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Blog Category: Economics and Statistics Administration

Reinvesting in America’s Supply Chain Innovation

Reinvesting in America’s Supply Chain Innovation

Guest blog post by Sue Helper, U.S. Department of Commerce, Chief Economist

It’s springtime, and during this season of growth and renewal another important renaissance is underway: a remarkable resurgence in American manufacturing.  Powering this growth are the small- and medium-sized businesses that comprise the U.S. manufacturing supply chain. 

President Obama in his State of the Union address earlier this year committed to supporting these small businesses.  This week, in Cleveland, OH, he made good on that promise, announcing a series of key manufacturing initiatives.  Additionally, a new White House-Department of Commerce report was released that examines the importance of reinvesting in America’s supply chain to enable innovation.  The report, “Supply Chain Innovation: Strengthening America’s Small Manufacturers,” identifies potential barriers as well as solutions – laying the path toward sustained manufacturing growth and strength, at home and abroad, now and into the future.

As described in our report, the resurgence in manufacturing has seen the addition of 877,000 jobs added since February 2010. Small firms play an increasingly important role in U.S. manufacturing, and now account for almost half of America’s manufacturing employment. Dense networks of these small manufacturers are vital to the process of taking a product from concept to market, and sharing manufacturing expertise along the supply chain is essential for the diffusion of the new products and innovative processes that give U.S. manufacturing its cutting edge. 

However, these small firms face barriers to innovation, a key element in strengthening U.S. competitiveness. While firms with fewer than 500 employees comprise 98 percent of all manufacturing firms, together they account for less than one-third of private-sector research and development (R&D) spending in manufacturing.  And because of these barriers to innovation, in their operations, small manufacturers are less than 60 percent as productive as their larger peers. Moreover, lack of innovative capability impacts small suppliers’ customers: the quality of end products is compromised and it takes longer for innovative technologies to get to market.

Customer firms have a critical role to play in cultivating the capabilities of small firms in their supply chains and encouraging fruitful cross-pollination of expertise across firms.  However, larger firms often under-invest in their suppliers because they fear improvements they pay for may end up benefitting their competitors, and because of conflicting internal goals.

An Important New Tool in our Data Revolution

Commerce Data Advisory Council banner

Guest blog post by Mark Doms, Under Secretary for Economic Affairs

Today we have reached an important milestone in the data transformation movement with the naming of members to Commerce Department’s new Data Advisory Council (CDAC).  The 19 leaders we have selected will help guide the Department in revolutionizing our approach toward data optimization and usability. They are bright stars in private and public sectors: thought leaders on data; respected and well-equipped to facilitate this transformation. Members’ expertise mirrors the spectrum of Commerce data -- demographic, economic, scientific, environmental, patent, and geospatial.  Their agenda?  To help us foster innovation, create jobs, and drive better decision-making throughout our economy and society. Their first meeting will take place April 23-24 in Washington, D.C.

Selecting from an impressive and wide array of experience, innovation, education and talent was not an easy task.  The individuals we have chosen are extraordinary for a host of reasons evident in their positions and achievements.  But perhaps one of the most compelling traits they share is keen awareness that success is built upon the ability to listen to a chorus of voices representing a range of viewpoints. 

Click here for CDAC members bios.

We are thrilled to have reached this important marker in our “data revolution” and look forward to the CDAC’s guidance on such key issues as data management; open data standards; public-private partnership; and ensuring a user-driven process.

Data Snapshot: How Much Do Small- and Medium-sized Businesses Contribute to U.S. Exports?

SMEs accounted for approximately 35 percent of total goods export value -- continuing a steady growth trend of the past decade.

Guest blog post by Jane Callen, Economics and Statistics Administration.

In his State of the Union address, President Obama said that “21st century businesses, including small businesses, need to sell more American products overseas.  Today, our businesses export more than ever, and exporters tend to pay their workers higher wages…”

Following on the President’s remarks, we thought it would be valuable to take a quick “data snapshot” of the most recent annual report on exporting companies published by the U.S. Census Bureau. The 2014 report shows that small-and-medium-sized companies continue to contribute a larger share of our exports than in the past. As the below graph shows, in 2013 (the most recent year for which we have data), these companies accounted for approximately 35 percent of total goods export value -- continuing a steady growth trend of the past decade.

Exports of American products overseas are important to the economic health of the U.S., and these data highlight the significant ongoing role of small-and-medium-sized companies. Stay tuned to this space for regular data “snapshots” of what is happening in the world around us, as seen through our statistical lens.

