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Blog Entries from 2014

Better Materials for Safer Sports: Time to Use Our Heads

A simple example of making a material fail "better": By fine-tuning the thickness of the connecting spokes in a sheet of acrylic, we can change how it transmits force when fractured. With thick spokes (left), fractures propagate in a straight line and concentrate the impact. Thin spokes (right) divert the fracture across the sheet, diffusing the impact.

Guest blog post by Dr. Laurie E. Locascio, Director of the Material Measurement Laboratory at the National Institute of Standards and Technology

On Thursday, the White House Healthy Kids and Safe Sports Concussion Summit, President Obama highlighted both the need for greater national awareness of the risks our young athletes face from traumatic brain injuries and the need for increased research on how to combat these potentially life-altering injuries.

In 2009, for example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, emergency departments in the United States treated more than 250,000 sports- and recreation-related traumatic brain injuries, including concussions, among children and adolescents—a figure that’s risen by 60 percent in the past decade.

At the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), we recognize that the use of advanced materials in protective equipment, such as helmets, can play a critical role in this effort. For that reason, NIST is investing $1 million per year for 5 years on tools to accelerate the development of advanced materials that can provide better protection against concussions for the athlete.

Sports equipment often leads the way in adopting new advances in materials—think of carbon nanotubes in high-end tennis rackets and golf clubs. But modern materials science offers the possibility of specifically designing new materials, from the ground up, that are tailored to the special needs of helmets and other protective equipment.

As an example, “shear-thickening suspensions”—specially designed particles suspended in a liquid polymer—can be a high-tech shock absorber that instantly adapts to offer greater resistance to stronger shocks. You’ve encountered a sheer-thickening suspension if you’ve ever tried to stir cornstarch in water quickly.

Other possibilities include micro- or nanostructured materials that either absorb shocks by crumpling in specific ways, rather like some automobile components are designed to protect passengers in a crash, or that selectively deform to channel the energy of shocks away from highly sensitive areas, like the skull. Self-healing polymers and shape-memory metal alloys can both provide reinforcement and extend the longevity of the equipment.

Working to Ensure Americans Remain Connected When Disaster Strikes

Cross-post by Stephen Fletcher, Associate Administrator, National Telecommunications and Information Administration

With the start of summer comes the beginning of the hurricane season along much of the U.S. coast. And with hurricanes comes the increased possibility that communications could be disrupted.

Less than two years ago, Hurricane Sandy left a trail of death and destruction including disrupted communications for millions of people and thousands of businesses along the East Coast. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has reported that about a quarter of cell sites across 10 states and the District of Columbia were knocked out of service during the peak of the storm.

As the Executive Branch agency primarily responsible for advising the President on telecommunications and information issues, the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has been working with other federal agencies to help Americans remain connected in the wake of natural disasters or other emergencies.

In its report released last August, the White House’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force called on NTIA and the U.S. Department of Energy to work with the FCC to develop recommendations that help facilitate improved resiliency for cell phone towers, data centers and other critical communications infrastructure in the event of a power disruption following a disaster. NTIA and the Energy Department expect to complete the recommendations later this year.

In the meantime, the FCC has developed some steps consumers can take to ensure they remain connected should disaster strike and power is lost. The recommendations, developed with the help of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), include charging your wireless phones and other wireless devices ahead of a coming storm and using text messaging instead of making a phone call to help alleviate network congestion during and after a storm strikes.

For more information on what to expect from the upcoming hurricane season, check out the latest predictions for the Atlantic and Central Pacific regions from NTIA’s Commerce sister agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Recognizing Those Supporting American Exports

Icelantic Skis was one of 65 companies and organizations recognized by Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker with a President’s E Award for supporting U.S. exports.

Guest blog post by Acting Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade Ken Hyatt.

Cross posted from ITA's Tradeology blog.

We at the Department of Commerce produce a lot of numbers, but we always try to see behind the export numbers into what they create – jobs, growth, and development.

