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Remarks at National Export Initiative Small Business Conference, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke
Remarks at National Export Initiative Small Business Conference, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Thanks for those kind words, Governor Dayton, and thanks everyone for having us here today.

I would also like to acknowledge some elected officials who could not be here today because they had to stay in Washington for votes – Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken and Congressman Keith Ellison. 

Each is a strong voice in Washington for small businesses and working families.   

In particular, I have gotten to know Senator Klobuchar as Chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Competitiveness, Innovation, and Export Promotion, where she has been pushing an innovation agenda that can help businesses grow and create jobs in America.

She has authored legislation to help small businesses tap into new markets abroad, and I am proud to call her a friend.

Although my colleagues from Congress couldn't be here, it’s great to be in Minneapolis to kick off the “New Markets, New Jobs Tour.”

The purpose of this multi-city tour – which will take us to a different city each month through the end of the year – is simple:

To help small and medium-sized American businesses sell more goods and services around the world, so they can create more jobs here at home.

In the next few minutes, I’ll explain how we’re going to do it. 

But first, I think it's important to identify the stakes of what we’re talking about here today.

In his State of the Union address a few weeks ago, the president said how important it was for America to win the future. 

He said the most important contest our nation faces is not between Democrats and Republicans, but between America and countries around the world that are competing like never before for the jobs and industries of the future.

Here in Minneapolis, you’re on the front lines of that competition. 

Your competitors are no longer just in Madison or Chicago or Indianapolis.  They’re in places like Shanghai and Mumbai and Sao Paulo.

These companies want to eat your lunch.  They are playing for keeps in this global competition for talent, for capital and for the jobs of the future.

And America should welcome this challenge. 

This country doesn’t back down from competition. 

Minneapolis businesses don't back down from competition. 

And the primary goal of the Obama administration is to give you the tools you need to win in the global economy, because winning more business abroad is how we get the American economy firing on all cylinders again.

The simple fact is that the more American companies export, the more they produce. The more they produce, the more workers they need. And that means jobs. Good paying jobs here at home.

Consider that exports directly support nearly 10 million U.S. jobs.

Or that one in three manufacturing jobs and almost one in five agricultural jobs are tied directly to exports. 

And these are good-paying jobs that pay 15 percent more than the typical wage in America, exactly the type of jobs we need a lot more of.

That’s why early last year President Obama announced his National Export Initiative, which mobilizes departments throughout the federal government to help double U.S. exports by 2015 and support millions of jobs.

We’re already off to a good start.  Exports have been a key driver of America's economic recovery.

After dropping 14.6 percent in 2009, exports grew nearly 17 percent in 2010, reaching the second-highest annual total on record and the largest year-to-year percent change in over 20 years.

In 2010, exports contributed to nearly half of all U.S. economic growth.

But if we want to continue that success, we’ll need more participation from small to medium-sized businesses, which often aren’t exporting nearly as much as they could.

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.

Now, of course it's important to sell more within the United States.  But in a global economy where 95 percent of the world's consumers live outside U.S. borders, you've got to go where the customers are.

Moreover, the more markets you are selling in, the more diversified your customer base is.  That’s why U.S. companies that exported a lot generally held up better than companies that didn't during the previous recession. 

Now, there are plenty of reasons why many U.S. companies don’t export.

They may have trouble getting the working capital they need to produce their goods, or be worried about getting timely payment from unfamiliar foreign customers.

They may have difficulty navigating foreign customs and regulations. 

They may not have the networks to get the meetings they need with potential distributors, suppliers or foreign government decision-makers.  

The National Export Initiative or NEI, is designed to help more companies – like those gathered here today – overcome these hurdles.

And the “New Markets, New Jobs” Tour brings all the government services available under the NEI right to the doorstep of small and medium-sized businesses across America.

We understand that when you're running a small business, you’ve got:

  • Payroll to meet; 
  • Orders to fill; and
  • Customers to serve

You might not have time to go searching for government services that can help your business.

So we’re coming to you.

Today, we've got teams from the:

  • Export-Import Bank;
  • Small Business Administration;
  • Agriculture Department; and
  • The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative’s office.

You heard from some of their leaders this morning, and you'll be hearing from others throughout the day.

From the Commerce Department, we’ve got representatives from our International Trade Administration, which advocates for U.S. businesses in 77 countries around the world, and has outreach teams in over 100 cities across America

One of those export teams is right here in Minneapolis, and they’ve got a proven record of connecting Minnesota businesses to those foreign markets:

Just look at the work our team did with Paragon Store Fixtures, a small manufacturer based in Big Lakes.  We connected Paragon with the Finnish Maritime Association to assist with manufacturing specifications and compliance.  Soon after, Paragon was able to build and export over $100,000 worth of display fixtures to a Finnish boat manufacturer.

Our goal here today is to help everyone enjoy that kind of success. The entire staff from your local U.S. Export Assistance Center is here. These are people who can answer your most difficult questions.   USEAC folks, please raise your hands so people know where you are.

We’ve also got Commerce Department experts on three great informational panels coming up; that will include specific guidance on how to break into promising markets like Canada, Mexico and China.

I encourage you to take advantage of all the expertise our people have to offer.

I know for many of you, you're just starting to see the benefits of an economy that’s growing again.  I'm confident that positive momentum will continue in the year ahead. 

But one thing is clear:

For the American economy to produce the millions of new jobs we need in the years ahead, we need our small and medium-size businesses to lead the way.

When you succeed, the entire American economy succeeds.

The Obama administration will do everything it can to give you the help you need.

Thank you everyone again for coming today, and now I’d like to turn it over to Ex-Im Bank Chairman Fred Hochberg…