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Chicago Consular Corps Ball Remarks

Monday, December 1, 2014
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Thank you, Mayor Emanuel, for your introduction, for your friendship, and for your outstanding service to this city and to our country.

I want to thank Michael Sacks and the entire Board of Directors of World Business Chicago and the leadership of Chicago Sister Cities International for inviting me to join you for this year’s Chicago Consular Corps Gala.

To all of my fellow Chicagoans, let me just say: it is always good to be home.

Tonight, we pay tribute to Chicago’s global partners, the Consuls General headquartered here, and we congratulate this year’s honorees:

  • Glenn Tilton, recipient of the Global Citizen Award, for his extraordinary civic and corporate contributions to advancing the global stature of our city. Glenn, we have known each other for over a decade. Congratulations.  This is a wonderful and well-deserved honor;
  • Exelon and ComEd, recipients of the Corporate Ambassador Award, and Signal, recipient of the Global Innovator Award, for their commitment to corporate responsibility across Chicago; and
  • Yoko Noge Dean, recognized as the Sister Cities’ Volunteer of the Year, for her work to strengthen the ties between Chicago and Osaka, Japan.

Together, we celebrate the work of everyone in this room and the bridges that you help to build every day between our communities.

World Business Chicago is dedicated to making sure businesses around the world see Chicago as the “ultimate global business destination.” You are building bridges between our private sectors. 

Chicago Sister Cities International is dedicated to fostering partnerships and networks between Chicago and other global cities.  You are building bridges between citizens and local governments. 

And the Chicago Consular Corps. You are deepening people-to-people and business-to-business ties between your countries and ours. You are building bridges of friendship and commerce between Chicago and the world.

We are also here tonight to celebrate the city of Chicago itself, a hub of domestic and global commerce. Chicago is home to more than 1,800 foreign companies from 45 countries that employ more than 220,000 people.  The city has drawn over $100 billion in foreign direct investment and has a well-developed strategy to attract more.

According to a World Business Chicago analysis, Chicago has the most diversified economy in the United States, with no single industry employing more than 14 percent of the city’s workforce.

Chicago-based companies are leaders in a wide array of industries, from financial services to health care, from IT to manufacturing, from hospitality to transportation and logistics.

There are good reasons for Chicago’s business success. The city is at the heart of a region with some of the world’s top universities and business schools; its inter-modal transportation system includes a dual-hub airport system that is unique in North America; and, in my view, the Chicago business community is uniquely dedicated to civic engagement.

Our mayor likes to say that this is “the most American of American cities.” Chicago may also be the most global of American cities.

At the Department of Commerce, our job is to make sure that cities across the entire country know what Chicago knows:  building bridges – between our governments and our businesses – is necessary for us to compete in the 21st century. And when he named me to this post, President Obama specifically asked me to focus on building a stronger bridge to the business community.

To meet this charge, over the course of my 18 months as Secretary of Commerce, I have met with more than 1,400 business leaders in the United States and around the world. 

I have met with numerous heads of state, foreign and trade ministers, and other government officials.

I have heard their ideas about how to spur economic progress at home and deepen our ties to economic partners abroad.

These experiences have reinforced my core belief: the American business community is one of our nation’s greatest – yet underleveraged – diplomatic resources.

President Obama and Vice President Biden share this view.  They believe, as I do, that our business community can be a force for positive change around the world. This is why the Administration is committed to developing an ambitious commercial diplomacy strategy that puts our business leaders on the playing field in ministries and capitals around the world.

The case for our more expansive vision for commercial diplomacy begins with three central facts.

First, U.S. businesses are the gold standard in the international economy. No matter what happens in the military or diplomatic spheres, our nation’s commercial might is without question.

Second, almost irrespective of the country, foreign leaders want more American business engagement in their markets and communities. Why? Because American companies set the standard for strong business ethics. Our businesses employ millions of people in good-paying jobs around the world, respect the rule of law, and invest in communities for the long-term.

Third, our vision of commercial diplomacy recognizes that governments and business – in the United States and around the world – have enormous overlapping interests.

Foreign governments want to foster growth at home, and foreign companies and customers want American products and services. At the same time, U.S. companies want to grow, increase profits, and enter new markets on fair terms, and the U.S. government wants to promote prosperity at home and strengthen a rules-based economic order abroad.

