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Remarks at Midwestern Governors Association Jobs and Energy Forum, Detroit, Michigan

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

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Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke
Remarks at Midwestern Governors Association Jobs and Energy Forum
Detroit, Michigan

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Thank you, Rip, for that kind introduction.

As we move forward on vital energy legislation in Washington, it’s so important to have the private sector and NGOs working in the same direction.

The Kresge foundation has done such great work to promote sustainability and conservation, and Washington, D.C. needs to do all it can to empower organizations like yours.

Since March, when I was sworn in as Commerce Secretary, I have come to the Wolverine State five times—that’s the most I have visited any state besides my home state of Washington.

And I will continue coming back here, because, for America’s economy to be strong, we need Michigan’s economy—as well as the rest of the Midwest's industrial heartland—to be firing on all cylinders.

Right now, with unemployment running at over 15 percent in Michigan, almost 11 percent in Ohio and 10 percent in Indiana and Illinois—we know we've got a long way to go.

Too many Americans are waking up every day having to make impossible choices no one in this country should ever have to make. Do I buy food or my heart medication? Do I pay the utility bill to keep the lights on or my mortgage to keep the creditors from calling?

As long as the American people are struggling, this administration will not let up for a minute trying to get our economy back on track. As far as I'm concerned, we are not in an economic recovery, until every American who wants a job can find one.

Although times are tough across this region, we'd do well to remember that they could have been much worse.

When President Obama took office nine months ago, he faced the most serious economic and financial crisis of any President since Franklin Roosevelt. The U.S. economy was in a nosedive.

For the first time in most of our lifetimes, we were hearing serious commentators from across the political spectrum warning that we were on the cusp of a second Great Depression.

But the worst-case scenario never came to pass in large part because President Obama took three very aggressive steps to stabilize our economy.

First, he implemented a Financial Stability Plan to help restore confidence in our financial markets, ensure banks have adequate capital, and encourage the flow of credit to the small business owners and families who needed it.

Second, he launched an aggressive effort to stabilize the housing market and help millions of Americans stay in their homes.

Finally, he signed into law the third piece of the plan: the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which provided:

  • Almost $300 billion dollars in tax cuts to 95 percent of American families;
  • Emergency relief, like expanded unemployment insurance and Medicaid funding for hard-hit families, businesses and state governments; and,
  • Billions of dollars in investments in things like high speed rail, broadband, new battery technologies, health information technologies, and renewable energy sources to spur long-term sustainable economic growth.

The Recovery Act has not been a panacea—nor was it ever intended to be. But any way you look at it, this has helped stabilize our economy, and helped millions of struggling Americans.

  • Here in Michigan alone, almost 4 million families have benefited from tax cuts totaling $2 billion.
  • Illinois has received over $1.3 billion to fund almost 600 transportation infrastructure projects.
  • And Indiana has gotten $800 million to help support their school systems.

The Recovery Act was one building block of a new foundation for growth. But any realistic plan for long-term economic prosperity hinges on making some bigger fundamental changes in our economy.

Those changes have to begin with health care.

Today, we have a health care system that leaves almost 50 million people without insurance. It’s a system riddled with inefficiencies that pile backbreaking costs on governments, citizens and small and large businesses alike.

There is plenty of room for honest debate on this issue. But let’s be clear about one thing: Those who advocate continued inaction on healthcare are not only guaranteeing that tens of millions of Americans will continue to receive insufficient care, they are also consigning American businesses to a less competitive future because of unsustainable health care costs.

And that’s going to jeopardize job creation.

Insurance premiums have gone up nearly 10 percent annually in the last decade. And they’ll likely do the same in the next 10, meaning the price of an average family health insurance plan will jump to $25,000.

The effect on American businesses has been as simple as it is devastating: Many American industries are creating fewer jobs and experiencing slower growth as a direct result of these costs.

I've talked to several business owners who report that their health care premiums have gone up anywhere from 25 to 40 percent this year.

Here is a question: How many families’ incomes went up 40 percent last year?

Folks simply can't keep pace—and we cannot afford the status quo any longer.

As President Obama told Congress a few weeks ago, his plan has three basic goals: More security and stability for those who have health insurance; insurance for those who don’t; and, slowing the growth of health care costs for families, businesses and our government.

The bills moving through Congress right now are moving in that direction.

