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Big Data is Big Business for Commerce

Under Secretary for Economic Affairs Mark Doms (center) along with Erie Meyer, Joel Gurin, Waldo Jaquith, and Daniel Castro at the Center for Data Innovation hosted “The Economic Benefits of Open Data” event

Guest blog post by Mark Doms, Under Secretary for Economic Affairs

Big Data and Open Data are all the rage these days. However, Commerce was into Big Data before Big Data was cool. As far back as 1790, we began collecting data on patents in the U.S. and the Census Bureau conducted the first Decennial Census the same year. In 1870, the National Weather Service was created – which today is one of the biggest data producing agencies around.

Back then, our economy was based largely on agriculture. Over the years, our economy evolved through the industrial revolution, later giving rise to the strong service sector. Today, we are at the nascent stages of the next era in our economic growth, the information age. On a daily basis, there is an ever-increasing amount of data becoming available, and the demand for data is increasing exponentially. We have before us both great opportunity and fascinating challenges to understand how best to harness this national resource. This is a key focus of Commerce’s Open for Business Agenda.

You may not know it, but the Department of Commerce is home to many agencies that are your primary source for data that you likely use every day.

For example:

  • How many people live in the U.S. or in your hometown? You might know the Census Bureau is the authority on population, but did you know the Census Bureau’s data goes well beyond just population? Census also produces huge volumes of data on our economy, demographics, and fascinatingly insightful data describing our communities – or, if you are a business, your customers.
  • The Bureau of Economic Analysis is a little know agency that produces key economic data and many of the closely watched economic indicators that move markets, drive investment decisions and guide economic policy. Do you know which industries are the leading sources of income in your community, or to your customers? BEA data can tell you.
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, is your primary source for weather, ocean and climate data – they are collecting data every minute of every day from land, sea, and even spaced-based sensors. When you hear the local forecast or hear about severe weather warning, that is NOAA data informing you about your environment in real time.
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology, locally known as NIST, is our nation’s authority on broad swaths of scientific, cyber, and physical data – including, officially, what time it is.
  • We also have data on patents going back more than 200 years at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which is a gold mine of inspiration for innovation.
  • Other agencies in Commerce provide data on economic development, minority businesses, trade, and telecommunications and the Internet.

On any given day, the Department will generate in excess of 20 terabytes of data, and sometimes much more. Yet, we think we can do more with this resource. We want to take every step we can to open access to it to the entrepreneurs and innovators of America, as we are pretty convinced that there is huge unmet value and potential. We understand that a huge part of the value of data is when it is not seen alone, but as part of a rich tapestry of information. We believe that there is great opportunity to solve problems, innovate new businesses, and improve data-driven decision-making, and we are committed to that path.

That is why I was so glad to be a part of today’s launch of the Open Data 500 Project, housed out of the GovLab at NYU. This exciting project has verified what we were certain must be true: That hundreds of American companies are using Commerce data every day to innovate and deliver important goods and services to their customers.

Startup Diplomacy: Announcing the Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship

Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship Graphic

Guest blog post Steve Case, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Revolution

ED NOTE: Steve Case is an inaugural member of the Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship (PAGE) initiative, a group of successful American businesspeople who have committed to sharing their time, energy, ideas, and  experience to help develop the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Not too long ago America was a startup.  It was just an idea, forged by visionaries who later became heroes. Through fits and starts they wrote a business plan – the Constitution – hired a CEO – George Washington – elected a board of directors – Congress – and set out to build better lives in a new land. In the process, they were able to change the course of history.

Fast forward to the present: America is now the leader of the free world. It didn’t happen by accident; it happened because we built a stable democracy, and because we built the largest and most resilient economy. We did this by encouraging and supporting entrepreneurs. America’s innovators led the world, first in the agricultural revolution, then in the industrial revolution, and more recently in the digital revolution.    

It hasn’t always been easy. The cycles of innovation and entrepreneurism over our 250-year history led to the rise and sometimes the fall of different sectors of our economy, and regions of our country. But the fact remains: entrepreneurs are the bedrock of America’s economic success. Helping them succeed is essential to helping our economy grow, and creating opportunities for future generations. Indeed, our best hope for a bright future is doing everything we can to ensure we remain the world’s most innovative and entrepreneurial nation.

That’s why I joined with the President in 2011 to launch the Startup America Partnership (now UP Global) – a groundbreaking effort that supported the growth of entrepreneurial communities in regions across the United States. It’s why I joined the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, and before that the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship. It’s why I advocated on behalf of the Jumpstarting Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act two years ago, and also why I am doing my part to encourage bipartisan support for immigration reform. And it’s why I am proud to now join the Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship (PAGE) – a first-of-its-kind collaboration between American entrepreneurs, the White House, and multiple government agencies including the State Department, the Commerce Department, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Secretary Pritzker Announces Inaugural Members of the Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship Initiative

 Secretary Pritzker Announces Inaugural Members of the Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship Initiative

Secretary Pritzker will today chair the first-ever meeting of the Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship (PAGE) initiative, a group of successful American businesspeople who have committed to sharing their time, energy, ideas, and experience to help develop the next generation of entrepreneurs.