It was easy to see behind the numbers today, as I joined Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker to recognize and congratulate 65 companies and organizations that have supported the expansion of U.S. exports.

These companies and organizations earned the 2014 President’s E Awards, the highest honor bestowed upon those that are committed to expanding the U.S. economy through exports.

The awardees include an assortment of small and medium-sized businesses in a variety of states and business sectors. From Kansas-based Pioneer Balloon Company to California-based Robinson Pharma, both of which have expanded their exports with support from U.S. government agencies including the Department of Commerce.

EDA Investment Supports Business and Workforce Development in Southern New Hampshire

EDA Investment Support Business and Workforce Development in Southern New Hampshire

Guest blog post by Matt S. Erskine, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Economic Development 

Today I was honored to join Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte, Representative Carol Shea-Porter, and a host of local economic and business leaders to celebrate the opening of a new business development and job training facility that will serve 41 towns and cities in Southern New Hampshire. 

The Regional Economic Development Center of Southern New Hampshire’s new business and job training center is a unique facility. Both business management and workforce training will be delivered in an efficient learning environment. Resources will be provided for entrepreneurs and small businesses to conduct research and receive technical assistance, and space will be available for start-up enterprises to conduct limited business in a professional environment. 

Supporting job-creating entrepreneurs and ensuring that America has a strong and skilled workforce is essential to our economic competitiveness. 

That is why Secretary Pritzker - a business leader with more than 25 years of experience - has made innovation a key pillar of the Commerce Department’s “Open for Business Agenda.” 

Secretary Pritzker is the first U.S. Secretary of Commerce to focus on how we can best prepare workers with in-demand job skills as part of efforts to continue innovating and remain globally competitive. 

The Commerce Department plays a key role in partnering with businesses to facilitate industry-driven training programs. 

Secretary Pritzker Highlights General Electric Investment in the Nigerian Community

Secretary Pritzker joins Jay Ireland, GE Africa President and CEO, after a roundtable discussion with representatives from General Electric (GE) Healthcare and the Government of Nigeria

While in Nigeria, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker participated in a roundtable discussion with representatives from General Electric (GE) Healthcare and the Government of Nigeria where she heard about what opportunities existed for U.S. companies to provide solutions to Nigeria’s health care issues, specifically in the areas of infant and maternal care. Before beginning the roundtable discussion, Secretary Pritzker was escorted by GE executives through a “Continuum of Care” walk through display which highlighted the many solutions GE is using to improve maternal and newborn health in the region.

After the walk-through, Secretary Pritzker sat down for a roundtable discussion where she heard more about the formation and the recently signed Healthymagination Mother & Child initiative. This first-of-its-kind, 5-year initiative, signed by GE, Nigeria’s Ministry of Health and USAID, will focus on increasing capacity in the primary health care system and providing affordable financing options to support the reduction of preventable child-maternal mortality in Nigeria. Specifically, the imitative is focused on bringing more mobile and alternative powered health technology to the region along with robust training and education programs for nurses and midwives to help reduce child mortality and improve maternal health. Both of which will help Nigeria meet its Millennium Development goals.

During the trade mission, Secretary Pritzker highlighted that U.S. businesses want to be in Africa. She discussed how American companies not only invest time and resources in countries like Nigeria, but they also make investments in the communities in which they operate as well.

GE is an example of one such company that has not only been investing in infrastructure and power projects in Nigeria, but has also been actively involved in ways to improve healthcare outcomes and efficiency, including maternal and infant care.in Nigeria. both through its corporate social responsibilities platform as well as furthering its commercial interests. .

Commerce in the Community: The Women’s Veterans Resources Center partners with churches, business and government to provide needed support to women who have served their country

Rev. Dr. Helen Fleming, who leads the Women’s Veterans Resource Center

Ed. Note: This post is part of the Commerce in the Community series highlighting the work of community leaders and organizations that are strengthening the middle class and providing ladders of opportunity for all Americans.

