration released the second in a series of reports on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). This report, entitled Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation (PDF), looked at women and STEM. The results offer an opportunity and an imperative for women and America. The results showed that women are vastly underrepresented in STEM jobs and among STEM degree holders despite making up nearly half of the U.S. workforce and half of the college-educated workforce. That leaves an untapped opportunity to expand STEM employment in the United States, even as there is wide agreement that the nation must do more to improve its competitiveness.

Other key findings are:

  • Although women fill close to half of all jobs in the U.S. economy, they hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs. This has been the case throughout the past decade, even as college-educated women have increased their share of the overall workforce.
  • Women with STEM jobs earned 33 percent more than comparable women in non-STEM jobs–considerably higher than the STEM premium for men. As a result, the gender wage gap is smaller in STEM jobs than in non-STEM jobs.
  • Women hold a disproportionately low share of STEM undergraduate degrees, particularly in engineering.
  • Women with a STEM degree are less likely than their male counterparts to work in a STEM occupation; they are more likely to work in education or healthcare

For more information on this topic, read Chief Economist Mark Doms's blog post about the report and ESA's first report on STEM: Good Jobs Now and For the Future.

U.S. EDA Invests in Rural America—West Virginia Receives Over $5 Million to Advance Innovation Economy

Aerial view of Tech Park

Guest blog post by John Fernandez, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development, U.S. Economic Development Administration

On August 1, 2011, the U.S. Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) invested $5.25 million in the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission of Charleston, W. Va., to upgrade a key research lab building in South Charleston’s West Virginia Regional Technology Park to help attract rural small businesses. The effort is expected to create an initial 96 jobs and an additional 9,000 jobs over the long term.

The facility will provide leased incubator space to high-tech start-up companies in the chemical, energy, and advanced materials industries. The renovations will result in significant energy savings for the State and businesses working in the facility, reducing operating costs by nearly 50 percent annually. Start-up companies and entrepreneurs in the park will conduct innovative product and process research, testing and business development, and will also have manufacturing capacity. The building will also include research and teaching facilities for Marshall University, West Virginia University, and four community colleges. 

This rural investment enjoys wide Congressional and State support.

Secretary Locke Resigns, Becomes Next Ambassador to China; Acting Deputy Secretary Blank Assumes Role of Acting Secretary

Secretary Clinton applauds Gary Locke as his wife and children look on

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke formally resigned today and was sworn-in by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as the next U.S. Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China. Dr. Rebecca M. Blank, Acting Deputy Secretary of the Commerce Department, will serve as Acting Commerce Secretary. Blank has served as Acting Deputy Secretary since November 2010.

“It has been the honor of a lifetime serving as Commerce Secretary for President Obama.  I’m proud of the men and women with whom I had the privilege to work and the tremendous accomplishments we’ve made together in the last 28 months,” Ambassador Locke said.

“From increasing U.S. exports and reducing patent application wait times, to creating the foundation for a national smart grid and taking an important first step to reform the export control system, we have helped create jobs, lay the foundation for future economic growth and made American companies more innovative at home and more competitive abroad. And we did all of this while making the Commerce Department more efficient and responsive to its stakeholders," Locke noted, citing the 2010 Census in particular.

Under Locke’s leadership, the Commerce Department also reduced the average time needed to award a competitive economic development grant from 140 days to 20 days; streamlined Department business services through the Commerce Connect one-stop shop initiative; efficiently distributed nearly $5 billion in Recovery Act funds for broadband development in under 18 months, which helped create more than 120,000 miles of broadband infrastructure; and, oversaw a significant first step in the President’s export control reform effort, which strengthens our national security, while making U.S. companies more competitive by easing their licensing burden for exports to partners and allies.