President Obama announced that the Administration would form a committee of entrepreneurs, to be chaired by Secretary Pritzker, last October during the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) are also partners in this effort.

Research indicates that new and young companies are responsible for virtually all new job growth across the United States. Not only do they create positions for those entering the job market for the first time, but they also absorb workers who may have been laid off from companies that are contracting.

Members have agreed to participate in an ongoing dialogue with policy makers globally to discuss how to create an environment where creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship can grow and thrive.  They will also participate in outreach and mentorship activities to help promote start-up culture, and energize their own personal and professional networks to challenge and inspire budding entrepreneurs and raise awareness of the many resources available to them.

The inaugural members of PAGE are:

  •     Rich Barton, Co-Founder and Executive Chairman, Zillow
  •     Tory Burch, Chief Executive Officer, Tory Burch; Founder, Tory Burch Foundation
  •     Steve Case, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Revolution
  •     Helen Greiner, Founder and CEO, CyPhy Works; CoFounder, iRobot Corporation
  •     Reid Hoffman, Co-Founder and Executive Chairman, LinkedIn
  •     Quincy Jones, Chief Executive Officer, Quincy Jones Productions
  •     Salman Khan, Founder and Executive Director, Khan Academy
  •     Daphne Koller, Co-Founder and President, Coursera
  •     Hamdi Ulukaya, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Chobani
  •     Nina Vaca, Chief Executive Officer, Pinnacle Technical Resources
  •     Alexa von Tobel, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, LearnVest

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker to Receive Harry S. Truman Award

There are 3.9 million unfilled jobs in the United States and many of these jobs, in fields such as healthcare, manufacturing, and engineering, require post-secondary training, and some unemployed workers find that their skills are incompatible with the requirements needed for these new high-tech jobs. In order to help more Americans get back to work, it is essential to align workers’ skills with the needs of industry employers.

For the first time ever, the Commerce Department is making skills a top priority and is working closely with the Labor and Education Departments to ensure that every American has the skills needed to compete in today’s economy. That means more on-the-job training and more apprenticeships that help train American workers with the skills employers need, and match them to good quality jobs that lead to a career path.  

Community colleges and technical colleges are a major part of the solution. Every day, these institutions provide 13 million students across the country with the education they need to be competitive in today’s economy. These two-year institutions continue to improve the quality and relevance of the education that their students receive. Last week, Secretary Pritzker explored the partnership between BMW and three of South Carolina’s local technical colleges. Through the BMW Scholars Program, students have the opportunity to rotate through the body shops, paint shops, and assembly lines, gaining hands-on experience in the field. These college-business apprenticeships are just one example of new ways to better place students on direct paths to good jobs while providing strong candidates to businesses.

The rules of the job market are changing: firms are requiring candidates to have stronger skills sets to remain competitive, and community colleges are helping provide the skills these candidates need. Groups like the American Association of Community Colleges provide a voice for these community colleges, and the U.S. Department of Commerce will continue to partner with them, businesses, government and other regional and national institutions to ensure that America can continue to compete in a 21st century global economy.

In honor of her work to improve and expand workforce skills training, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker will be presented with the Harry S. Truman Award by the American Association of Community Colleges on Saturday, April 4. The Truman Award recognizes leaders outside of the field of education for their major contributions to community colleges. Past honorees have included President Obama, President Clinton, and Senator Kennedy. Secretary Pritzker will be receiving the award for her previous work in education and training and her current advocacy for skill development as an administration-wide priority.

New Atomic Clock, NIST-F2, Three Times More Accurate

NIST physicists Steve Jefferts (foreground) and Tom Heavner with the NIST-F2 “cesium fountain” atomic clock, a new civilian time standard for the United States.

The U.S. Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has officially launched a new atomic clock, called NIST-F2, to serve as a new U.S. civilian time and frequency standard, along with the current NIST-F1 standard.

NIST-F2 would neither gain nor lose one second in about 300 million years, making it about three times as accurate as NIST-F1, which has served as the standard since 1999. Both clocks use a "fountain" of cesium atoms to determine the exact length of a second.

NIST scientists recently reported the first official performance data for NIST-F2, which has been under development for a decade, to the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM), located near Paris, France. That agency collates data from atomic clocks around the world to produce Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), the international standard of time. According to BIPM data, NIST-F2 is now the world's most accurate time standard.