Below is an interview with Rev. Dr. Helen Fleming, who leads the Women’s Veterans Resource Center. Rev. Dr. Fleming is pastor of the Douglas Memorial United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C., a post she has served in since 2005.

Question 1: Tell us about the Women’s Veterans Resource Center. What is your mission and main focus?

The Women’s Veterans Resource Center was created in 2010 following a speaking engagement for the Women’s Rock Rally. I learned about the injustice that was happening in the military around women’s issues and I became concerned about women veterans who were homeless. I also realized that many churches did not have a veterans program for women.  As a result of these realities, I created the Women’s Veterans Resource Center, which offers a variety of resources in 11 different churches.  Our mission is to be the support to military and veteran women who need benefits, jobs, mental health care, clothing, food, counseling, housing and spiritual guidance. Our main focus is to keep the doors open to these vets and to be there as a refuge in their hopelessness whenever we are needed.

Question 2: How are you partnering with other groups in the community to expand economic opportunity?

We collaborate with every level of government Veterans Affairs offices, non- profit organizations, the business community and service organizations to host events that supply services and supplies to our veteran women.  Each quarter, we hold events such as benefit conferences, job development sessions and job fairs and clergy training sessions on how to treat our veterans. We also provide the clothing for the Women’s Rock Rally on Veterans Day at the ARC Center. Some of the churches are offering their parsonages in order to develop housing for our homeless. Emory UMC is digging ground on a large facility that will offer housing to the homeless veterans and others in need of housing. We’ve also held workshops on interview techniques, social media, business development and social etiquette classes in order to build self-esteem and confidence. All of our events are joint efforts with entities ranging from the White House to the Federal Women Veterans Affairs Office, the Department of Labor Veterans Affairs Office, the Mayors Veterans Affairs Office, Veterans Hospitals and other veterans agencies.

Question 3: If people want to learn more about the Women’s Veterans Resource Center, what should they do?

Contact Douglas Memorial UMC at 202-397-1562 and we will respond in a positive manner.

NOAA Predicts Near-Normal or Below-Normal 2014 Atlantic Hurricane Season

2014 Atlantic hurricane outlook

In its 2014 Atlantic hurricane season outlook issued today, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting a near-normal or below-normal season.

The main driver of this year’s outlook is the anticipated development of El Niño this summer. El Niño causes stronger wind shear, which reduces the number and intensity of tropical storms and hurricanes. El Niño can also strengthen the trade winds and increase the atmospheric stability across the tropical Atlantic, making it more difficult for cloud systems coming off of Africa to intensify into tropical storms.

The outlook calls for a 50 percent chance of a below-normal season, a 40 percent chance of a near-normal season, and only a 10 percent chance of an above-normal season.  For the six-month hurricane season, which begins June 1, NOAA predicts a 70 percent likelihood of 8 to 13 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which 3 to 6 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including 1 to 2 major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5; winds of 111 mph or higher).

These numbers are near or below the seasonal averages of 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes, based on the average from 1981 to 2010. The Atlantic hurricane region includes the North Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico.

“Thanks to the environmental intelligence from NOAA’s network of earth observations, our scientists and meteorologists can provide life-saving products like our new storm surge threat map and our hurricane forecasts,” said Kathryn Sullivan, Ph.D., NOAA administrator. “And even though we expect El Niño to suppress the number of storms this season, it’s important to remember it takes only one land falling storm to cause a disaster.”

Investing in Data, Investing in America

Dr. Mark E. Doms

Cross-post by Mark Doms, Under Secretary for Economic Affairs

The Department of Commerce’s mantra is that America is “Open for Business.”  As President Obama highlighted at Tuesday’s Investing in America roundtable, this has never been more true.  Today, U.S. and foreign businesses appreciate the competitive advantages that come from locating operations here. The U.S. provides the total package: a skilled, world-class workforce; global leadership in innovation and invention; access to our growing domestic market; rich infrastructure easy access to export markets. The list goes on. (Check out the Assess Costs Everywhere tool to get a more complete list and discussion of the advantages of setting up shop in the U.S.) 

