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Remarks at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce with Bryson's Vision for Job Creation: Build it Here. Sell it Everywhere

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Commerce Secretary John Bryson
The Commerce CEO’s Vision for Job Creation: Build it Here. Sell it Everywhere.

As we gather here today, one challenge stands above the rest:

Putting Americans back to work.

This has been President Obama’s focus since the moment he took office amid the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.  

It will be our focus every day at the Commerce Department.

When Americans can't find work, when they can’t forge a career path, it ruins lives.  

Nearly every American has a family member or a friend who is without a job.  

They know how hard it is.      

But high unemployment isn’t just bad for individuals and families.

It’s bad for business.

High unemployment will damage the profitability and even the viability of many businesses large and small.  

We, as a country, must act now to maintain America’s hard-earned position as the strongest economy in the world.

A challenge this urgent requires leaders in Washington to put aside business-as-usual.  

That is what the American people expect and it’s what they deserve.

The world I just left – and the world you are all in – is about results.  Business leaders are judged by their ability to manage challenges and to take reasonable, tough-minded risks to grow their businesses.

I remember the biggest challenge I faced as CEO of Edison International – the California energy crisis of 2000 and 2001.

Market manipulation - led by Enron - had drastically reduced the supply of electricity.  Wholesale electricity prices jumped as much as 800 percent.

Californians expected their utility to fix the problem.  They didn’t want to hear whose fault it was.  And they didn’t want excuses.

It wasn’t easy - but we worked day and night to keep the lights on.  The availability of power – in that year and a half - changed each hour. If we did not succeed in keeping the lights on, businesses would close and we would fail our customers.

We acted with urgency because that is what our customers and shareholders rightfully demanded of us.

When I hear business people express their frustration about Washington – it’s the lack of urgency and lack of focus on results that bothers them the most.

As you and I know, business people are generally pragmatic, not partisan.    

What they care about—what gets you all up in the morning—is finding new opportunities to strengthen and grow their businesses and to solve problems.

When they don’t see this same intensely focused commitment to practical results in Washington, they get frustrated.

I get this frustration.  So does the president.  

That’s why President Obama has recently taken a series of actions to get people back to work and back on their feet.  

Because the president knows – as every American knows – that we can’t just do nothing waiting for this Congress to act.  

But the president is not giving up on Congress either.  He will keep urging Congress to pass critical elements of the American Jobs Act – including the extension of the payroll tax cut.  

And he’ll also continue to push important priorities for the business community – including building a tax code that is more competitive internationally.

We need to get rid of the loopholes, and use those savings to lower the corporate tax rate for the first time in 25 years.  

At the Commerce Department, we aren't waiting to act either.  We have a major role to play at this critical time to support job creation in America.  

We have an array of tools to help make our businesses more innovative, more efficient, and more competitive around the world.

And if you have questions or concerns that need to be addressed, my door will be open and I will advocate on your behalf.    

I have been speaking almost daily to owners of businesses large and small since taking my new position.  I want to know how this administration and the Commerce Department can best help you.

From these conversations, my discussions with the president and my own personal experience, I will prioritize one simple imperative.

We need to help American businesses build it here and sell it everywhere.  

Building it here and selling it everywhere is how the United States became the world’s greatest economic power in the 20th century.  

Here in the 21st century, the competition has changed, the circumstances have changed and America itself has changed.  But the ingredients for a strong economy that creates good jobs have not.  

We must be able to build things, and we must be able to sell them competitively – not only here at home – but in markets around the world.

To help American businesses build it here and sell it everywhere, there are three areas in particular that the Commerce Department will be focused on in the months ahead:

  • Supporting advanced manufacturing;
  • Increasing U.S. exports; and
  • Attracting more investment to America from all over the world.

Let me say a few words about each.

First, I’ll begin with manufacturing and a simple statement about why it matters.  

Without a strong manufacturing base, we can’t create enough good jobs to sustain a strong middle class.

And without a strong middle class, we cannot be a strong country.

Many people have misconceptions about manufacturing.  They hear the word and they think of the old assembly lines.  

But today, when we say “manufacturing,” we’re often talking about the cutting-edge industries of advanced manufacturing. Like composite materials... Or specialty chemicals… Or those incredible, life-saving machines you see in hospitals.  

That’s manufacturing today – and the manufacturing of the future.

Over 11 million Americans have manufacturing jobs, many of them with small- and medium-sized businesses.  These are good paying jobs.  And every job inside a factory creates at least two more outside of it – because any large manufacturer is supported by an extensive supply chain.  

