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Remarks at the Association for a Better New York, New York, New York

Thursday, October 24,, 2013

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker
Remarks at the Association for a Better New York, New York, New York

Thank you, Bill.  It’s great to be here with leaders in one of America’s great cities. 

Thomas Wolfe was a famous novelist who moved here from North Carolina in the 1920s to teach at NYU.  He once wrote this: “One belongs to New York instantly.  One belongs to it as much in 5 minutes as in 5 years.” 

That’s how I feel when I’m here – and I’m sure that people from across the U.S. and around the world feel that same instant connection to New York’s energy.

Perhaps no group has done more to make New York vibrant – to foster that magic – than this Association. 

Your history dates back to those first few breakfasts with Lew Rudin, Robert Tisch and others in the early 1970s.  In fact, one of the reasons that this association was formed was because the city government was at risk of defaulting, and business leaders were worried. 

Sound familiar?

Business leaders here and across the country need certainty. That includes knowing that the government is going to pay its bills, and that government will support the foundation for broad economic growth.  That’s what I want to touch on today – and then I’ll take some questions and comments.

In my first several months as Secretary, I traveled to 12 states and met with more than 350 business leaders.  They were – and still are – optimistic about the future of their companies, and they were clear on this need for certainty.

The last thing they needed was for the government to shut down and for a small group in Washington to lead us to the brink of default. 

The president has been clear. These manufactured crises must stop.

On Tuesday, the Administration announced that the shutdown meant 120,000 fewer jobs were created in October.  And it trimmed about a quarter-point from our GDP growth in the fourth quarter. 

We can’t afford that.  As a business leader for 27 years, I know that you can’t run a business this way.  And we definitely shouldn’t be running the government of the world’s largest economy this way.

My hope is that Washington will stop these self-inflicted wounds on our economy.  And I’m pleased to know that promoting fiscal reform and responsibility at all levels of government remains a top priority for this Association.

Instead, I hope we can start to ask more important questions, like: What do business really want and need in order to create jobs?

Broadly speaking, I think business need three things to spur job growth:

First, they need strong infrastructure. 

The U.S. has trillions of dollars in deferred infrastructure investments that we should be making – in everything from bridges to broadband. 

This is both a short-term job creator to actually build those projects, as well as a long-term job creator because it helps commerce flow more efficiently.

The Commerce Department itself has worked over the past few years to bring more broadband – and therefore more opportunity – to communities in rural and underserved areas. 

But we need much more – and I believe the private sector itself can play a stronger role in unlocking the capital for infrastructure investment.

Second, businesses need us to invest in research and development – the building blocks of innovation. 

It’s not easy for most businesses and startups to invest broadly in basic research and science. The government should help make those investments. That’s why the president has repeatedly called for more basic research funding.

Just as importantly, he has called for creating more places where industry, academia, and others can jointly engage in pre-competitive research – places where our best minds can explore how new breakthroughs can lead to better products and production processes. 

In July, I saw this model/approach first-hand in Albany.  Public dollars have successfully led industry rivals in the semiconductor industry to collaborate to develop new technology.  As a result, billions of private dollars are now being invested in new production facilities in the local community.

This is the same approach we are taking with the proposed National Network for Manufacturing Innovation – the NNMI. 

We launched a pilot for this in Ohio last year in the fast-growing field of 3D printing.  We’re launching three more pilots in coming months. 

All told, the president wants up to 45 institutes, which we envision will be global hubs of innovation in their respective fields.

Importantly, this proposal has bipartisan support in both Houses.  I’d encourage you to make your voices heard on this issue.

Third, businesses need skilled workers. 

That starts with a more innovative public school system.  I applaud you for your work to support New York’s public schools.  I was on Chicago’s School Board – one of the toughest jobs I’ve ever had.

President Obama will be in Brooklyn tomorrow to visit Pathways in Technology Early College High School – P-TECH. 

At that school, they’re promoting STEM education and training to help young people get jobs that are in demand.

We used a variation of that model in 5 high schools in Chicago – partnering with IBM, Microsoft, Cisco, Motorola, and Verizon.

But we must do even more – because there is something wrong when we have about 4 million job openings while about 4 million Americans have been job searching for over 6 months.

Earlier this week, I talked with business leaders who have made workforce development a top priority.

We all agreed that we should first be asking what local employers need.  Then, we can align the local ecosystem of training – community colleges, nonprofits, workforce boards – to meet those needs.

