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Remarks at Virginia Summit on Export Opportunities, Richmond, Virginia

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Monday, September 13, 2010

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Commerce Secretary Gary Locke
Remarks at Virginia Summit on Export Opportunities, Richmond, Virginia

Thank you for the kind words.  It’s great to be back in Richmond. 

And it’s great to see Senator Warner. At the Commerce Department, we work closely with him on issues affecting business competitiveness and growth. I really appreciate him inviting me down today.

Mark is someone who understands how much work there is to do to get us out of the deep economic hole we’re in – a hole that was nearly a decade in the making. He is a strong advocate for the type of pro-business and pro-jobs policies that help companies of all sizes succeed in today’s increasingly competitive global marketplace.

Today, I want to talk about one of those policies in particular – President Obama's National Export Initiative (or NEI).

The NEI, which the President announced earlier this year, sets a goal of doubling U.S. exports over the next five years to support several million new American jobs.  

It’s an unprecedented effort, and it was designed with two overriding goals in mind:

To put Americans back to work and ensure long-term economic growth.

Consider that today more than one in three manufacturing jobs and almost one in five agricultural jobs are tied directly to exports.  These are good jobs that provide good wages. The type of jobs we need a lot more of in Virginia.

And with traditional drivers of American economic growth like consumer spending facing headwinds, it has never been more important to connect U.S. businesses to the 95 percent of the world's consumers who live outside our borders.

Let me just briefly explain how the NEI is going to help grow exports and create jobs.

Number one is expanding the U.S. government's export promotion efforts in all its forms.

This can mean a lot of different things.

It can be:

  • Commerce Department officials doing the tough shoe-leather work to find a company in Petersburg, Virginia new customers in Petersburg, Russia;
  • Agriculture Department experts helping a farmer navigate local rules and regulations as he tries to export wheat into Germany; or
  • State Department specialists making sure a U.S. company gets a fair shake for a government procurement contract in China.

To put it another way, prior to the NEI, export promotion may have been a “some of the time” focus for many U.S. cabinet agencies and departments.

The NEI makes it an “all the time focus.”

The National Export Initiative is also going to help improve access to credit, especially for small- and medium-sized businesses that want to export.

In fact, the U.S. Export-Import Bank has already more than doubled its loan authorizations in the first half of the current fiscal year over the same period last year; growing from $5.9 billion to $13.2 billion.

You will be hearing more about Ex-Im services shortly from my friend and colleague Fred Hochberg, president of the Export-Import Bank.

Finally, under the NEI, we’re going to increase the government's focus on knocking down barriers that prevent U.S. companies from getting free and fair access to foreign markets.

America will remain the most open major economy in the world. That’s been good for our nation’s quality of life, and it’s been good for our economy. But we will continue to insist that that if we give foreign countries the privilege of access to our market, our companies must be treated the same over there.

From the day I joined the Commerce Department last year, we identified increasing American exports as one of our key priorities. It’s easy to understand why. Economists of every stripe understood we could be doing more and saw exports as one of the ways we’d grow our way out of the Great Recession.

But when President Obama announced the NEI, it kicked our activities into overdrive.

Since the NEI was announced earlier this year:

  • Our commercial service officers stationed around the world have helped more than 2,000 companies generate $3.8 billion worth of exports;
  • Our Advocacy Center has assisted American companies competing for export opportunities and supported $11.7 billion in exports and over 60,000 jobs;
  • We have led 18 trade missions with over 242 companies to 28 countries;
  • And we have knocked down trade barriers, including reopening the Chinese market to U.S. pork and pork products; and the Russian market to U.S. poultry products, which in sum, is worth $1 billion to our meat industry.

Our export goals are on track.

U.S. exports of goods and services are up almost 18 percent over the first six months of this year. 

In fact, over the past year, exports have contributed as much as domestic consumption to America’s growth.

Credit goes to an improving global economy and American companies that provide the best products and most sought-after services in the world.

But our companies have also been helped along by a federal government that is, for the first time, fully mobilized to help them break into new markets.

Whether here at home or in some 77 countries around the globe, at Commerce’s trade promotion offices, it’s all hands on deck. 

That includes export assistance centers here in Richmond and in Arlington.

Over the past two years, our trade specialists have worked with local businesses and helped them generate sales to foreign customers worth $515 million.

One of those businesses was Steelmaster Buildings from Virginia Beach, which consults routinely with the Richmond Export Assistance Center. With its help, Steelmaster was recently able to connect with a company in Romania make a $450,000 shipment of building products. Steelmaster had been a company that exported sporadically, but since it started working with Commerce, the company has increased its sales around the globe.

Steelmaster’s story is instructive. Once they gain a foothold in foreign markets, American goods and services sell themselves. 

What Commerce can do is open doors, and provide on-the-ground expertise to navigate the unique business environment in each country.

Two of our trade specialists are here with us now – Bill Fanjoy, director of our Northern Virginia Export Assistance Center, and Eric McDonald, director of our Richmond Export Assistance Center.

Let me ask them to please stand.  These folks will be more than happy to talk with you or set up a meeting.  Or contact us through trade.gov.

Last year, Virginia companies exported more than $15 billion of goods overseas.  In 2008, the metropolitan area of Richmond alone exported $5.2 billion in merchandise, 30 percent of Virginia’s total merchandise exports. 

And in 2007, the Virginia Economic Development Partnership received the President’s “E” Award for Excellence in Exporting.

I’m sure there are people here who contributed to those numbers. But I’m also sure there is a whole lot of untapped potential – both in this room and across the Commonwealth.

Today, less than 1 percent of America’s 30 million companies export – a percentage that is significantly lower than all other developed countries.

And of U.S. companies that do export, 58 percent export to only one country. 

Imagine if we could just get the company that’s selling products to Canada to grow into Mexico, or the company providing services in France to move into neighboring Spain. 

Do that enough times and America will beat the goals laid out by the president.

President Obama has set an aggressive NEI target, but these challenging times demand nothing less. 

With millions of Americans out of work, and our competitors in Europe and Asia increasingly competing with us for the same customers, we can’t simply keep doing what we’ve done in the past and hope things get better.

There has never been any question that American companies offer world-class goods and services. 

We just need to do a better job of connecting your businesses with the international consumers who want your products and services. 

The National Export Initiative will do exactly that.

We look forward to working with you to grow Virginia’s exports and economy. Our success will mean more jobs and more opportunity – both here and across America.

Thank you.