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Remarks at State Department Global Business Conference

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Commerce Secretary John Bryson
Remarks at State Department Global Business Conference

Thank you, Deputy Secretary Nides.  Thanks to Mike Froman, Assistant to the President for International Economic Affairs.  Thanks to Secretary Clinton and our partners here at the State Department for putting this together.

It’s great to be here with business leaders, representatives from American Chambers of Commerce, and people who help U.S. businesses compete in the global marketplace.  You are all critical to American competitiveness, prosperity, and jobs.

In October of last year, I was confirmed as Secretary.  Around that same time, Secretary Clinton sent a cable to her staff in U.S. embassies.  It said that strengthening our economic leadership abroad and driving growth here at home – “economic statecraft” – is now a key part of what the State Department does.

I was pleased to hear this because economic statecraft aligns perfectly with the top priorities I have for the Commerce Department: supporting advanced manufacturing, increasing U.S. exports, and attracting more investment to the U.S. – all to create jobs.

As all of you know, the challenges and opportunities that American businesses face today are truly global in nature.

But that does not change one of my core beliefs—one that I imagine most of you share: The United States is fundamentally different from every other advanced economy.  

We’re startup people.  We break the norms. We’re innovators. We’re willing to take chances on new ideas.

This is by far our most important economic asset. It’s what sets us apart. And I believe that it will continue to be our key differentiating factor in the 21st century.  

The question today is this: How do we put the full force of the American government behind businesses such as those here today – even as the global economy becomes more competitive?

Earlier today, Secretary Clinton outlined some answers to that question related to leveraging U.S. diplomacy.

Right now, I’d like to outline what we’re doing at the Commerce Department to be more nimble, responsive and effective for American businesses. We call it government at the speed of business.

First, we need to build on the momentum in our manufacturing sector.

Manufacturing is critical to the U.S. economy.  By itself, the U.S. manufacturing sector would be the 10th largest economy in the world.

The other day, I read a great article in the Atlantic called “Making it in America.” It told the real-life story of two people employed at the same factory in South Carolina.  

One of the employees, Maddie, has a high school degree and runs a fairly simple welding machine.  

The other employee, Luke, went to a community college where he learned math and technical skills to run a larger, more complex machine.

The article points to Luke’s job as an example of the future of American manufacturing.

It’s clear that most traditional manufacturing jobs are transforming into advanced manufacturing jobs.

And the fact is, advanced manufacturing is helping fuel job growth.  Over 400,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs were added over the past two years – 50,000 last month alone.

We can build on this momentum in a few important ways.

For starters, our tax code should encourage our businesses to build things here.  As the President has noted several times recently, it currently does not.  We need to make sure that our manufacturers that want to create jobs here or bring jobs back get lower taxes – and we need to stop giving tax breaks to those that ship jobs overseas.

That’s an important short-term change to level the playing field.  But what about the long-term?  Specifically, how can partnerships strengthen our competitiveness in manufacturing?

The President asked me and Gene Sperling to co-lead the new White House Office of Manufacturing Policy.  

We are focused on high-impact ideas, such as a proposed new National Network for Manufacturing Innovation.

This will bring together agencies across the federal government, private sector leaders, universities, and others.  

This Network will help us transform the latest R&D into commercial success and jobs. We will focus on maximizing the unique strengths that already exist in particular regions around the U.S.  It’s called clustering – and it works.

This will help us ensure that the next generation of groundbreaking products are not just invented here – but also built here.

As part of that, we are working to ensure that advanced manufacturers can find high-skilled Americans to do these jobs.  The fact is, there are thousands of jobs going unfilled because of this skills gap.

That is unacceptable at a time when millions of Americans are looking for work.  They have the ability.

They have the work ethic.  But the missing piece is training.

The country could get a big boost with the President’s proposed 8-billion-dollar Community College to Career Fund.  It will train 2 million workers to get jobs in areas like advanced manufacturing – more people like Luke, who I mentioned earlier.

Overall, I believe that the federal government has a strong role to play in supporting manufacturing.  

And now I’ll say a few words about exports.

While we help businesses build things here, we also need to help them sell it everywhere.  We need to increase U.S. exports.

We need to empower more American businesses to start or expand exports – and remove barriers that get in your way.

You already know the facts: 95% of the world’s consumers live outside the U.S. But only 1% of U.S. businesses export – and most of those only export to one country.  

