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Remarks at the Kauffman Foundation, Kansas City, Missouri


Thursday, May 7, 2009



Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke
Remarks at the Kauffman Foundation
Kansas City, Missouri

Thank you, Carl, for that kind introduction. And I want to thank you and the Kauffman Foundation for hosting this meeting, giving me this opportunity to hear from so many business leaders and entrepreneurs and for the pioneering research you’re doing on innovation and entrepreneurship.

At the Commerce Department, we’ve been fortunate to have Carl and the Foundation as partners in our Measuring Innovation Metrics Initiative. Carl chaired the Advisory Committee. The Kauffman Foundation also joined the Department in a unique public-private partnership to foster entrepreneurship. And it is a sponsor of the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

So I’ve been looking forward to this visit.

I also want to thank the members of the community who are here today.

I have now been on the job roughly one month—just long enough to develop the belief that when I leave my desk, I’ll be able to find my way back to my office.

Having come from Seattle, it has been, needless to say, an interesting introduction to the other Washington.

We face challenges as a country that are deep and real and unrivaled in a half century.

And yet I count myself lucky.

Along the hallway outside my office, there is a hall of portraits—where the pictures of my predecessors—dating back to the 1920s—hang.

When I look at the portraits, I think about the problems that confronted each of the secretaries. Some served in times of plenty. Others, like Harry Hopkins, who worked beside Franklin Roosevelt, confronted great uncertainty and what might best be described as collective, national, economic dread.

In that challenge, though, Hopkins and Roosevelt saw opportunity. They bucked conventional wisdom and reimagined our government’s relationship to its people to meet the demands of the time.

They ushered into being an America in which its seniors could enjoy a dignified retirement. They electrified the South, helping to transform it into the Sun Belt, and put millions of Americans back to work.

They rebuilt the very foundation of our nation.

I said earlier I felt lucky. It is precisely because of our challenges that I do. Great adversity makes us rethink fundamental assumptions. It pushes us to reach higher. It encourages us to innovate.

Today, the president has charged us to again rebuild the foundation.

At the Commerce Department my goal is to enlist you in that effort and rethink what is possible from the partnership between the department, the business community and America’s entrepreneurs and innovators.

Because what I’ve also learned during my short tenure at Commerce is that we house a deep store of knowledge, information and expertise.

The Commerce family houses the Census’s vast reserve of statistics and the thousands of examiners of the Patent and Trademark Office, who help shepherd ideas into the marketplace.

That cache is also being used, of course, to implement President Obama’s Recovery Act. Funding is targeted at shovel-ready programs that create a platform for longer-term growth, including expanded broadband access. Meanwhile, the National Institute for Standards and Technology is playing a pivotal role in the development of a smart electricity grid that will change how electricity moves in America so that there’s two-way communication between the user and the power grid, all at Internet Age speed. The changes ushered in by the Smart Grid will help make America energy independent, create green jobs and lower energy costs for consumers.

There is exciting work being done at Commerce.

But I am challenging my staff to do more. I know we can. I am certain we must.

When the Commerce Department was established more than 100 years ago, its mission was to foster the innovation and entrepreneurship critical to America’s successful transition from an agrarian to an industrial economy.

It met that challenge.

Over the last six decades, advances in technology are credited with driving about half of our nation’s economic growth and about two-thirds of our productivity growth. U.S. intellectual property has an estimated value of more than 5 trillion dollars.

This is a new century, however. Global competition is more intense. We need to be at the top of our economic game. And that’s what I want to talk with you about today.

We have a wide array of tools at the Commerce Department that are geared toward helping small-, medium- and large-sized companies succeed. We can provide current economic and social data. We have programs to help increase efficiency and productivity. We have a minority business development program. We have trade specialists across the country and throughout the world locating international market opportunities.

The challenges that I see are breaking down the walls between the Commerce agencies that store that information and finding new pathways to the public for the resources within our walls.

That’s a big reason why I’m here today. Over the coming weeks, I plan to be in front of audiences just like this one.

Because I believe the challenges we confront require us to think anew about what it possible. As I formulate a plan to help you access our resources, I need to hear directly from you.

You are the innovators, risk takers and entrepreneurs who develop and market new products and services. You are a critical part of the engine of the new economy.

What is standing between your products and the marketplace? What will help you succeed? What can we do—together—to re-lay the foundation?

That is our charge, and that is our challenge. We must meet it.

Thank you.

Now, I’d like to take some time to hear from you. I can think of no better place to start this discussion.