This synergy creates an opportunity for government and the private sector to work together toward our shared goals, but this approach can only produce tangible results if those in government listen to the concerns and ideas of our business communities:

We need business leaders to tell us what policies prevent them from doing more business in our countries.

We need to hear from investors themselves what we can do to improve the business climate in each of our nations.

We need to tap into the talents, expertise, and perspective of our leading business figures by giving them a seat at the table. 

In my experience, whenever we include senior executives in our government-to-government dialogues, the discussions, the policy content, and the solutions are vastly richer and improved.

This is our vision of commercial diplomacy, and we have already put it to the test around the world.

I led a delegation of U.S. CEOs to the Philippines and Vietnam in June, and just this past October, I led the President's Export Council – with CEOs from Xerox, ADM, Lockheed Martin, Marriott and others – on an economic fact-finding mission to Poland and Turkey. These were not trade missions.  These CEOs were not looking to make particular deals. 

Instead, on both trips, top American executives helped me paint a clear picture for presidents and prime ministers about how they can attract more business, more trade, and more foreign direct investment to their nations.

We also put our vision of commercial diplomacy into action in Ukraine, and I am thrilled to see Ukraine's Consul-General here this evening.  I was not accompanied by CEOs when I visited Kyiv in September, but I did bring a direct message from our business community.

If Ukraine embraces overdue reform by improving the country’s business climate, strengthening its financial system, and fighting corruption, American companies will be there. They will invest in Ukraine’s communities. They will sell products to Ukrainian consumers. They will hire Ukrainian citizens. America’s commercial partnership with Ukraine will grow stronger, and both of our economies will benefit.

I recognize that President Poroshenko and Ukraine’s government face serious challenges, and they know that the path to long-term political stability is paved with economic reform.

I discussed a number of specific reforms with President Poroshenko and Prime Minister Yatsenyuk. I urged them to pass their full anti-corruption legislation through the Ukrainian parliament — the Rada. I told them that enacting this law would send a strong signal to the market that it is a new day for business in Ukraine. Shortly after we departed, we were thrilled to see the Rada actually adopt the anti-corruption measure. Now, implementation will be the key – there is certainly far more to do – but this was a significant step forward. 

At the same time, I asked Ukraine’s government leaders to give the private sector a seat at the table by establishing regular working groups in the agriculture and energy sectors. In effect, key executives will act as consultants – advising the government on how to re-ignite these two essential pillars of Ukraine’s economy.  Because if businesses are going to invest in these critical sectors in the future, the Ukrainian government needs to understand what is preventing them from doing so today.     

Our vision of commercial diplomacy is not limited to situations as complex as Ukraine. It applies nearly everywhere I have traveled – in Western and Eastern Europe, in East Asia and the Middle East, in Latin America, in North and Sub-Saharan Africa. But our experience in Kyiv suggests how commercial diplomacy can work when done right – how the promise of commerce has the power to change policy.

Beyond our focus on commercial diplomacy, the trip to Ukraine was very personal for me.  It was a reminder of my own family’s history that started in Ukraine and made its way to Chicago.

My great-grandfather, Nicholas Pritzker, shepherded by his parents, emigrated from Kyiv 133 years ago, at the age of 10. Our family fled their home out of fear for their safety – and found a new home in Chicago, where Nicholas sold newspapers, taught himself English, and started on his path to success.

My family has been blessed to live in a country and a city that allowed us to start businesses and fulfill our dreams. They taught me the value of hard work – and of giving back. Indeed, as members of our family settled into their new city, they created a “nickel club,” collecting pennies each week to help the Jewish immigrants that followed them here, sharing what little they had.

Here in Chicago, my family built a bridge: a bridge to a better life, a bridge to opportunity, and a bridge to the “American dream.”

All of you – as representatives of your countries, as partners with our country – work every day to do the same: to build bridges to opportunity for the people you serve, and to empower your fellow citizens to realize their dreams. 

With this city as our inspiration, that must remain our common task: we must work together to ensure our shared prosperity by keeping each of our nations open for business – and open for more business together.

Thank you all for being here tonight. Thank you to World Business Chicago and Chicago Sister Cities International for organizing this event and for your work each day.