We need to change that. The IMF forecasts that more than 85% of economic growth through 2015 is taking place outside the U.S.

The good news is this: We have had two consecutive years of double-digit growth in U.S. exports – putting us on track to achieve the President’s goal of doubling exports by 2015.  

The impact of the National Export Initiative so far has been powerful.  

For example, the Commerce Department has coordinated 77 trade missions to 38 countries with over 1,000 U.S. companies.  Our priority has been markets and sectors where American businesses are most competitive.  

I will personally be leading an infrastructure-focused mission to India next month.  

In addition, we are opening new markets with trade agreements with Colombia and especially Korea, where annual exports could increase by $10 billion – creating tens of thousands of jobs here at home.  

And the Trans Pacific Partnership is one of our most ambitious and promising efforts yet.  Through it, we will attempt to set a new, high standard for regional trade agreements in the world’s most economically dynamic region.   

We must continue to reduce barriers to trade.  This includes making sure that American businesses get a fair shot.

In fact, the Commerce Department has resolved over 170 cases involving trade barriers across a number of industries and markets.

Take one example.  Customs officials in a major foreign IT equipment market were threatening to deny duty-free access to an Ohio manufacturer.  We saw it as a breach of WTO rules.

Through a full-court press, we made sure that that country honored its commitments.  As a result, the Ohio company got access to a 100-million-dollar market.

I strongly believe that when American businesses – both large and small – are provided with a level playing field. American businesses can compete and win – around the world.

Finally, we must significantly advance the promotion of investment in the United States.  That includes U.S. companies expanding domestically or bringing jobs back as well as foreign companies investing here.

Now, I am aware that many of you hold senior positions in U.S. companies operating overseas.  U.S. investment abroad can be important in order to be close to your customers and to take advantage of fast-growing markets.

But the fact is, a growing number of companies are finding that it is a smart move to re-locate or expand here in the U.S.  It’s called “insourcing.”

Labor costs in countries like China are rapidly increasing, but it’s more than that.  It’s the total costs of production that companies must weigh.  That includes, for example: the cost of transportation, the cost of proximity to supply chains, the cost of being further away from R&D and our universities, the cost of not having strong IP protections or quality control, and the cost of not having the most talented workforce in the world.

Meanwhile, although labor costs are higher here, U.S. productivity is increasing each year.

Last week, the President was in Milwaukee at MasterLock – at a factory that makes padlocks.  It’s now open again and running at full strength with 100 jobs that were brought back over the past 2 years.

Not every job will return to the United States. But U.S. companies are rediscovering good, bottom-line reasons to invest and grow here.

We also need to build on the increase in foreign direct investment in the U.S.  From 2009 to 2010, it rose in a single year nearly 50%. Last week, I talked with China’s Vice President Xi and his delegation about this.

This is a new focus in the Commerce Department and in the U.S. government as a whole.

As emerging markets of the world rise, CEOs can put their investment capital in more and more places.   President Obama, Secretary Clinton and I are aligning our resources to attract those job-generating dollars.   

Other countries have done this for years.

We are doing this through a new initiative called SelectUSA. We are training Commercial Service officers to drive more direct investment into the U.S. – starting with 10 fast-growing international markets.

Our team will serve as an information clearinghouse for foreign businesses looking to invest in the U.S. They will help investors more easily navigate our rules and procedures, and they will advocate for the U.S. when foreign businesses are deciding where to put their next facility and create jobs.  

Here’s an example of early success: SelectUSA worked with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to attract $20 million in investments from a Canadian auto company.  

We want more stories like that.

And we are excited to be hosting the first annual SelectUSA Investment Summit this fall – as the President announced last week.

We will bring companies from around the world to meet with state and local officials who can tell our story – how America is the best place to invest, to hire, and to help build the future of their businesses.

In each of the areas I’ve mentioned today, my commitment is that this Administration will be an even more effective partner with people like you who are building businesses and creating jobs.

Again, our vision is government at the speed of business: We’re beginning to see this at the Commerce Department. We are seeing it now at the State Department as well, with Secretary Clinton’s commitments today. And, in just a few moment, you’re going to hear from Ex-Im Bank, OPIC, and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency.

Working as one team, we will achieve that vision, and we will ensure that American businesses can continue to do what they do best – build it here and sell it everywhere.