And at the end of the day, any bill the president signs will allow businesses to buy good healthcare for their employees, or individuals to buy insurance on their own at affordable rates.

I believe we're nearing the end of our battle on health care—and I'm hopeful something will get signed in the next few months. But our fight to build a new clean energy economy is just getting started, and it's a fight we have to win.

In the next few years, some entrepreneur or inventor is going to revolutionize the way we manufacture solar panels or build wind turbines; discover a new light-weight battery for electric cars or a safe and affordable way to capture carbon from coal plants.

These discoveries will fundamentally change the way the world uses energy.

And President Obama wants to make sure the brains behind these innovations live, work and create jobs in America.

If we make the right choices, we can start putting legions of engineers, scientists, skilled tradesmen and industrial designers to work building everything from a national smart grid to new clean coal power plants.

But to turn this potential into reality, we need more R&D investment and we need to change the economic incentives to attract more businesses and entrepreneurs.

The Obama administration is taking aggressive action on both fronts.

Collectively, the grants, R&D investments and tax incentives President Obama has already implemented for everything from a national smart grid to advanced car batteries represent the biggest ever federal investment in clean energy.

But if we ever want to get renewable energy up to scale, we need the right incentives for the smartest entrepreneurs in the country to jump in.

That's why we need to pass comprehensive energy and climate legislation that will place a market-based cap on carbon pollution.

A bill has already passed the House of Representatives.

Now, it moves to the Senate, where we must overcome concerns about how this legislation will raise costs for businesses and increase utility bills.

This energy legislation is not designed to hurt American businesses and consumers. It is designed to help them.

If we place a market-based cap on carbon emissions, it will send a surefire market signal to every entrepreneur and business in America that it’s safe and profitable to make long-term investments in clean energy.

Right now, too many potential clean energy investors are sitting on the sideline because there is no certainty in the marketplace.

If we get the right incentives in place on energy, we’ll be mobilizing entrepreneurs across the country to solve one of the world’s biggest problems.

And any time you’ve got American entrepreneurs on the case, I like our odds.

The Obama administration is committed to making it easier for entrepreneurs to create and invest.

And to help leverage the entire federal government on behalf of promoting entrepreneurship in America, we at the Commerce Department have just launched a new Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

This office will report directly to me and will work closely with the White House and other federal agencies to drive policies across the federal government that help entrepreneurs translate new ideas, products and services into economic growth.

And today I am proud to announce the launch of the first phase of our “CommerceConnect” pilot program.

CommerceConnectwill provide a single point of contact where businesses can access the full array of Commerce and federal government assistance programs available to them.

When I arrived in Washington, D.C. a few months ago, I discovered that that the Commerce Department offered tremendous resources for businesses.

But too few businesses were taking advantage of these and other government services because there is no GPS for navigating the bureaucracy.

So in June, I came to Detroit and announced we’d soon be launching an exciting new one-stop shop for businesses. All summer, we've had Commerce people on the ground out here working to get the office up and running.

And today marks the official launch. We have now located Commerce specialists from several of our agencies together at the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center in Plymouth—and I'll be going over to cut the ribbon later today.

Here's what that means in practice:

If you're involved in a cutting-edge field like nanotechnology or developing solutions to fight climate change, our CommerceConnect staff can connect you with our world-class laboratories developing the standards, measurements and basic R&D for products and services that allow new industries to flourish.

If you've got a factory, they'll tell you about our Manufacturing Extension Partnership, which has experts who can come onto your shop floor and provide ideas to make your production line more efficient.

If you want to start selling your products abroad, they can connect you with commercial service officers in 77 countries around the world who will tap their local contacts to find you new customers.

And if you need access to funding, they'll put you in touch with small business development centers throughout Michigan.

The bottom line is this: If you want to see the business you own or work for get better, bigger and more profitable, CommerceConnect can help.

During this first phase, our CommerceConnect staff will be working directly with existing clients to assess company needs and match them with available services.

I'm very excited about this program, and if it succeeds we plan to roll it out in cities across the country.

These two Commerce initiatives I just discussed will be an indispensable resource for businesses, and for jumpstarting job creation in exciting new industries likely clean energy.

The private sector has always been and always will be the key driver of American prosperity.

But if the Commerce Department and the Obama administration can help make business a little more efficient, a little more innovative, or get them access to a new market—then we'll have accomplished something we can be proud of.

Thank you so much for having me.