Businesses Commit to Alleviate Their Suppliers’ Capital Costs

Businesses Commit to Alleviate Their Suppliers’ Capital Costs

A recently released Department of Commerce report, “The Economic Benefits of Reducing Supplier Working Capital Costs,” highlighted how much the viability of our nation’s supply chain depends on large firms paying on time.  Our small manufacturing firms—which account for more than 1/3 of manufacturing shipments and close to half of employment—face elevated capital costs, relative to large firms, because of lack of access to loans and higher interest rates.  Large firms exacerbated these constraints through the Great Recession when they delayed payment for the good they ordered.  The economic recovery has not seen these times drop; indeed, one study found that corporate payables increased from an average of 35 days in March 2009 to 46 days in July 2014.

Cutting these times is not just good corporate citizenship.  It makes good economic sense, as the new report outlines.  With less working capital, suppliers’ ability to innovate or invest in their workers is inhibited, leading to lower quality goods and services. They may recoup the shortfall by raising prices, but this is not necessarily an option if they are competing with other suppliers. In the worst case scenario, they may exit the market, leaving a hole in the supply chain. Thus, an increase in suppliers’ working capital costs may ultimately accrue to the large buyer, in the form of lower quality goods and services, less stable suppliers that create risk for the buyer, and/or higher prices because of less productive suppliers.

Just last week, leaders from corporate America met at the White House to collaborate and help their suppliers succeed under the umbrella of the Administration’s SupplierPay. This initiative encourages large businesses to pay their suppliers more quickly to promote small business quality, growth, and innovation. Corporations can help suppliers avoid expensive, difficult to obtain bank loans, or other even more costly financing options. Since the SupplierPay Initiative began earlier this year, 47 companies have taken the pledge to pay their suppliers faster. These companies joined together at this week’s event to network, swap ideas, and exchange lessons learned as they take steps to help increase their suppliers’ access to working capital.

 “When buyers pay their suppliers faster, they both benefit,” said Commerce Department Chief Economist Sue Helper.  “This in turn allows suppliers’ working capital to be put to work for the benefit of the larger economy—their large customers included. Buyers also receive bottom-line benefits and fulfill their corporate social responsibility to their suppliers.”

Commerce Data: Then & Now

Guest blog post by Mark Doms, Under Secretary for Economic Affairs

In July, Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker announced that our department will be hiring our first ever Chief Data Officer (CDO), building on her commitment to Commerce’s role as “America’s Data Agency.” She also announced the formation of a data advisory council comprising private sector leaders who will help the CDO navigate new and dynamic data challenges. This is the latest chapter in Commerce’s long history of adapting to serve the needs of an ever-changing American economy.

The United States Department of Commerce has been a trusted provider of data and statistics for centuries. The first decennial census took place in 1790 and the first patent was issued that same year.  Today, because of advances in technology, we are able to provide Americans with more data, faster and more accurately than ever before. This transformation can be seen in the evolution of the Census Bureau.

Article 1 Section 3 of the US Constitution states that the U.S. government shall enumerate the population of the United States every 10 years. Beginning with the 1790 Decennial Census and once every decade since then, the federal government has provided this invaluable information, making the United States the first country to produce a regular count of its citizens.   

By the early 1800s it became clear that in addition to the important demographic information flowing from the decennial census, there was also an imperative for regular collection of business information. In response to that need, in 1810, the U.S. Census Bureau established a census of businesses, also known as the economic census.  The initial focal points were manufacturing, lumber yards and butcher shops. In 1902, Congress authorized the establishment of the U.S. Census Bureau and directed that the census of manufacturers be taken every five years (a “quinquennial” census).  As the economy grew, the Census Bureau responded accordingly and by 1930 it had expanded the economic census to include services.  The breadth of the survey has since changed to keep pace with our nation’s growing economy.  The 2012 economic census data are currently being released.