Those business leaders I met with are coming together across industries, sectors, and regions.  They’re jointly linking up with skills and training institutions.  And they’re collaborating to develop meaningful curricula and broadly-recognized credentials.

My message to them was that we need to operationalize more of the promising ideas that they are bringing to the table. 

This is a win-win for the employer and the worker.  It leads to good jobs, a stronger economy, and greater U.S. competitiveness.  I intend to make this a key priority, working closely with leaders like Labor Secretary Tom Perez.

I’ll just mention one more area regarding our workforce – because so many CEOs have brought it up to me. They want immigration reform. 

Already, nearly one-fourth of the workforce is foreign-born.  The bill that passed the Senate would expand temporary and high-skilled immigration programs that businesses need.

We also should remember that immigrants are more likely to start businesses and create jobs.  Thirty percent of small business owners are immigrants – that number is about 50 percent here in New York. 

As the Times Editorial Board put it last year, “immigrants are a deep well of capitalist energy, waiting to be fully tapped.”

Business leaders of all stripes already support immigration reform.  They know that the facts – including the projection that this will increase real GDP by about $1.4 trillion in 2033. 

Both parties in Washington should support this, too.  Again, I encourage you to make your voice heard on this issue.

In addition to what I’ve just mentioned, some of you have asked what priorities I have for the Commerce Department, in particular…

We will formally unveil these priorities in a few weeks.  But I’ll go ahead and preview just one priority area that shouldn’t come as a surprise – trade. 

We are hitting all-time records in U.S. exports, yet still too few U.S. firms are exporting to too few countries.  Less than one percent of our companies export – and of those that do, nearly 60 percent export to only one country.

I recently attended the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Bali. 

One of the hot topics was our 12-nation push to conclude the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement this year. The TPP is crucial, because APEC economies represent over half of global GDP and nearly half of world trade. 

That’s a huge opportunity to build on the nearly 10 million American jobs that are already supported by trade.

Also in Bali, I met with my counterparts from Southeast Asia to promote policies that would provide a level playing field for U.S. exporters, and I advocated on behalf of individual U.S. firms that do business there. 

Looking forward, I intend to do even more “commercial diplomacy” serving as the “Chief Commercial Advocate,” if you will, for our private sector.

At the same time, the Commerce Department as a whole will move to be more strategic and targeted in how we help businesses that are new-to-export or new-to-market. 

Here in New York, we have two U.S. Export Assistance Centers that serve the city (one in the Ted Weiss federal building near City Hall and another in Harlem that also serves the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens).  We also have a relatively new center (funded by MBDA in 2011) that helps minority-owned firms interested in exporting.

We will continue to use these local resources to reach out to entrepreneurs and business owners interested in exporting.

Before I close, let me mention just one other area where we have been particularly active, because it has been one year since Hurricane Sandy hit New York.

At that time, our National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration worked closely with the city’s emergency management team to alert communities about the path of the storm. 

This helped New York leaders make key decisions on everything from moving rail cars, to ordering early evacuations.  In short, we saved countless lives. 

Immediately afterwards, we gave responders and residents the tools they needed – such as aerial photos of the coastline – to start recovery as quickly as possible.   We also used sonar to survey the seafloor so that we could reopen ports– getting much needed oil back into New York.

Also, for the first time ever, we worked with FEMA and the Army Corps to create maps – grounded in NOAA data.  These maps show sea level rise projections in and around New York and New Jersey.

Looking forward, the city’s new Climate Change plan draws heavily from NOAA data and scientists.  We must continually work to build a more resilient New York – and more resilient coastal communities nationwide.

With all of our priorities at the Commerce Department, I believe we need to hold ourselves to the same high standards that businesses do. 

We should provide strong ROI for America’s companies and communities, and we should be driven by outcomes, just like any business with a bottom line.  We need to move at the pace of business.

Let me close with a short anecdote that some in the press have reported.

I have a sign on the door to my office that says Open for Business.  When the shutdown happened, someone on my staff had to flip it over, which was appropriate because about 30,000 of our employees had been furloughed.

I’m pleased that it’s now right-side-up once again.  

I want everyone who walks in – from the cleaning staff to foreign dignitaries – to know that America is open for business, and that the Commerce Department is an ally for business and civic leaders alike,  including all of you here in New York. 

If we work together, I know that we can ensure that New York continues to grow, thrive, and help drive the U.S. economy as it has done for centuries.

Thank you all for having me.  I look forward to our discussion.