Manufacturing is also the biggest source of innovation in our economy.  Sixty-seven percent of all the business R&D in America is done by manufacturing companies.  

Of course, advanced manufacturing runs on innovation, and innovation depends on protecting intellectual property.  

Which is why implementing the new patent reform legislation will help strengthen America’s leadership in manufacturing.  

As long as we’re building things here in America, we’ll be inventing things here too.  

But if American businesses stop building things here, it won’t be long before the actual innovating happens elsewhere.  

It’s already happened in some industries.  

The President and I are determined to reverse the tide…to revive manufacturing in America.

This week, the president named me co-chair of the White House Office of Manufacturing Policy. And we’re not wasting time.

Today, I’m announcing a National Program Office – housed at the Commerce department – to turn the President’s vision for advanced manufacturing into action.  

The National Program Office will support the President’s Advanced Manufacturing Partnership – bringing together industry, universities, and all of the federal government to drive investments in emerging industries like IT, biotech and nanotechnology.  

The Program Office will also build on the existing efforts of the Commerce Department.

For example, our Economic Development Administration – in the last two years alone – has invested in 68 competitive, job-creating projects across the country to support advanced manufacturing.

And next year our National Institute of Standards and Technology will invest nearly $90 million in advanced manufacturing, much of it in new research areas like smart manufacturing technology and new materials discovery.

So we want to help more American companies build things.  The next step is selling those things to the 95 percent of the world’s consumers who live beyond U.S. borders.

Despite this vast opportunity, U.S. businesses are not exporting nearly as much as they could.  Only one percent of our businesses export.  Of those that do, 58 percent sell to one market and one market only – typically Canada or Mexico.

That’s why helping more companies export will continue to be a major priority for the Commerce Department.

Many companies would like to export—they have great products to sell—but they just aren’t sure how to get started.  Small businesses in particular often face big challenges getting export financing, building relationships with foreign suppliers or dealing with unfamiliar foreign rules and regulations.  

President Obama’s National Export Initiative – the NEI – is designed to help businesses overcome these hurdles.  The initiative has already helped U.S. businesses expand exports 17 percent in 2010 and 16 percent so far this year.

So far, we are on track to meet the president’s goal of doubling U.S. exports by 2014, but given the worldwide economic conditions, we must intensify our efforts to achieve this goal.

That's why the president recently signed three free-trade agreements.  These will significantly boost exports as well as support tens of thousands of good-paying American jobs.

The Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration will continue to find creative new ways to connect U.S. businesses with opportunities abroad.

One quick example…as part of the NEI, Commerce has been working with UPS, FedEx, and the National Association of Manufacturers to help existing American exporters break into new markets.

Building on this success, we recently launched a new effort where FedEx will work with the U.S. & Foreign Commercial Service to match their foreign customers with U.S. suppliers.
And in the months ahead, we will restructure our foreign commercial service to intensify their focus on strong export growth markets including China, Brazil and India.  

The Commerce department will also be working hard to build on the progress we’ve made reforming our out-dated export control laws.

Finally, we will pay special attention to removing overseas trade barriers to ensure our companies are competing on a level playing field.  

In particular, we will be focused on the nontariff barriers – the import quotas, overly narrow technical standards, onerous regulatory procedures, and other techniques countries use to shut competition out.

This is a particular concern with China.   

The U.S.-China relationship is one of the most important bilateral relationships in the world.

In the past few decades, China has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and into a thriving new middle class. As China’s economy increasingly opened to the world, we supported them joining the WTO exactly a decade ago.  

And as President Obama has said, our economic relationship should continue to be mutually beneficial for our countries far into the future – if China abides by its global trade obligations.

But the United States has reached a point where we cannot quietly accept China ignoring many of the trade rules.  China still substantially subsidizes its own companies, discriminates against foreign companies and has poor intellectual property protections.

At recent trade negotiations, our Chinese counterparts made promising commitments in some of these areas.  

But we must see follow-through. We cannot rely just on words.  

We need time frames and concrete results.  

Anything short of that will be unacceptable.

Ultimately, America just wants its trading partners to open their markets. Businesses should succeed or fail based on the quality and cost of their goods and services.

This administration is deeply committed to ensuring the United States remains the most open economy in the world.  

And, that leads me to my final priority.

We want more investment coming into the United States.

It’s a simple equation.  More investment equals more jobs.  

That is why we want everyone in the world to hear this message loud and clear:

The United States is open for business.

America is already the number one destination for foreign direct investment in the world.  It’s not hard to see why.