Advocating the Transformative Power of Commerce Data at NYC STRATA + Hadoop World Conference

Jennifer van der Meer and Under Secretary Mark Doms at NYC STRATA + Hadoop World Conference

Cross posted from

Under Secretary Mark Doms participated in a high level data discussion this morning at the Strata+Hadoop World Conference in New York City. Before an audience of 500 leading technologists and data programmers, Under Secretary Doms talked with host Jennifer van der Meer, Adjunct Professor at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program and CEO of Reason Street, to explore the Department of Commerce's strategic data plan and Doms' efforts to move the federal statistical system into the era of big data.
Doms noted that the US Department of Commerce has long been a powerhouse for government data, trailblazing the use of government statistics and analysis to help everyone make more informed decisions. Now, in the era of big data, with large volumes of data collected and analyzed by the private sector, by citizens themselves, the agency, with Doms leadership, is working to position itself as a leader in the federal data space. Jennifer van der Meer asked the Under Secretary about Commerce's plans to hire its first Chief Data Officer, stand up a Data Advisory Council populated with private sector and academic data leaders, and ways the Department is looking to team with the private sector to better collect, disseminate, and analyze Commerce data.
Doms went on to highlight the fact that challenges facing companies and our society often do not fit neatly in the "buckets" represented by the various federal agencies. Commerce has data that, say, could be meshed with Department of Education data, to tackle our nation's skills gap or help students determine which majors have the best return on investment. Doms noted Commerce's involvement with the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy and their efforts to coordinate interagency discussion to share best practices and tackle cross-agency challenges. Doms pointed out this coordination is critical to unleashing the positive benefits of federal data, with the next step being to figure out how to incorporate private datasets and get greater corporate buy-in to the open data movement currently underway at the federal, state and local level.

Under Secretary Doms closed out the discussion by making the case that the federal government must remain a leader in data. Like our basic scientific research, the building and maintaining of our nation's highways and water treatment facilities, and rural postal delivery, providing comprehensive data on our people, economy and the planet will continue to be a core federal mission. This information is critical to decision making by every business, government, and citizen, and the private sector simply does not have the financial incentive to fill this role. Doms thanked Jennifer and the audience for a lively discussion, one that further informed his efforts, under Secretary Pritzker's leadership, to revolutionize data at the Department of Commerce.

New tool shows manufacturing in America carries huge potential savings; a reshoring success “toy story”

New tool shows manufacturing in America carries huge potential savings; a reshoring success “toy story”

Guest blog by Dr. Sue Helper, Chief Economist, Economics and Statistics Administration

This week, as we celebrate the country’s vital manufacturing sector, we are excited to unveil a new tool that will allow manufacturers to calculate potentially significant savings that can be realized by manufacturing in America.

With the first iteration of Assess Costs Everywhere (ACE), we assisted manufacturers in deciding where to locate their operations by examining 10 cost and risk factors they should consider.  This week, we present “the Cost Differential Frontier,” or CDF, as part of ACE 2.0.  Developed by economists at the University of Lausanne, this calculator serves as a framework to consider total inventory costs and risks. 

ACE 1.0 examined factors such as labor; trade financing and regulatory compliance costs; product quality; shipping; travel and oversight; inventory; intellectual property; political/security risks; and other inputs to gain a better understanding about the sometimes hidden costs associated with manufacturing location decisions. Great work is underway to further our understanding of the financial implications of these factors.  Applying CDF, businesses for the first time can quantify potential savings that would be derived from reducing lead time, in conjunction with other factors. 

Because customer demand often fluctuates unexpectedly, companies should carefully consider the value of a domestic supply chain with shorter lead times.  Using offshore suppliers increases the time between order and delivery, often by months. As a result, the buyer must place the order based on a forecast.  As the lead time gets longer, the range of demand levels that must be considered becomes wider.  These fluctuations lead to costly stock-outs or overstocks.  The savings from offshoring may need to be large (20 percent or more) to compensate for these mismatch costs between supply and demand. Applying CDF, manufacturers can calculate exactly how the long supply chains and uncertainty add large hidden costs to production.

Moreover, real-life examples such as the successful reshoring story of U.S. toy manufacturer K’NEX demonstrate that the promise of ACE is more than just theoretical. Indeed, with ACE and CDF, a truly compelling case for reshoring is emerging.

Data Innovation Summit: Taking Advantage of Boston’s Big Data Movement

Under Secretary Mark Doms Speaks at the Big Data Innovation Summit in Boston, MA

Guest blog post by Mark Doms, Under Secretary for Economic Affairs

Cross-posted from

I was honored to deliver the keynote address this morning to over 800 of today’s data leaders.  In preparation I had one goal: to tell the story of data -- how far the Department of Commerce has come and it’s potential for the future. These are exciting times. Over the past decade, jobs in data fields have grown at a rate 6 times faster than the economy as a whole, and these jobs pay 73% more than the typical American job.

