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Remarks at National Export Initiative Event, Memphis, Tennessee

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke
Remarks at National Export Initiative Event, Memphis, Tennessee

It’s wonderful to be here with all of you today. 

I arrived in Memphis late yesterday, and around midnight last night, Ambassador Kirk and I had a great tour of the FedEx facility. We got a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how packages get from here all around the world.  

FedEx has it down to a science, but the company, like its competitors, could use a little more work. And that’s what Ambassador Kirk and I want to talk with you about today: How do we get more small- and medium-sized businesses – more businesses like yours – selling their goods and services around the world?

Because what we know is that the more you sell, the more you’ll need to make, and the more you need to make, the more people you’ll hire.

Tennesseans already see this simple formula at work in their daily lives.

Tennessee’s export shipments of merchandise in 2009 totaled $20.5 billion, the 16th-highest among the states. 

And export-supported jobs linked to manufacturing account for an estimated 6.6 percent of Tennessee’s total private-sector employment.

Across the country, more than one in three manufacturing jobs and almost one in five agricultural jobs are tied directly to exports.  And these are good jobs that provide good wages, in fact paying 15 percent more than the typical wage in America. . . .  Exactly the type of jobs we need a lot more of.

That’s why earlier this year, the president announced his National Export Initiative (NEI), which seeks to double U.S. exports in five years, supporting several million new U.S. jobs.

Unfortunately, today, only one percent of U.S. companies export – and of those that do, 58 percent export to only one country, typically to Mexico or Canada.

If we can just help that 58 percent export to one or two additional countries, our exports would grow substantially.

That’s why it’s getting our attention at the Commerce Department. Our International Trade Administration is targeting those companies. And through expanded partnerships with FedEx, UPS and the Postal Service, we’re working to connect businesses that already export to trade specialists who can help them sell what they make to additional markets overseas.

Of course, that’s just one small part of the NEI. Here’s a quick overview of what else it will do:

First, it will expand the U.S. government's export promotion efforts in all its forms, and with a special focus on small- and medium-sized businesses.

This can mean a lot of different things. It can be:

  • Commerce officials advising Tennessee-based Nucsafe LLC, how to work with the Departments of Defense and Energy so that it could fill a $4 million contract for radiation detection devices with a UK-company.
  • Or our Memphis Export Assistance Center introducing Memphis-based Kele Inc. to partners in Mexico so Kele can expand its sales of temperature control devices into that country.

Second, the National Export Initiative will help improve access to credit, especially for small- and medium-sized firms that want to export.

Finally, under the NEI, we will continue to increase the government's focus on knocking down barriers that prevent U.S. companies from getting free and fair access to foreign markets.

That’s something that Ambassador Kirk will address, so I don’t want to spend too much time focusing on it. 

But it’s important to point out that what sets the NEI apart is that this is the first time the U.S. will have a government-wide export-promotion strategy with focused attention from the president and all of his Cabinet officials.

It’s already paying dividends.

Our renewed focus on trade promotion has contributed to a nearly 18 percent increase in U.S. exports so far in 2010 compared to the same period last year.

  • U.S. exports of manufactured goods this year have risen by 22 percent over last year, and
  • U.S. agricultural exports are projected to be the second-highest amount ever, with a trade surplus of $30 billion. And next year agricultural exports are expected to be the highest ever in U.S. history.

As American exports grow, so too will the payrolls of American companies.

Since January, Commerce’s Advocacy Center, in close coordination with its federal partners, has helped U.S. companies successfully compete for contracts with foreign governments supporting an estimated $13.4 billion in U.S. content. These deals alone support an estimated 70,000 jobs.

For our economy to return to full health, we need to ensure global trade remains robust, everywhere.

That’s what Ambassador Kirk and I are focused on in Washington. 

And I’m interested to hear from you about what we can do better to help your businesses sell more of your goods and services around the world. . . .