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Remarks at 2012 MEDWeek

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank
Remarks at 2012 MEDWeek 

Thank you Director Hinson. Good morning. On behalf of President Obama and everyone throughout the administration, it’s great to be here to help kick off the 30th Anniversary of MEDWeek. And I want to thank all of the MEDWeek sponsors who made this day possible.

I also want to thank MBDA, which has been working so hard these past few years. It’s impressive that they’ve helped deliver nearly $4 billion in contracts and capital to minority-owned firms last year. Let’s give Director Hinson’s team a hand.

As our economy continues to grow, the president and I want to make sure that businesses like yours will continue to add to the nearly 5.5 million new jobs created over the past 32 months.

Of course, as you’ve heard in the news, one of the most immediate problems that we need to resolve are the budget issues relating to the so called “fiscal cliff.”  

The president is committed to working collaboratively with leadership on Capitol Hill to find a solution, but he has been very clear that any effort must be balanced, including both revenues–tax increases–as well as budget cuts.  

We’re reaching out directly to the American people to talk about the consequences of not reaching an equitable and balanced resolution to this issue–explaining how this could hit the middle class with about $2,000 more in taxes next year if Congress doesn’t act.  That’s important because consumer spending accounts for about two-thirds of the U.S. economy.

We need to make sure that taxes stay low for on the first $250,000 of every American’s income. Under the president’s plan, taxes won’t go up at all for 98 percent of America’s families and 97 percent of small businesses – including many of you and your customers.

But this morning, I want to focus on another critical ingredient for job creation. It’s the theme of your conference, which is based on a phrase that we really like at the Commerce Department: “Build it here.  Sell it everywhere.”

The fact is, many of you here today already do just that.

Minority-owned businesses account for over $1 trillion in gross receipts each year. You support millions of good American jobs. And–given this particular theme–it’s important to note that you are about twice as likely to export as other firms.

That’s crucial, because we know that exports are a key reason that the U.S. economy has been recovering and growing over the past several years.  Exports are growing faster than many other sectors.  

And I’m pleased to say that even though U.S. exports have slowed a little with the recent slowdown in Europe and Asia, we are still on track to set another annual record. We will exceed 2011’s record-breaking $2.1 trillion in U.S. exports, and–most important–we will build on the 1.2 million export-supported jobs that were added from 2009 to 2011.

The fact is, 95 percent of the world’s consumers live beyond our borders. And they want high-quality, Made-in-America products–your products–more than ever before.  

We need look no further than today’s winners of the Minority Export Firm of the Year awards. MarkMaster in Florida, for example, makes signs, banners, and other supplies to help other businesses create a strong brand identity.  They are doing business in Europe, South America, Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

So, my most important message for all of you as you begin this day is to explore those export opportunities–and take full advantage of them.

In particular, I’m pleased to see that there will be a workshop on Leveraging Opportunities in Emerging Markets, including South Africa.  South Africa is a target market for the Commerce Department and our International Trade Administration.  Sub-Saharan Africa is growing, and we think there are real opportunities to increase exports to Africa, which will help us achieve the President’s goal of doubling U.S. exports as part of the National Export Initiative.

In fact, I just returned last week from a trip to Johannesburg, South Africa, and Nairobi, Kenya.  The potential for businesses like yours to enter markets in Sub-Saharan Africa is compelling.

  • Already, trade between the U.S. and Sub-Saharan Africa has tripled over the past decade.
  • 6 of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world are in that region.
  • And Sub-Saharan African economies are forecast to grow between 5 and 6 percent in the coming years.

Clearly, this is a region with enormous potential for U.S. export growth.

That’s a major reason why, in Johannesburg, I launched the Doing Business in Africa campaign. It is part of the U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa that President Obama issued in June.

The Doing Business in Africa campaign is aimed at empowering more American entrepreneurs and business owners to enter or expand their presence in these fast-growing markets.

As a key part of the campaign, we want to reach out to the African Diaspora in the U.S.–one of the world’s largest. We suspect that there is significant untapped potential for commercial interaction between these communities and Africa.

More broadly, we want to make sure that all businesses in the U.S.–especially minority-owned firms–have the tools and information they need to trade and invest in Africa.

  • That means we are going to make sure that when you call or walk into one of our Export Assistance Centers or MBDA Business Centers around the country–our counselors and project directors will be well-trained to help you start or expand exports to Africa. . .
  • That means we are going to partner with economic development leaders at the state and regional level to make sure they get the training they need as well. . .
  • That means we are going to launch a series of Africa Global Business Summits in 2013–where we will bring ambassadors and our top commercial service officers from Sub-Saharan Africa back to the U.S. We want them to share the best strategies and tips to help you successfully enter those markets.

And, perhaps most important, it means we are going to foster more person-to-person relationships through activities like trade missions–which as you all know are the key to getting a deal done.

We’re not just talking the talk. We’re walking the walk.

When I was in South Africa, we had over a dozen U.S. businesses–both large and small–joining us on a trade mission–from a Midwestern agricultural and construction equipment manufacturer, to a Florida-based well-water treatment company.  

We want to see more businesses from throughout America’s diverse communities joining the Commerce Department on trade missions to Africa in the months and years ahead–and we also want to bring more African buyers to the U.S. to see first-hand what businesses like yours have to offer. In fact, this week the U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria is bringing a delegation of African business leaders to New Orleans and then Orlando to attend some of our biggest trade shows.

And we can’t stop there.

Regardless of whether you’re looking at Africa, Latin America, the Asian-Pacific, or somewhere else – we know that financing your exports can sometimes be a barrier, especially for small and medium-sized businesses.

That’s why I’m so pleased that today Director Hinson will be announcing a new partnership with the Export-Import Bank. In recent years, the Ex-Im Bank has become a critical resource for financing international trade–especially as demand for U.S. products and services have grown.

Through this new partnership, MBDA and all of us at the Commerce Department will help “get the word out” that Ex-Im stands ready to help America’s minority-owned firms go global.  

Clearly, this is a key moment. We simply can’t let up.

Later today, I will be meeting with the President’s Export Council and my message there will be the same as my message to all of you today. . . .

We must continue our efforts to create even more, good, export-driven jobs here at home.

American businesses like yours have the strength and the expertise to successfully compete across any number of industries–from infrastructure, to energy, to healthcare, to financial services, to consumer goods and more.

Please take full advantage of all of the opportunities you will have today to network and to form new partnerships. Also, be sure to check out the Business Expo and talk to all of the federal partners, financial institutions, and supply-chain leaders who are represented today.

Congratulations again to today’s award winners. Have an enjoyable and productive conference. Thank you.