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Remarks at Alaskan Business Roundtable

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Friday, January 15, 2010

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Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke
Remarks at Alaskan Business Roundtable
Anchorage, Alaska

Good morning. Thank you Bill and thank you Senator Begich for your kind introductions.

It’s great to see Senator Begich up here in Alaska. When he goes Outside—as you refer to us in the Lower 48—and we have him in Washington, he has been a fierce advocate for Alaska business.

And he is an important ally from his position on the Senate Commerce Committee.

For me, it’s great to be back in Anchorage. I used to come here when I was governor of Washington State, and Governor Knowles and I would talk about the growing importance of Pacific Rim economies.

Well - those economies have all grown up.

And their importance to Alaska is greater today then at any other time.

As I was reminded at the airport yesterday—Anchorage is at the “Crossroads of the World.” And taking advantage of the opportunities in these dynamic emerging markets is critical to the well being of Alaska’s economy.

I know this is something that the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation has understood since its inception. I don't have to tell you how important exports are to the Alaskan economy, especially when it comes to some of your closest neighbors in Asia.

Three of Alaska’s top five export partners are Asian countries. Fifty percent of Alaska’s exports are seafood, and in 2008, Alaska exported more than $1.1 billion worth of seafood to Japan, China and South Korea.

Alaska has trade offices in Korea, Japan and Taiwan, and Anchorage has six sister-city relationships, including in Russia, Japan and South Korea.

And yet many American businesses—including many here in Alaska—are missing out on viable opportunities when it comes to accessing foreign markets.

Ninety-seven percent of U.S. exporters are small and medium-size enterprises, but they account for only 30 percent of export value.

And of all the American businesses that do export, many export to only one country.

I believe we must do a lot better.

Exports are an increasingly important part of America’s economy. According to some estimates, every $180,000 worth of exports equals one job.

And exports accounted for almost 13 percent of our GDP in 2008 -- almost 3 times as much as they did 50 years ago.

Exports support millions of American jobs upstream and downstream, and export-related jobs pay higher wages than non-export related jobs.

What this tells us is that the more an Alaskan company can export its goods abroad, the better off Alaskans will be.

And for this reason, a key strategy of the Obama administration to spur new job creation is to increase American exports

This administration understands our exports must grow.

We can no longer depend on overleveraged America consumers to drive the economy.

We must instead return to the fundamental strengths that have always driven our economy forward.

Creating and selling products and services that help folks around the world lead healthier, wealthier and more productive lives.

Global markets and Pacific Rim economies in particular, can help revive the fortunes of Alaskan companies and put people back to work in good-paying jobs that provide security and dignity.

Which is why a few weeks ago the Obama Administration informed Congress of its intent to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.

When completed, this will create a broad-based regional agreement with high labor, environmental and transparency standards that can be a model for other trade agreements.

And this agreement can supercharge an already vibrant trade relationship.

In 2008, the U.S. exported $747 billion worth of goods to the Asia Pacific, up 8.3 percent from 2007. And small- and medium-sized enterprises alone exported $173 billion to the region in 2008.

But simply implementing a broad new trade agreement won’t be enough to guarantee more robust exports.

One of the Department of Commerce’s key initiatives is to ramp up of trade promotion activities for American businesses.

Right now, U.S. companies aren’t anywhere near maximizing their export potential.

Today, less than one percent of America’s 30 million companies export -- a percentage that is significantly lower than all other developed countries.

Here’s where the Department of Commerce can offer assistance.

Commerce has a lot of untapped potential in a trade promotion office that is staffed both here at home and in 80 countries abroad with some 1,500 employees.

One of my favorite programs that are available through our trade promotion office is the Gold Key Matching Service, which leverages the talents of our commercial service staff to help American business expand into foreign markets.

If you’re an American firm and you want to sell your goods or services abroad, all you need to do is pick up the phone.

Commerce Department experts will then:

  • Conduct an international partner search to find potential agents, distributors or other strategic partners for your unique business.
  • They will contact a large group of potential overseas business partners to identify companies that could be right for you.
  • And we can help design and implement a market entry or expansion strategy and assign a single point of contact to provide long-term, focused support to help you succeed.

Think of it as like speed dating for exporters. We'll keep searching for partners and customers for you until you find the right fit.

This is a valuable resource and just one of the many export promotion services at Commerce that Alaskan companies can take advantage of.

As Commerce seeks to open up markets for American companies abroad, the United States must also seek to grow our tourism industry so that more people can visit states like Alaska.

And I’m happy to say that the Obama administration has already made significant progress on this front.

The Recovery Act that passed last year included $22 million to enhance Alaskan visitor facilities and rehabilitate campgrounds, trails and cultural sites.

This funding will go towards national parks projects in Denali, Gates of the Arctic, Glacier Bay, Katmai, Sitka, Wrangell-St. Elias as well as to others across the state.

These initiatives we have undertaken can’t address every economic challenge Alaska faces. But taken together, they’re a start. And they’re aimed at promoting sustainable jobs for Alaskans in industries that have long been the pillars of Alaska’s economy.

For these efforts to fully succeed, they will require your help.

And I look forward to hearing your input on steps we’ve taken. And on what we can do more of to help you.

Thank you.