We have the biggest economy, the best workers, the most outstanding universities, and the strongest IP protection.
Foreign companies already support more than 5 million jobs in America.  

And they employ American workers in every single one of our 50 states:

Japanese carmakers; British banks; German and Chinese manufacturers; Indian energy companies …

…They come from all over the world to invest.  And there’s plenty more we can attract here.  

But in recent years, the United States has been losing ground to our foreign competitors.

Some of this was inevitable.  Companies want to move closer to their consumers in fast-growing, developing economies.   But the United States has also not been aggressive enough in pursuing investment here.

Until recently, we were the only major economy without a robust national investment program.  The only one. And although we have a strong investment climate overall, there are plenty of areas for improvement.

Businesses have told us that it is too hard to navigate local, state and federal bureaucracies … that they can't get timely answers on regulatory or permitting questions.  
We have heard these concerns. And we have acted by launching a new initiative called SelectUSA.

Housed in the Commerce Department, it’s the first coordinated federal effort to aggressively pursue and win new business investment in the United States from foreign and domestic companies.

  • We are working with every relevant federal agency as well as local and state governments to cut through red tape.
  • This will make it easier and faster for companies to invest here.  
  • And, we are training our foreign commercial service officers to make promoting investment in America a key part of their job.

Now is the time to be pushing for more investment in America.  

With the cost of business rising in emerging countries like China, we’ve recently seen U.S.-based firms such as NCR, Ford and Coleman bring back facilities and jobs into the United States.  

We are confident SelectUSA can help other companies keep their factories and plants here at home, while also bringing in more foreign investment as well.  

In my time with you today I’ve talked about three areas – supporting advanced manufacturing, increasing U.S. exports, and boosting inbound investment – that will all help our businesses build it here, and sell it everywhere.  

But ultimately, it’s the businesses themselves that have to do the building and the selling.  

Government’s job is to create the conditions that allow both workers and businesses to succeed… and to create sensible rules of the road that strengthen the integrity of our financial system and our economy.  

Together, we have made progress digging out of an unprecedented financial crisis.  The private sector has created jobs for 21 straight months, for a total of almost 3 million private sector jobs.  

But we lost almost 8 million jobs during the recent recession.  We’ve got a long way to go.

And only a re-energized private sector can get our economy back to full strength.  

That’s why I’d like to close my remarks with a direct appeal to my colleagues in the business community:

America needs you to invest here now.  America needs you to put people back to work.

I know you have reasons not to do that.  Demand is uncertain.  There’s a financial crisis in Europe.  And let’s not forget the dysfunction in Washington.  

Having run a large business, I understand that if you’ve got cash available, it can be tempting to sit on it.  I get that it seems like the prudent thing to do.  But let me give you two reasons to question that:

First: while it’s true that U.S. companies consistently make great products and some make great profits, even these companies—and certainly our economy as a whole—can’t truly succeed with so many Americans out of work.   

It hurts us in the near term.  And it hurts us in the long term.

Efficiency and cost-cutting only get you so far.  Consumer demand will never rebound until more Americans have good jobs.  The kind of jobs that build the skills that will let them keep learning… and earning… for a lifetime.

The second compelling reason for businesses to act boldly on jobs and investment is because that’s what our economic competitors around the world are doing.

In places like China, Brazil and India, businesses are investing in new industries and new growth opportunities and looking to grab market share wherever they can.  They’re part of the same, troubled global economy we are.  But they’re not backing down.

Neither are their governments.  These businesses are supported by governments with a very clear competitive strategy for economic strength… governments that have been educating their people in science and math… that have been investing in infrastructure to make their businesses more competitive.  

I’m here to tell you that the Obama administration and the Commerce Department will provide energetic, tireless and effective support to help American businesses compete.

But competitiveness itself is only a means to an end.

When you root for your favorite team, you don’t want them to just compete.  You want them to win.  I want the United States to win.

Winning means that the best jobs in the world are found right here in America.

Winning means that the most cutting-edge industries not only do their R&D here, but also build their products in America.

Winning means that opportunity…and prosperity…are widely shared in America.

That, to me, is what it means to win.  And the Commerce department should be judged by how well we help American businesses achieve those goals.

I know the problems we face are big and complex.  But I also know that, as a nation, we are up to the task.

People knock Washington for a lot of good reasons.   But I’m happy to be here because I see a real opportunity to make a difference.

I see an opportunity for the Commerce Department to help American businesses build it here and sell it everywhere.

It's our time to shine.  And it's a great time to be Secretary of Commerce.

Thank you.