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Delivering an American Economic Comeback

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Guest blog post by Penny Pritzker, Secretary of Commerce

All Americans love a comeback story. And that is the story that President Obama weaved in his powerful State of the Union address.

Thanks to the grit, resilience and hard work of the American people and our businesses, more than 2 million jobs were created last year and we hit the lowest unemployment rate in more than five years. We have a manufacturing sector that has added over half-a-million jobs. Our stock market is booming. We have record exports. Our housing market is rebounding. And we've cut our deficits by more than half.

And while we have more work to do to lift incomes, expand opportunity for our people and help businesses with the tools they need to grow and hire, both President Obama and I are optimistic about America's future.

We both know that 2014 can be a breakthrough year for America, and we are better positioned for this century than any nation on earth.

We stand ready to work and partner with Congress. This includes passing immigration reform, which is both a moral obligation and an economic opportunity. It also includes building first-class infrastructure that will deliver first class jobs. Approving trade agreements, spurring innovation, assisting the long-term unemployed, raising the minimum wage and other efforts are also critical to moving our nation forward.

But the president was clear that this year the administration will act decisively -- with or without Congress -- to help our economy flourish. The Department of Commerce -- through our Open for Business Agenda -- is acting on this promise.

Driving more high-tech manufacturing hubs. The Department of Commerce is working with our Administration partners on the National Network of Manufacturing Innovation. These manufacturing hubs -- where communities, businesses and research institutions come together -- will help America lead the world in advanced technologies and create the next great firms and industries. We launched two last year, and the President will roll out six more.

Increasing trade and investment. Today, 95 percent of customers are outside our borders and we know that in places like Kansas City, exports have driven virtually all of the economic growth since the recession. More trade and investment are important to grow our economy and create jobs here in America. As such, we must create trade partnerships with Europe and the Asia-Pacific that will cover more than 60 percent of global GDP and deliver unprecedented economic opportunity. At the same time, we must work with Congress to deliver tools like trade promotion authority that declares our collective commitment to our workers and environment, and opens new markets for American companies. Every President has had this authority going back several decades and having a clear declaration from Congress that it stands with the Administration in seeking high standards is essential. Once approved, we are one step closer to ensuring a more level playing field for our workers and companies while raising global standards.

The president also called for expanding SelectUSA, a Commerce-led program to increase foreign direct investment. The fact is, more than 5 million Americans work for foreign owned firms, making more than $77,000 on average in these jobs. As the President said, we will work to welcome more of this investment and create more of these jobs.

Stimulating innovation and protecting the "ideas economy." America's economy is based on the ingenuity and ideas of our innovators. That's why we must continue to spur more research and development and deliver a patent reform bill that allows our companies to remain focused on innovation, not on needless and expensive litigation. Our Patent and Trademark Office is already helping lead on this front. In addition, our National Telecommunications and Information Administration has helped lay more than 100,000 miles of broadband in the last four years including the high-speed linking of community institutions such as schools, libraries, hospitals and public safety facilities that need it most. The president announced that we will continue our effort by connecting 20 million students in 15,000 schools to high-speed broadband.

Helping our 21st century workforce. For the first time ever, our department is working with the Labor and Education Departments to ensure that every American has the skills needed to compete. This is important as millions of Americans are underemployed or unemployed despite there being 3.9 million open jobs in the country. We are joining Vice President Biden in an across-the-board reform of our training programs to ensure they have one mission: train Americans with the skills employers need, and match them to quality jobs that lead to a career path. That means more on-the-job training and apprenticeships that help American workers climb ladders of opportunity.

As someone who has built businesses for 27 years, I am used to embracing practical solutions to get things done. That's why I am hopeful that the time of manufactured crises may be over. Evidence of this is that Congress recently produced a budget that undoes some of last year's severe budget cuts and brings down our deficit in a balanced way. This is good news for all of us.

Like the president, I believe the state of our union is strong because of the determination and ingenuity of our people and businesses. Yes, we've come a long way back, and we will continue our mission to help the millions who most need help. We are indeed open for business.

And if we work together -- turning ideas into action -- there is no doubt that the state of our union will be even stronger in 2014.

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