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Commerce Joins Federal Partners to Present Job Training Programs Review

Commerce Joins Federal Partners to Present Job Training Programs Review

Guest Blog Post by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker

A strong, skilled American workforce is essential to ensuring that U.S. businesses are able to compete in the global economy. In the 2014 State of the Union Address, President Obama asked that I join Vice President Biden, Secretary Perez, and Secretary Duncan to lead a review of federal training programs, to ensure that these programs prepare workers for the jobs that are available right now. On Tuesday we presented our findings and recommendations to the President at an event at the White House. President Obama also signed H.R. 803, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which will help improve business engagement and accountability across federally-funded training programs.

As a business leader of 27 years, I know the importance of hiring skilled workers. In our “Open for Business Agenda,” the Department of Commerce is making workforce development a top priority for the first time ever. While the Department does not directly fund job training programs, many of our initiatives support efforts to match workers to local industry needs. The Economic Development Administration (EDA) and National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) in particular have taken significant leadership roles in the Department’s skilled workforce policy. For example, the Economic Development Administration (EDA) funds critical efforts that help communities address local economic needs, including workforce needs. In addition, the NIST Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) works with manufacturers around the country to help them improve their processes and create and retain jobs.

Commerce is coordinating with other federal partners to leverage support for job-driven training initiatives. For example,  we are working in coordination with the Department of Labor (DOL) on their Center for Workforce & Industry Partnerships (CWIP), which will bring together key agencies across the federal government to support workforce and industry partnerships and form a common vision and approach to partnerships. To better align economic development and workforce development goals, EDA is working to develop stronger ties between EDA Regional Offices and Department of Labor (DOL) regional offices, and is incorporating job-driven training principles into its new Comprehensive Economic Development Strategies guidelines for economic development districts. Also, NIST MEP is working closely with DOL’s Registered Apprenticeships Program to spread awareness of their resources to common clients.  In fact, MEP and DOL co-hosted a webinar on these programs last week, and MEP helped DOL host an advanced manufacturing industry roundtable in Chicago last month to inform the upcoming solicitation for federal apprenticeship funding, one of the major announcements to come out of the Administration’s work on job-driven training.

We are also leveraging Commerce data to develop new tools for connecting job-seekers to available positions. Today, at the 21st Century Career Counseling Jobs Data Jam in Baltimore, Md., Under Secretary for Economic Affairs Mark Doms and Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez spoke with technology leaders and app developers to explore opportunities to use government data to help workers find jobs and training opportunities.

The Department of Commerce is leveraging our resources and will continue to collaborate with our other interagency partners, as well as businesses and educational institutions, to ensure that both workers and businesses get the best out of workforce skills programs. The report we presented on Tuesday offers a blueprint for our future actions to help more Americans climb the ladder of opportunity. 

U.S.-Africa Business Success Stories: A Kodak Moment: How the Department of Commerce Brokered a Deal between Eastman Kodak and an Egyptian Bank

Ed. Note: This post is part of the U.S.-Africa Business Success Stories series highlighting the work of the Department of Commerce to strengthen the economic relationship between U.S. and African businesses. This series will lead up to the U.S. Africa Business Forum on August 5th, which will convene African heads of state and government to meet with President Obama, Secretary Pritzker, and former Mayor Michael Bloomberg to discuss trade and investment opportunities for African heads of government and American business leaders.

When the Department of Commerce helped Eastman Kodak broker an exporting deal with one of Egypt’s largest state-owned banks, it was a true Kodak moment. American businesses like Kodak are becoming increasingly engaged in exporting to Africa, and the reasons why are clear:

  • Africa has made great strides towards achieving sustainable economic growth and widespread poverty alleviation.
  • Gross domestic product (GDP) in Africa is expected to rise 6 percent per year over the next decade.
  • Africa is set to have a larger workforce than India or China by the year 2040.
  • According to the World Bank, almost half of Africa’s countries have attained middle-income status.

Africa’s potential as the world’s next major economic story is why businesses in the United States, like Kodak, want to offer their products, services, and expertise to help unlock even more of Africa’s potential – and the Obama Administration and Department of Commerce are committed to helping these exporting businesses each step of the way.

Kodak, the company best known for pioneering photographic film products, has been an active client of the nearby Rochester U.S. Export Assistance Center (USEAC) for decades. This long-standing relationship connected Kodak with one of the largest state-owned banks in Egypt, Banque Misr. When the bank was about to place an order to purchase Kodak Scanners, Banque Misr was told that Kodak had encountered a financial problem not familiar to many outside the U.S.: Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

To better understand Kodak’s financial situation, Banque Misr contacted the U.S. Commercial Service in Egypt, which then contacted the Rochester USEAC. The Rochester USEAC  was able to confirm that Kodak was still operational and headquartered in Rochester. With the help of Tim McCall, a trade specialist in Rochester, and the U.S. Commercial Service, the bank received the proper paperwork and placed an order to Kodak which amounted to roughly $185,000 in export sales.

The Obama Administration and the Department of Commerce believe that Kodak’s and Banque Misr’s example can encourage other U.S. companies to do business in Africa. That is why, last year, President Obama announced the launch of Trade Africa, a partnership between the United States and East African Community (EAC) – Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda. Trade Africa aims to increase exports from the EAC to the U.S. by 40 percent, reduce the average time needed to import or export a container from African ports by 15 percent, and decrease by 30 percent the average time a truck takes to transit certain borders, making it easier for businesses on both side of the Atlantic to trade. 

Businesses interested in learning more about exporting should contact their local U.S. Export Assistance Center.

New BEA Data Provide Insights on How Harsh Winter Impacted Industries in First Quarter

Real value added —a measure of an industry’s contribution to GDP—for agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting declined 31 percent in the first quarter, reflecting a drop in the production of farm-type products, including livestock and dairy.

How much did the harsh winter weather affect the U.S. economy in the first quarter of this year?

We know that the economy, as measured by gross domestic product (GDP), contracted at an annual rate of 2.9 percent over January, February and March, the first quarterly decline in three years. But how were different industries affected and was weather a factor?  New data released today by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis provide fresh insights on that front.

The economy’s downturn in the first quarter was widespread, with 19 of 22 major industry groups contributing to the drop in U.S. economic activity, the new BEA data show.  Some of the leading contributors to the downturn included industries that were impacted by the unusually harsh winter weather that hit most of the United States, including “agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting.”

Severe weather conditions can have both positive and negative (although mostly negative) effects on the Nation’s economic performance. For some industries this is intuitive, like “agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting” and “construction;” for other industries, like “mining,” and “nondurable-goods manufacturing,” the link may not be as intuitive.

Real value added —a measure of an industry’s contribution to GDP—for agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting declined 31 percent in the first quarter, reflecting a drop in the production of farm-type products, including livestock and dairy. 

Construction fell almost 9 percent, reflecting a notable decline in nonresidential construction activity that began in January and continued through March; unusually cold and wet weather hampered construction activity. 

Perhaps somewhat surprising, the utility industry also contributed to the decline in GDP in the first quarter.  While demand for additional utilities, for example electricity generation, was evident with the severe winter weather, a surge in the costs of the inputs used by the utilities industry—things like energy, materials, and purchased services used in the production process—caused real value added to drop over 16 percent in the first quarter.