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Op-Ed -- LinkedIn Influencer -- A Stronger Middle Class Begins With All of Us

Thursday, January 22, 2014

Op-Ed by U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker 

Opinion Editorial, LinkedIn Influencer, A Stronger Middle Class Begins With All of Us

Today, I traveled to Charlotte for a discussion with the local chamber of commerce about the President’s State of the Union address, the state of our economy, and what we can do to support a durable and sustainable American economy. 

Last night, President Obama painted a clear picture of where we stand today: that we have turned the page from a period of recession and hardship – and that our economy is once again on the rise. 

The evidence is clear: Over 58 straight months, the private sector has added more than 11 million new jobs. Last year alone, we created 3 million jobs – the most since the 1990s. Our GDP is up, while our unemployment rate is down. There is no doubt that 2014 was a milestone year for our economy. 

We now find our country in a strong position, but we cannot rest on our laurels. Strengthening our economy is a never-ending task, and we must ensure that every American family, worker, and business can reap the benefits of our nation’s resurgence. 

In Charlotte and as I travel the country in the weeks and months to come, I will be taking every opportunity to highlight the Department of Commerce priorities that support the conditions for economic growth for American businesses and workers. 

At the top of our agenda is trade. As the President reminded us last night, pursuing new trade agreements is essential to creating more jobs, strengthening our competitiveness, and spurring our prosperity. We know that 95 percent of the world’s consumers live beyond our borders – and as any business in Charlotte will tell you, that is an opportunity to be seized. With the new trade agreements, we can open new markets to U.S. products, help our businesses reach those customers, and create a fair environment for our companies to compete. If our businesses sell more of our goods and services abroad, they will grow the 11.3 million good-paying jobs here at home that are supported by exports. With the new trade agreements, we can establish the rules of the road on labor, the environment, intellectual property protection and trade in general. With the new trade agreements, we can set high standards for the global trade in the 21st century. And if we don’t, other nations will which will leave our businesses and our workers at a competitive disadvantage. 

Second, we should act now to implement business tax reform – a priority that crosses partisan lines – to lower rates and give American and foreign businesses every reason to keep or locate their operations in our communities. And we should use the one-time revenues generated from repatriation to invest in our infrastructure. Anyone who commutes on our highways or rail lines, travels through our ports and airports, or tries to connect to the Internet in rural and remote areas, knows that our infrastructure is in need of investment. 

That’s bad for businesses, costly for commuters, and detrimental to our competitiveness. We must reinforce and strengthen our infrastructure to ensure U.S. companies can easily get their goods and services to market, to ensure consumers can get online, and to ensure our country can stay a step ahead of our international competitors. 

Finally, we need to invest in our greatest resource: the American people. Nearly every business leader I meet with agrees – the skills of our workforce must match the needs of our economy in the 21st century. We have already started to act, putting more than $1 billion behind competitive grants for job-driven training models like apprenticeships and partnerships between community colleges and local employers. The President issued a call to action on this challenge, and we must answer it. We must do more to secure a steady pipeline of qualified, well-educated workers to keep our businesses on-track now and in the future. 

These ideas are just the beginning. At the Department of Commerce, we will remain laser-focused on everything we can do to strengthen our middle class and our economy at-large – from expanding travel and tourism, to promoting entrepreneurship and innovative manufacturing, and more. From Day One, President Obama has acted to establish a new foundation for American success; now, with business leaders in Charlotte and across our country, we must work together to keep America open for business.