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Commerce Secretary Gary Locke Announces Opening of Permanent CommerceConnect Office, Expanded Economic Partnerships in Michigan

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
CONTACT OFFICE OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS
202-482-4883

CommerceConnect moves out of pilot phase to help more Michigan businesses access government-wide assistance programs through new office, website and statewide partnerships

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke today announced the opening of a permanent CommerceConnect office during his visit to ALTe in southeast Michigan where he joined U.S. Rep. Gary Peters and local business leaders to discuss ways the Commerce Department and other statewide economic development organizations can further business growth and job creation in the region. The new office, located in Pontiac, will work in collaboration with state and local partners to continue the one-stop initiative first unveiled in June 2009 that integrates Department of Commerce and other federal, state and local programs under one roof in an effort to help businesses at every point of their life cycle – whether they are just getting off the ground or looking to expand into overseas markets.

“When we launched the pilot phase of CommerceConnect last year, we had one goal in mind: to streamline government bureaucracy and bring services and solutions directly to the businesses and entrepreneurs who are creating and sustaining jobs,” Locke said. “With today’s announcement, we are giving CommerceConnect a permanent home in the Detroit area because we know that Main Street business owners should be spending their time working to grow their businesses, meet payroll, and keep their customers happy, not trying to navigate federal bureaucracies.”

Locke also announced an official partnership between the department and Michigan-based non-profit The MORE Program. In coordination with other Michigan partners, The MORE Program has developed the Statewide Entrepreneurial Support System initiative, which brings state and local government, business organizations, educational institutions and private foundations together to connect innovators, entrepreneurs, and businesses with the resources needed to grow and flourish. The partnership will ensure businesses across Michigan have easy access to all of the resources the Department of Commerce and partner organizations offer and will empower CommerceConnect staff to better serve businesses by connecting them to the critical base of local resources across the state.  

“CommerceConnect provides valuable resources for local businesses looking to grow and create jobs, and I am pleased that it will be expanding and relocating to Oakland County,” Peters said. “The Department of Commerce’s partnership with local initiatives announced today is also exciting news for southeast Michigan. Together, the two announcements show there are growing opportunities for business development in our region, and I thank Secretary Locke for making Michigan a priority.  Supplying small business with a variety of tools to help grow and create jobs must be our top economic priority and many business owners have told me that the missing ingredient for further growth is access to capital for small businesses. I hope the Senate will act quickly on legislation I helped pass through the House earlier this year to get credit flowing.”

As CommerceConnect moves beyond the pilot phase, a number of steps have been taken to facilitate its development. Dennis Alvord has been hired as the program’s permanent executive director after serving in several executive positions at Commerce’s Economic Development Administration; four new Commerce specialists have been hired and trained to replace temporary pilot staff; and an official website has been launched at www.commerceconnect.gov, offering interested businesses more ways to access information and solutions to business challenges. In its early version, the website will offer more information on Commerce Department assistance programs. As the site evolves, it will become a virtual one-stop, interactive assistance center for the business community. In addition, CommerceConnect now has a pilot call center that uses a newly developed customer relationship management system to track clients and the result of their work with the program.

Responding both to President Obama’s call to make government more responsive and a once-in-a-generation economic crisis, Locke opened the CommerceConnect pilot office in Plymouth last October. Since opening its doors, the pilot has served over 90 companies, providing 199 referrals to 10 different Commerce bureaus and an additional 111 referrals to 13 other Federal, state, local and non-profit partners throughout the region.  This will be Locke’s sixth trip to the Detroit area since the announcement of the initiative. 

The new, permanent office will connect additional Michigan businesses with its trained specialists that assess clients’ full spectrum of needs – whether it's access to capital, intellectual property protection, export promotion or guidance on how to make operations more efficient. The office will continue to be a partner for Detroit area business owners and entrepreneurs, allowing them to leverage several different federal, state and local programs at once to help their companies grow and create jobs.

Tri-Tec Engineering, based in Beverly Hills, Mich., is a supplier of conveyor systems for the automotive industry and one of the many companies that has come to CommerceConnect for assistance. Since working with CommerceConnect staff, the company has increased sales by $250,000 and added two employees and two independent contractors to manage growth.

“CommerceConnect has helped the company position itself to win,” said Terry Palmer, chief operating officer of Tri-Tec.

In the coming year, CommerceConnect plans to establish additional field offices around the country and develop a robust training program for a wide range of department staff. It also hopes to expand to include a broader pool of programs, products and services from Federal, state, local and non-profit partners.

Today’s event was held at one of many Michigan companies the new CommerceConnect office hopes to work with in the near future. ALTe is a technology company that has developed an electric power train system to retrofit fleet vehicles after their warranties expire. The system doubles fuel economy while meeting strict emissions targets. The company is advancing sustainable mobility in the vehicle transportation industry and recently opened its new manufacturing and development facility in Auburn Hills. All three of its co-founders worked in Tesla Motor’s now-shuttered Michigan Tech Center prior to founding ALTe. Over the next year, ALTe expects to hire more than 250 people and build out its plant with two assembly lines that will support production of 90,000 power trains by 2014 for its fleet customers.

During his visit, Locke also met with Michigan businesses at Automation Alley, the state’s largest technology business association, which has helped Michigan dramatically increase its exports. There he was joined by U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow to discuss federal government efforts to promote U.S. goods and services abroad and highlight resources available to Michigan businesses interested in entering the global marketplace or expanding their exports.