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U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker Delivers Remarks at Economic Development Forum in California

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Thank you, Congresswoman Lee. We are lucky to have your leadership in California’s 13th district and beyond. Your constituents are fortunate to have such an effective advocate for them in Congress. Congresswoman Lee has dedicated her career to serving this community, and she is someone I have long admired her for her persistence, her independent voice, and her commitment to the East Bay. ​I also want to take this opportunity to acknowledge two great leaders for this city and area: Mayor Jean Quan and Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson. ​As someone who grew up in the Bay Area, it is always a pleasure for me to return home. So, thank you for having me. 

Today, what I would like to do is highlight how the Department of Commerce exists in your community and how we are trying to work with you to strengthen businesses and entrepreneurs across this region. A few moments ago, I met Clifton Burch, founder of Empire Engineering and Construction, based here in Oakland and a client of our Minority Business Development Agency – we call it, MBDA. In 2013, with the assistance of our San Jose MBDA Center, the company – EE&C – secured its largest contract to date: a project to install duct iron pipe for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. Our MBDA experts helped EE&C with business development, procurement identification, and access to capital. MBDA leveraged relationships with different San Francisco public works agencies on behalf of the company. All told, between the public utilities contract and other recent projects, MBDA has assisted EE&C in receiving over $5.8 million in contracts and procurement, helping that company create 20 jobs and retain 38 more hard-working employees– no small achievement for Clifton Burch and his growing enterprise. So we are really pleased to work with companies like Clifton's. 

I talk about this story because EE&C is a perfect example of how a strong partnership between our Department and a local business can yield positive results on the ground for your community. And I want to recognize MBDA’s National Director, Alejandra Castillo, who is doing such extraordinary work on behalf of small businesses nationwide and who will lead your panel in just a few minutes this afternoon. 

For the sake of Oakland’s growth and our nation’s long-term prosperity, it is absolutely imperative that we replicate the success of our relationship with EE&C nationwide. The Department of Commerce is committed to connecting minority-owned businesses and ALL businesses with new opportunities and capital. 

It is our department's job to help create the conditions for your businesses to grow, compete and thrive. And if we do that you will create jobs. That is the mission of the Commerce Department and a core objective for President Obama. 

Since the President took office, our nation has made tremendous strides toward economic recovery: 

Businesses have added nearly 10 million jobs – that’s 53 straight months of private sector job growth. 

Our economy has added 200,000 jobs per month for six consecutive months – something that hasn’t happened since 1997. 

Manufacturers are hiring at rates that we have not seen since the 1990s; and 

Exports have posted four years of record highs.

Despite this progress, we know there is far more to do to meet our goal of an economic expansion that is stable, reliable, and durable for American businesses, workers and consumers. That’s why, last year, I unveiled our “Open for Business Agenda,” focused on the steps we can take to advance effective economic development. 

The Department of Commerce agenda starts with our drive to expand trade, investment, and exports. Every morning, 11.3 million Americans go to a job supported by exports. That's the highest level in 20 years. Exporting is an essential tool for economic development – because 95 percent of the world’s consumers live beyond our borders, and more American jobs are created and more American workers benefit when American businesses deliver their goods and services to that massive global customer base. 

President Obama has embraced exports as a key pillar of his economic agenda, starting with his National Export Initiative, which has led exports to soar to a record high of $2.3 trillion. Like any good business leader who wants to build on successful growth, last year, we took a step back, reached out to our stakeholders across the country, and reviewed how we could improve and expand the National Export Initiative – which we call “NEI.” 

The result was a revitalized strategy: NEI NEXT, a data-driven, customer-focused initiative. Our goal with NEI NEXT is for more small and medium-sized businesses to increase their exports. 

I have seen company after company endure the recent downturn, succeed, and thrive by exporting more of their products. NEI NEXT deploys five key strategies designed to help these firms grow: 

  • First, we want to help businesses find their NEXT customer abroad. 
  • Second, we want to make a company’s (first and) NEXT shipment easier to export. 
  • Third, we want to increase access to financing for your company’s NEXT order. 
  • Fourth, we want to help communities integrate trade and investment into their NEXT growth plans. 
  • And finally, we want to open the NEXT big global opportunity for American businesses through market access and through new trade agreements.

NEI NEXT is about helping you. The Commerce Department has resources on the ground, in your community, to help you make informed decisions and access foreign markets. We also want to empower your local government economic development officers to incorporate exports into their growth strategies. Merchandise exports in the Oakland area totaled nearly $23 billion in 2012– and with the work of Rod Hirsch and his team at the Oakland Export Assistance Center, we can increase that number and connect you with international markets. 

Another part of our agenda is geared toward strengthening innovation and entrepreneurship. ​President Obama and I are committed to ensuring that the United States remains the world leader in the next great era of innovation. ​The Bay Area has been, and remains, a hub of innovation in science, technology, programming, social media, and so many other sectors. And our department is playing a critical role in building on that legacy of achievement and excellence. We announced the opening of the first Silicon Valley patent office, bringing our resources closer to our customers and ensuring we continue to protect local inventions and ideas. We launched the Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship. That’s a partnership between the federal government and 11 well-known American entrepreneurs. Our work through our PAGE program is to encourage entrepreneurship and help startups succeed in the United States and around the world. We are also working at the Department to unlock more open data to inform business decisions and strengthen economic development, promoting our department as “America’s Data Agency.” 

In the Bay Area and across the country, the Commerce Department is working to build a more productive, agile, and innovative manufacturing sector by partnering with small and medium-sized manufacturers to help improve their operations and create good jobs. To give one example of how we empower manufacturing entrepreneurs locally: our Manufacturing Extension Partnership here in California. We have two centers in California, including the Corporation for Manufacturing Excellence in San Ramon, just 30 miles from here. This center, like others around the country, specializes in services that help manufacturers in the East Bay increase their growth, productivity, quality, and profitability. They focus on sectors like aerospace, high-technology, bio-tech, and medical devices. And for every dollar we invest in these centers, the local economy sees a $6 return. I encourage all of you to take advantage of our Manufacturing Extension Partnership services and to find out how our experts who can work as consultants with your manufacturers can make your businesses more successful and grow your local economy. 

We are also encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship in Oakland with investments made in your community by our Economic Development Administration – or EDA. We are modernizing economic development, and helping leaders here in Oakland attract new industries and create jobs. In 2012, EDA awarded $2.1 million for construction of the fiber optic conduit network in the City of San Leandro, five miles east of here. This project will expand broadband access, support local businesses, and create opportunities for high-skilled jobs. That same year, EDA awarded $800,000 for the Medical/Bioscience Manufacturing Pipeline to help develop a high-tech manufacturing cluster in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. 

Whether it is the Economic Development Administration, the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, the Minority Business Development Agency, or our Export Assistance Centers, the Commerce Department has resources available to support you. And I hope all of you take advantage of these resources we bring to the table. 

Ultimately, that is our shared objective: to put tools, services, and resources in your hands to help your local businesses succeed, your local workers thrive, and your local economy grow. 

I look forward to working with Congresswoman Lee and all of you to keep California on the cutting edge of economic growth and to keep the United States open for business now and in the future.