For now, NIST plans to simultaneously operate both NIST-F1 and NIST-F2. Long-term comparisons of the two clocks will help NIST scientists continue to improve both clocks as they serve as U.S. standards for civilian time. The U.S. Naval Observatory maintains military time standards.

Both NIST-F1 and NIST-F2 measure the frequency of a particular transition in the cesium atom—which is 9,192,631,770 vibrations per second, and is used to define the second, the international (SI) unit of time. The key operational difference is that F1 operates near room temperature (about 27 ºC or 80 ºF) whereas the atoms in F2 are shielded within a much colder environment (at minus 193 ºC, or minus 316 ºF). This cooling dramatically lowers the background radiation and thus reduces some of the very small measurement errors that must be corrected in NIST-F1.

Watch Steve Jefferts, NIST physicist, explain how the NIST-F2 atomic clock works.

Life Lessons in Public Service

Maria Cardona and Secretary Ron Brown

Guest blog post Maria Cardona, Principal at the Dewey Square Group and a Political Commentator on CNN and CNN Español. She serves on the boards of several non-profit groups and has named several times as one of the top 100 Hispanic leaders in the country by Hispanic Business.

ED NOTE: Maria Cardona was the Deputy Press Secretary for Secretary Ron Brown and served at the Department of Commerce for six years during the Clinton Administration

Most everything I learned about public service, I learned from Secretary Ron Brown. He was the best kind of mentor, short on personal advice, long on teaching by example. The first time he walked into the Department of Commerce, he told his staff he wanted to meet the cafeteria workers and the janitorial staff. When he was taken to the cafeteria, the workers almost fainted. They had never seen the Secretary – any Secretary - walk into the cafeteria before. Some even cried. This exemplifies my biggest lessons from my time with Ron: to always meet people where they are, make it personal, and never think, no matter what title you have, you are better than anyone else in the room.

Ron had the ability to make you feel important no matter who you were. He was just as comfortable speaking with Saudi kings as he was shooting the breeze with homeless teenagers in the favelas in Brazil. His message was always the same no matter who he talked to: The United States business community was there to help bring more economic opportunity to their citizens, while expanding market opportunities for US businesses.

The Secretary would always say he was a big fan of “doing well by doing good.”  He was visionary about where the next opportunities for US economic expansion would come from, and he was unapologetic about making the deals that would help American enterprises sell more goods abroad, creating jobs and opportunities on both ends. But he never forgot about the people behind the progress. He would always want to meet the local business leaders, the workers, the families that were starting to prosper because of these expanded opportunities. Ron was always treated like royalty wherever he went in the world, but he never played the part.

US Patent and Trademark Office Now Accepting Applications for 2014 Patents for Humanity Program

Patents for Humanity

The U.S. Commerce Department’s United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) today announced that Patents for Humanity is being renewed as an annual program. Started as a one-year pilot in 2012, the program recognizes businesses, inventors, non-profits, and universities who leverage their intellectual property portfolio to tackle global humanitarian challenges.

2013 Patents for Humanity pilot award winners pioneered innovative business models in frontier markets to deliver much-needed HIV medicine, create more nutritious food products for the poor, and deliver solar energy to off-grid villages, among others. Building on the success of the pilot, USPTO will institute an annual competition to reward entrepreneurs and innovators who deploy patented technologies to address global challenges in five categories that reflect the President's development agenda: medicine, nutrition, sanitation, household energy, and living standards.

The USPTO expects to select about 10 winners this year who will receive public recognition and an acceleration certificate to expedite select proceedings at the USPTO. Honorable mentions will also be awarded with a more limited certificate to accelerate a patent application of the recipient's choosing. USPTO launched Patents for Humanity in February 2012 as part of an Obama administration initiative encouraging game-changing innovations to solve long-standing development challenges. In January 2013, Patents for Humanity received an award for Best National IP and Technology Transfer Policy of 2012 from Licensing Executives Society International (LESI), a leading non-profit that supports IP professionals.

For details on how to apply for a 2014 award, view the Federal Register notice or learn more about the Patents for Humanity program.

Commerce Participates in Business Sunday

Commerce Participates in Business Sunday

This weekend, the Commerce Department’s Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships joined forces with the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA), BusinessUSA, the Small Business Administration (SBA) and 19th Street Baptist Church to host the first Business Sunday in Washington, DC. Business Sunday is a program focused on promoting local economic growth and job creation by connecting congregations and communities with the valuable business development resources offered by the Federal Government.

Close to 300 business owners, entrepreneurs and nonprofit leaders came together for the first Business Sunday, packing the fellowship hall at 19th Street Baptist Church. The event included greetings from Melissa Rogers, Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, as well as presentations from SBA, MBDA and BusinessUSA on how to access important technical assistance, business counseling, loans and other practical resources. Participants also had the opportunity to sign up for health insurance for their business or themselves through the DC Health Benefit Exchange. Following the event attendees stayed for more than an hour to network and speak individually with Commerce and SBA staff.