The federal government provides fundamental statistical building blocks about our population, our economy, and our climate. This information is so pervasive that people often are unaware they are using government data. For instance, one survey found 301 billion weather forecasts are consumed per year -- information that is delivered by an array of sources, but begins with the National Weather Service, part of the Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Indeed, many of the companies attending the Big Data Innovation Summit today in Boston rely heavily upon government data.  

Since 1790, when the first Census occurred, our government has taken the time to collect information that tells the demographic and economic story of our nation. We take this commitment very seriously at the Department of Commerce and we welcome user input.  

Lessons Learned: Exploring the Value of Open Data on Capitol Hill

Lessons Learned: Exploring the Value of Open Data on Capitol Hill

Cross blog post by Mark Doms, Under Secretary for Economic Affairs

Government data helps drive our economy and will increasingly become more important in the future. Thursday, I had the opportunity to speak on this topic at a congressional briefing hosted by U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Budget Committee’s Government Performance Task Force, and the Center for Data Innovation. Panelists included Daniel Castro, Director of the Center for Data Innovation, Kathleen Phillips, COO for Zillow, Tom Schenk, Chief Data Officer for the City of Chicago, and Steven Adler, IBM’s Chief Information Strategist.

We explored how government data is the foundation of the ongoing data revolution, fostering innovation, creating jobs and driving better decision-making in both the private and public sectors. The federal government is, and will continue to be, the only provider of credible, comprehensive, and consistent data on our people, economy, and climate. We also pointed to the findings in our recently released report,“Fostering Innovation, Creating Jobs, Driving Better Decisions: The Value of Government Data,” which found that billions in economic output and trillions in resource decisions are driven by federal data.

Daniel Castro, Director of the Center for Data Innovation, urged attendees to make sure Congress continues to invest in our data infrastructure. He highlighted the value of open data, ensuring that data flows more seamlessly between the public and private sectors. Castro also focused on the need to consider new ways to enable cooperation between government and industry to maximize the benefits of big data to the greatest number in society.

Zillow’s Chief Operating Officer Kathleen Phillips discussed how her company uses a wide variety of federal and local data to better connect buyers and sellers in the real estate marketplace. Zillow provides critical information in an easy to digest mapping format for over 50 million properties around the country. Their Zillow Home Value Forecast, fed in part by federal datasets, also predicts local home values. Zillow uses data from the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the Federal Housing Finance Agency and other federal sources to provide a real time evaluation of local real estate markets.

Deputy Secretary Andrews Lauds Software Industry for Helping Ensure America is Open for Business

Deputy Secretary Andrews Lauds Software Industry for Helping Ensure America is Open for Business

Today, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Bruce Andrews spoke about the software industry’s role in strengthening the economy at an event hosted by the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA), the principal trade association for the software and digital content industry. During the event, titled “The Software Century: Analyzing Economic Impact & Job Creation,” Deputy Secretary Andrews talked with SIIA Vice President of Public Policy Mark MacCarthy about the Commerce Department’s efforts to support American businesses in the software and other high-tech sectors.

During the discussion, Deputy Secretary Andrews highlighted how the Department supports the software industry at practically every stage of development through our “Open for Business Agenda.” Those efforts include increasing broadband access across the country, linking small businesses and their customers with high-speed Internet, boosting manufacturing to provide the hardware software needs, and strengthening U.S. intellectual property protections, cybersecurity and consumer privacy.

Deputy Secretary Andrews also talked about data as a key department-wide strategic priority. Commerce is working to unleash more of its data to strengthen the nation’s economic growth; make its data easier to access, understand, and use; and, maximize the return of data investments for industries, including the software industry.

It was fitting, then, that SIIA today released a first-of-its-kind report providing detailed analysis and data related to the software industry’s output, productivity, exports and job creation. MacCarthy, former Under Secretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs Robert J. Shapiro, and representatives from Oracle, Intuit and GM discussed the report, titled “The Impact of the U.S Software Industry on the American Economy,” at the event.

The report epitomizes how government data is essential for industries to understand their contributions to the broader economy and how improvements can be made accordingly. Further, Deputy Secretary Andrews explained that the prevalence of the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis data throughout the report is a testament to the usefulness of the department’s data to help American businesses grow. The value of government data was recently highlighted in “Fostering Innovation, Creating Jobs, Driving Better Decisions: The Value of Government Data,” a Commerce report by the Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA).