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Remarks at the International Economic Development Council 2010 Federal Economic Development Forum, Alexandria, Virginia

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Monday, April 19, 2010

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Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke
Remarks at the International Economic Development Council 2010 Federal Economic Development Forum
Alexandria, Virginia


Thank you, John, for the kind words and for your dynamic leadership of our Economic Development Administration at the Commerce Department.

And I want to thank all of you for being here.

I also want to congratulate IEDC on its plans to help the earthquake victims in Haiti. Even before the terrible quake hit, Haiti was in desperate need of economic development and the experts of the IEDC can play a vital role in getting the nation back on its feet.

Meetings like these always provide a welcome opportunity for economic development professionals to share their experiences and learn from one another.

But this year, on the heels of the worst recession in a generation, this meeting is even more important.

After too many years of speculation and short-term thinking, America needs to lay a new foundation for sustainable long-term growth.

The people gathered here are going to play a big role in determining what that foundation looks like. The investments you help make, in infrastructure, in workforce training, in research and education—will guide the future of our economy for years to come.

One of IEDC's guiding principles is that it “seeks to improve the economic well-being and quality of life for a community.”

You will have a strong partner in that endeavor with the Department of Commerce and in President Obama.

Despite all the economic challenges America still faces, we are finally starting to see undeniable signs of a hope.

The economy is growing, and this month’s employment report saw the largest monthly jobs increase in three years.

Still, despite the signs that we’re finally starting to turn the corner, too many people who want work can’t find it, and too many people who are working can’t find enough of it.

That is what keeps people in this administration up at night. Because behind those unemployment numbers, there are families in distress.

The real measure of economic success is whether folks can find a job that provides security, dignity and some hope for the future.

We're simply not there yet, but we will not rest until we are.

People are justifiably frustrated that the economy is not turning around quicker.

But as we continue to work through these difficulties, it is important to be mindful of how far we have come.

Even before the recession hit, America had experienced nearly a decade of anemic job growth. Wages for middle class families flatlined, while the cost of health care, tuition and housing skyrocketed.

The reality is that if you worked on Wall Street or daytraded technology stocks or flipped houses, the last 10 years may have looked pretty good to you. But if you got up every day trying to carve out a living in a factory or a retail store or a restaurant, your life probably wasn’t materially better than it was at the turn of the century.

We should have known, even before the recession hit, that something was wrong.

But we ignored the warning signals, and by the time President Obama took office, the economy was in free fall. We lost 700,000 jobs his first month in office, and banks were failing left and right.

Everyone knows what followed. This administration took some difficult and sometimes unpopular steps. We shored up the financial system to keep credit flowing and with the Recovery Act, pumped life into the economy in the form of tax cuts, aid to states and infrastructure investments.

In the midst of economic calamity, history has not been kind to those who failed to act decisively. Just ask Herbert Hoover. Or you can look to Japan’s Finance Ministry in the Nineties. Both tried to muddle through a crisis with half measures. They were prudent. They were cautious.

And, they were wrong. They failed to lead. They failed to make tough choices, and their people suffered because of it.

This administration understood the lessons of history, and today, there is wide agreement among economists that the steps we took helped transform an economy that was shrinking by 6 percent a year ago, into one that grew by 6 percent in the last quarter of 2009.

We are turning this thing around, but it won’t happen overnight, because America’s economic problems didn’t happen overnight.

Now we need to find a different path.

As President Obama recently said:

“We need to build an economy where we borrow less and produce more. We need an economy where we generate more jobs here at home and send more products overseas. We need to invest and nurture the industries of the future, and we need to train our workers to compete for those jobs.”

Today, I want to talk to you about how the Commerce Department is empowering communities across the country American to build this type of an economy.

The Commerce Department works on issues as diverse as patents and trademarks, international trade, the Census and the protection of our oceans and atmosphere.

It can be pretty difficult to put all of those things into one neat box.

But for all our different duties, the primary purpose of the Department of Commerce can accurately be described very simply.

We exist to make American businesses more innovative at home and more competitive abroad, so they can create jobs.

We are the one federal agency singularly equipped to help businesses at every point in their life cycle—from the birth of an idea, to starting a business with that idea, to finding markets once that idea has been transformed into a product or service.

We are helping to build the critical infrastructure companies need to compete in the global economy.

For example, Commerce is leading the administration's $7.2 billion effort to expand high-speed Internet access throughout the country. Thirty-six percent of Americans do not have high-speed Internet access at home—which, in effect, means 36 percent of our citizens are prevented from fully participating in the 21st century global economy. We are aiming to fix that.

Commerce’s statistical agencies and research labs provide the basic data and technical standards that enable companies to develop new products and identify new markets.

One of our research agencies is creating the standards that private companies will need to develop a national smart electric grid and health IT software that will enable us to share medical records.

And we are also working to help find ways for federal and academic research labs to more quickly move promising ideas into the marketplace.

Commerce also provides direct services to businesses to protect their intellectual property, make their production and manufacturing processes more efficient and help them export around the world.

And of course, our Economic Development Administration provides an important partner for local communities and other development professionals like all of you.

In 2009, EDA awarded 936 grants totaling $578 million. These grants ranged from funds for for regional innovation strategies and business incubators to University led-commercialization efforts, green technology initiatives, and disaster relief and mitigation programs.

We’re also very excited about a new EDA effort that we hope will soon be underway. The president's 2011 budget includes $75 million for EDA to help local communities identify their unique strengths to develop regional economic clusters.

The idea is to foster the creation of more places like Silicon Valley or the Route 128 corridor in Boston—where high growth industries are nourished by entrepreneurs, academics, venture capitalists, municipal and even state leaders all working and creating together in the same place.

These are places where innovations can not only be developed but also brought to market. Where new businesses have a chance to grow. Where entrepreneurs—even the ones who at first don’t succeed—have a chance to try, try and try again.

And these innovation hotbeds are not confined to any one part of the country. They’re thriving in Rochester, New York and Dubuque, Iowa. They’re in Saginaw, Michigan and San Jose, California. You can find them all over the map and the Commerce Department is helping to create more.

Entrepreneurs and researchers and innovators want to be around each other. They want to feed off the shared creative energy. They want access to a shared talent pool. They want to build relationships.

So if a local community is able to plant that seed—if it’s able to create the climate for innovation and build a critical mass—then private investment will follow.

Innovation will follow. Jobs will follow.

If the 2011 budget gets approved, I know that Assistant Secretary Fernandez is excited to start partnering with communities and economic development professionals throughout the country.

As we take these important steps to spur American innovation at home, Commerce is also ramping up our efforts to help our companies sell more of their products abroad.

With traditional drivers of American economic growth like consumer and business spending facing headwinds, our companies must increasingly turn their focus to selling goods and services to the 95 percent of the world’s consumers who live outside the United States.

The Commerce Department is playing a lead role in implementing President Obama’s recently announced National Export Initiative (NEI), which aims to double American exports over the next five years and support two million jobs here at home.

The NEI represents the first time the United States will have a government-wide export-promotion strategy with focused attention from the president and his cabinet.

The NEI will be primarily focused on:

  • Improving government trade promotion in all its forms;
  • Expanding export credit to businesses – especially small and medium-sized ones; and
  • Increasing the government's focus on knocking down barriers that prevent U.S. companies from getting free and open access to foreign markets.

Key to this effort is the Commerce Department's International Trade Administration (ITA), which has a global network of trade specialists posted in 109 U.S. cities and at 128 U.S. embassies and consulates in 77 countries.

Commerce’s trade experts serve as indispensable on-the-ground advocates for US companies; helping connect them with new customers and vendors and navigate local rules and regulations.

Last year, they helped nearly 5,600 companies increase their exports and 85 percent of those were small and medium-size businesses.

As you look at the varied services offered by the Commerce Department, I think there is a common thread that runs through them all.

We understand that local communities and businesses know what’s best for them. So, we want to empower them to succeed without telling them how.

You don’t create economic growth by yoking everyone to a strategy cooked up in Washington, and making everyone do things one way.

I can tell you, as a former governor, that innovation doesn't happen that way. It’s got to happen organically. It’s got to be planned and run by the entrepreneurs and civic leaders in that particular region.

The federal government can facilitate and encourage stakeholders to work together. But regions will know where their unique strengths and abilities lay.

The Commerce Department has a lot to offer. And I’m looking forward to working with all of you to create prosperity and good jobs that provide security and dignity in communities all across America.

Thank you.