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Remarks at Commerce Connect Ribbon Cutting

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke
Remarks at Commerce Connect Ribbon Cutting in Auburn Hills, Michigan

Thank you everyone for coming today.  And a special thanks to the team at ALT-e for hosting us.  Brian Polowniak just gave me the grand tour of the facilities and I just couldn't be more impressed by what I saw.

Before I came here today, I was reading a few articles on ALT-e, and one of them described what the company does as “taking old gas and diesel-guzzlers in public and private fleets and giving them new guts to run as extended range electric vehicles.”

I like that idea of taking something old and making it new again -- because I think it’s such an apt description for what businesses here in Michigan and across America need to do to bring prosperity back.

I know times are tough now.  And people are uncertain about the future.  But despite the challenges, let’s not forget that America has got plenty of strengths.

We still know how:

  • to engineer and design things,
  • to build them; and
  • to create businesses that can compete with anyone, anywhere.

The evidence is right here on this factory floor with cutting edge electric powertrains that to me anyway, look like they came out of a NASA research lab.  And Brian tells me Alt-e is planning to hire 250 people over the next year.

The evidence is down the road at Ford and Chrysler and GM, which are reinventing themselves with a new commitment to efficiency and innovation.

For the first time in six years, all three American automakers are operating at a profit, and they have added over 55,000 jobs since last June.

Ultimately, what ALT-e is doing, what the big three are doing, is something America's been doing for 100 years. 

Building cars. 

But now they’re taking this old business and finding a new way to do it. 

And from the earliest days of the Obama administration, we’ve been trying to help American businesses make this transition to become more efficient, more innovative and more competitive in the global marketplace.

I understand that people in Michigan, and all across America are angry that jobs and opportunity haven’t returned quicker.

But it's important to remember where we came from.

At the outset of 2009 – when President Obama took office – the U.S. economy was shrinking at a rate of 6.8 percent – a free-fall that risked turning a recession into a depression.

But the American economy has now been growing for four straight quarters.

And our economy has created private-sector jobs for six months in a row, after 22 months straight of job losses.

This turnaround did not happen by chance.  The measures President Obama took to stabilize financial and housing markets, to provide assistance to the auto industry, and to pass a Recovery Act were not always popular.

But they were the right thing to do.  Just this week, another group of independent economists confirmed that the Recovery Act alone created some 3 million jobs.

 I know these statistics are cold comfort to the many Americans still struggling to get a foothold in this economy.

But you can’t reverse overnight the devastation of a national recession that saw eight million job losses since it began back in 2008.

We’ve got to keep chipping away at this unemployment challenge from every direction.

One of the ways the Commerce Department has been trying to spur job creation is by making our services more accessible and relevant for American businesses--especially small and medium sized business like ALT-e.

That’s why I came to Detroit last year to announce a new pilot program called CommerceConnect – which would be a one-stop shop where businesses could tap into the over 60 technical assistance, grant and educational programs available to them through the Commerce department and other government agencies.

The rationale for CommerceConnect was simple.

We thought it was time for government to bring services and solutions directly to those creating and sustaining jobs.

Main Street business owners should be spending their time worrying about meeting payroll and keeping their customers happy, not figuring out how to navigate federal bureaucracies. 

So we recruited a team of experts and put them to work in office space loaned to us by the Michigan Manufacturing and Technology Center in Plymouth.

These CommerceConnect experts essentially act as case workers for individual businesses to help them with their full spectrum of needs – whether it's access to capital, intellectual property protection, export promotion or guidance on how to make operations more efficient.

And by any measure, this program has been a success. 

 To date, CommerceConnect has assisted 90 different companies to connect them not only with programs available through the Commerce Department, but also with programs available through Federal, state, local and non-profit partners throughout the region. 

And I just want to congratulate the CommerceConnect team and our executive director, Dennis Alvord, for doing a fantastic job.

The CommerceConnect team has helped Tri-Tech Engineering -- which manufactures hydraulic and pneumatic cylinders in Wyandotte – grow its sales by a quarter million dollars.

 We’ve helped Detail XPerts open five new auto detailing and carwash locations in Metro Detroit.

And we’ve helped put Novi-based MWP Imaging on track to increase in international sales of industrial and commercial supplies by 20 percent over the next 12 to 18 months.

This is just the beginning.

When we launched this program last year, we said it was a pilot, and that if it was successful, we would expand it. 

Today is the first step in that process.  I am proud to announce that we’re moving CommerceConnect into its permanent offices in Pontiac next to the International Trade Administration’s Export Assistance Center.

Following that, we intend to establish additional CommerceConnect field offices in communities that need our help.

And we understand that busy business owners and entrepreneurs don't always have the time to drive to a brick-and-mortar facility. 

That's why we have recently established a pilot call center to support CommerceConnect, where we have operators standing by to connect businesses with the resources that best match their needs.

In addition, just today we launched a refreshed CommerceConnect Web site at with more content and offerings for businesses. 

Consider this version 1.0, as we will continue to refine and expand our online offerings with new content and new virtual tools.   

Among the most exciting opportunities to enhance these tools is a partnership that we have just entered into with the Matching Opportunities and Resources for Entrepreneurs (or MORE) Program right here in Michigan. 

In particular, CommerceConnect will be integrating itself into MORE’s Statewide Entrepreneurial Support System initiative.  Here’s why this is so significant. 

The Statewide Entrepreneurial Support System has been developing a sophisticated electronic diagnostic tool modeled after medical diagnostic tools, to help match entrepreneurs with the state, local and nonprofit resources they need to grow their business.

 Now, users of this system will be tapped into all the resources CommerceConnect has to offer as well.

It's just one more step that we’re taking to bring critical resources to the businesses that need it to make their companies more efficient, more productive and ultimately more able to create jobs.

So, I'm very excited about what we've got going on here in Michigan.  I’m looking forward to answering your questions, but first I'd like to hand it off to someone who has really been working his tail off for Michigan's Ninth District: Congressman Gary Peters.

In the short time we’ve both been in Washington, D.C., I’ve gotten to know Congressman Peters as a dedicated member of Congress who is a committed champion for small businesses.  He knows how much a place like CommerceConnect can help Michigan businesses get access to the resources they need to grow and create jobs. 

Congressman Peters has also been a staunch supporter of the Commerce Department's Manufacturing extension partnership program, which has helped countless Michigan businesses operate more efficiently, improve production, and diversify their business to adjust to changes in the market place.

We are happy to have him here with us today.

Congressman Peters…