Business Sunday is a reflection of President Obama’s and Secretary Pritkzer’s shared commitment to strengthening our economy by empowering our people – our business owners, entrepreneurs, community development organizations, faith-based groups and others – to effect positive change at the local level. We look forward to continued collaboration with our partners to keep this work moving forward.

Spotlight on Commerce: Kate McAdams, Senior Advisor, Department of Commerce

Kate McAdams, Senior Adviser to the Secretary

Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting members of the Department of Commerce and their contributions to an Economy Built to Last.

Guest blog post by Kate McAdams, Senior Adviser to the Secretary, Department of Commerce

In addition to my role on the Secretary's senior management team, I lead the Department's effort to ensure a skilled workforce, one of the pillars of our Open for Business Agenda. For the first time, the Department of Commerce is focusing on the critical importance of a globally competitive workforce as part of the Department's mission to help set the conditions for economic growth and opportunity. In addition to developing strategic partnerships with the Departments of Labor and Education, we are building on the Department's existing assets, including access to business leaders; data tools; economic development planning expertise; and Manufacturing Extension Partnership centers that serve the needs of small and medium manufacturers. To date, I have been spending time developing partnerships and our internal "skills team" that focuses on expanding job-driven training that ensures employers find the skilled workers they need and workers access quality jobs and career paths.

Recognizing that more can be accomplished through a team effort is inherent in my approach to solving problems and achieving outcomes due to a lifelong passion for playing competitive sports. Growing up playing ice hockey on a team of all boys, to playing women's ice hockey in college, to even "old man's hockey" as an adult, I am hard-wired to think about how to accomplish goals by utilizing my strengths in combination with those of my teammates. This is the case in my new position at Commerce and past positions in city government, and even when I was the sole employee of an organization I found a way to be more impactful through strategic partnerships. Particularly in public service positions, the fast pace and limited resources require creativity when building and utilizing teams.  I am lucky to have worked for two respected mayors and now I view it as a true honor to work for Secretary Pritzker and President Obama.  

I often say I am lucky for the professional opportunities I’ve experienced, but was recently chided for saying so, as if it was out of my control. What I actually mean is better described by the quote “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” I believe that hard work is noticed and is the best preparation for the next opportunity, and as I learned from coaches at a very young age, "keep your head on a swivel" to attempt to prepare for the unexpected. This is my advice for young people starting a career – seek out leaders you want to work for and projects to which you want exposure. Keeping your head on a swivel was my hockey coach’s term to be looking forward, backwards, left and right – to be cognizant of your strengths, weaknesses and the position of your teammates who will help you achieve your goals.

NIST Gives Astronomers a Better Ruler in the Search for Extrasolar Planets

A thorium emission lamp’s violet glow, when viewed through a spectroscope, is split into a spectrum of thousands of bright lines. New measurements of these lines could help astronomers search for earthlike planets around distant stars.

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have rejuvenated a technique for finding planets near distant stars. New measurements of light from special lamps could help astronomers find planets hidden in data from more than a decade's worth of extrasolar planet searches, as well as improve telescopes' current capabilities.

Finding extrasolar planets is tricky. Seen through a telescope, planets in the "habitable zone"—a region close to a star, where liquid water could exist on a planet's surface—usually get lost in their star's glare. But as a planet orbits, its gravity makes its parent star wobble a tiny bit, resulting in slight color changes in the star's light due to the Doppler effect. These changes can only be spotted if the light is first broken into a spectrum of thin lines, which are then compared to an unchanging reference spectrum.

The NIST team made extensive new measurements of thorium, a heavy element often used in emission lamps that help provide that fixed ruler. Scientists have detected more than 400 planets using the Doppler technique but have yet to discover a solar system similar to ours. 

Stephen Redman, a postdoctoral fellow working at NIST, worked with NIST physicist Gillian Nave and physicist Craig Sansonetti to update the most recent thorough measurement of thorium's spectrum, published in 1983. The more than 8,000 spectral lines it lists are a bit fuzzy by today's standards—good enough to reveal the larger wobble caused by a Jupiter-sized gas giant's gravity, but not the small one an Earth-like world would cause. Redman spent a year combining observations he made on a spectrometer at NIST with data culled from other researchers' work. The result is a set of nearly 20,000 spectral lines of far greater clarity.

In addition to finding systems similar to our own, the new data should aid the search for planets around dwarf stars. These have been hard to find using the Doppler method, in part because dwarfs are so faint, but Nave says the new data include good lines in the near infrared, which is the region of the spectrum in which many of these cool stars give off the most light.