Business leaders from across the spectrum and across the world are making new investments here. Individually their stories are compelling, and they are echoed in data from our Bureau of Economic Analysis and captured in a joint report issued by the Department of Commerce and the White House. For example, business fixed investment from companies choosing to grow and invest in the United States accounts for more than 20 percent of the rebound in real GDP since mid-2009, and global investors have played a large part.  Since 2006, the United States has been the world’s largest recipient of foreign direct investment (FDI). And FDI inflows have swelled, totaling $1.5 trillion between 2006 and 2012. For 2013 alone, FDI inflows totaled $193 billion up from $166 billion in 2012. 

These investments are good for our economy, for investors, and for workers (such as the 5.6 million who work for U.S. affiliates of foreign firms and have average annual compensation of $77,000). We know this because the evidence is clear in the data. And while it is important to focus on the value of the inward investment and the jobs and growth that brings to our economy, it is also important to take a look at the data that tells us this, as well as the data which informs businesses when they decide to select the USA.

Coming Soon: A More Detailed Look at U.S. Trade and International Investment

International data will soon be getting a new look, giving users more detail on the U.S. economy’s relationship with the rest of the world in the most significant restructuring of the Bureau of Economic Analysis’ international data since 1976. The restructured accounts will provide greater and more complete information about the global financial picture and the United States’ place in it.

So when will you start seeing the changes?

• With the June 4 International Trade in Goods and Services report, the number of services categories available monthly will expand from seven to nine. Also, seasonally adjusted trade in goods and services will now be available for selected countries and areas.

• With the June 18 release of the quarterly International Transactions Accounts, users will get additional detail on trade in goods and services in the current account, while the financial account will be reorganized and expanded to include additional detail by instrument, by sector, and by maturity. For trade in services, the number of sub-categories available quarterly will expand from 10 to 20.

• With the June 30 release of the quarterly International Investment Position, users will get additional detail on the maturity of investment. Data on direct investment positions will be reported on an asset and liability basis, like a balance sheet.

These changes will align U.S. data more closely with updated international guidelines, such as the sixth edition of the Balance of Payments and International Investment Position Manual (BPM6). Keeping up with international guidelines makes it easier for users to compare U.S. data with data from our major trade and investment partners. Several industrialized countries have already incorporated these new standards into their international accounts.

More information on the upcoming changes is available here. BEA plans to host a webinar on May 28 starting at 2 p.m. EDT to highlight the biggest changes and answer users’ questions. For more information, click here.

 

Empowering West Africa

Empowering West Africa

Guest blog post by Harold “Hal” Pontez, President and CEO of HPI , and participant in the Commerce Department's West Africa Energy Business Development Mission

By no stretch of the imagination, I am a very lucky man. Aside from sharing a great life with my wife and daughter, I’ve had the great pleasure of waking up each day for 30 years excited to take on new challenges at a job that I love. 

Over the course of those years, some may say I’ve developed a bit of a routine: 

5:00 am – Turn on the lights (waking up the dogs), get dressed and head to the gym for a morning workout session. (Hopefully my iPod is charged or it’s going to be a brutal morning!). 

6:30 am – Brew a cup of coffee and power up the laptop to catch up on the morning headlines and email.

7:00 am – Breakfast- usually I pop a bagel in the toaster (the Lone Star State has perfected the art of creating larger bagels, but they’re still nothing like the ones in my home state of New York!).

While the intricacies of my mornings may be a snooze fest to some, there is one essential component that all of these tasks would be impossible without- power. 

It is estimated that over 600 million people (that’s two-thirds of the population) in sub-Saharan Africa lack access to electricity. While countries in the region continue to see rapid commercial development, they have been plagued with electricity and gas shortages, directly impacting businesses, national GDP and quality of life throughout the country since 2009. Reliable power generation is essential to the development of countries like Ghana, where the country is expected to serve as an example for stability, and steady and diversified economic growth.