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Remarks by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo at the Ogden Lecture at Brown University


Thank you, President Paxson, for inviting me to deliver the Ogden Memorial Lecture on International Affairs. It’s an honor to be here.

And thank you to everyone attending. I’m excited to be at Brown University, I’m glad to see so many familiar faces, and I’m thrilled that we’re able to be together in person.

It’s been just over a year since I was sworn in as the Secretary of Commerce, but Rhode Island is always my home.

So, in addition to speaking with you this evening, I’m taking advantage of my time here today to see old friends and buy some zeppole in honor of St. Joseph’s Day.

As I reflected on what to focus on in the field of international affairs, I thought I’d focus today on the importance of enhancing America’s economic competitiveness.

America’s place in the world, and our ability to lead the world, derives from our strength at home. So everything I’m doing as Commerce Secretary is focused on enhancing U.S. economic competitiveness.

We need support from institutes of higher education – like Brown – to drive research and development and to train our young people and our workers.

We need state and local governments and community organizations – to help ensure our workers and businesses are getting the support they need.

And we can’t do it alone. Arguably the greatest international issue for us to tackle now is to show democracies can work – that they can function.

This evening, I want to focus on four different areas that are crucial for our nation’s competitiveness:  growth, innovation, equity, and our alliances.

First, for America to be competitive in the 21st century, we need to be committed to making the investments required to grow our economy.

And growth includes things like investing in new technologies, supporting research and development, and revamping worker training so that we are training Americans to do high quality jobs that are available where they live.

But one area that I’d like to highlight is our manufacturing sector.

We can’t have vibrant, long term economic growth without a vibrant manufacturing sector.

When President Biden asked me to be Secretary of Commerce, he told me that one of his top priorities is the revitalization of our manufacturing economy.

I know you’re all familiar with what happened to Rhode Island’s manufacturing economy over the last 50 years. My family went through it, and many of your families may have gone through it too.

It’s part of a much bigger story about America’s declining investments in our workers and our economy.

We lost nearly 9 million manufacturing jobs in the last three decades. And we lost 25% of our small and medium-sized manufacturing in the last 25 years.

This decline has had real and painful effects for families, businesses, supply chains, and our national security. Certain regions of America – and demographics – were hit much harder.

America has been great at inventing breakthrough ideas but when it comes to manufacturing them here, we fall short.

Here are the problems with that approach: it is the manufacturing sector that is going to create high wage jobs for workers without college degrees. I would argue much of the divisiveness in politics stems from this economic insecurity.

And the more we rely on other countries to make things for us, the more vulnerable we become to supply chain disruptions like we have seen over the past two years. 

At least 95% of the market for the cells that go into solar panels is estimated to have components that were produced in China.

Countries like Germany have been investing in their manufacturing economy for decades and they have found ways to stay on the cutting edge with their workforce, their equipment, and their business strategies. We can do the same thing here in American with smart investments.

Recently, we’ve made some good progress. Since the beginning of the Biden Administration, the economy has added 423,000 manufacturing jobs and companies have announced nearly $200 billion in investments for production and manufacturing right here on American soil.

But there’s much more we need to do.

The best case in point is the work we’re doing on semiconductors, which touches upon on both our supply chain challenges and our manufacturing sector.

Chips are the essential building blocks of our modern economy. They power our smartphones, cars, computers, and medical equipment. The industries of the future – like artificial intelligence, quantum computing, cloud computing – all rely on chips.

And America created the semiconductor industry. 20 years ago, we produced nearly 40% of all chips.

But since 1990, American chip production has declined from 37% of global supply to just 12% today. 90% of the world’s leading-edge semiconductors are made in Taiwan.

Demand for chips in 2021 ran 17% higher than 2019 demand. Most factories are running at more than 90% utilization, meaning we can’t create the supply to meet that demand until we get more factories up and running. And the median inventory of chips has fallen from 40 days in 2019 to less than five days now.

If a COVID outbreak, natural disaster, or political instability disrupts a foreign semiconductor facility, it has the potential shut down a manufacturing facility in the US, putting American workers and their families at risk.

The chips shortage is also hurting our economy.

Last year, auto prices drove one-third of all inflation, primarily because we don’t have enough chips.

The auto industry made nearly 8 million fewer cars than expected because of the chip shortage, costing them $210 billion in revenue.

Some estimates show that our annual GDP growth would have been an entire percentage point higher, were it not for this shortage.

Chips are also essential components of our most vital and sensitive military equipment, and our overreliance on foreign manufacturers is a national security vulnerability.

That’s why it is both an economic and national security imperative to solve this crisis.

Our competitors and trading partners are moving ahead to support their own semiconductor industries. They’re not waiting for us to figure out what we’re going to do.

China has spent about $150 billion since 2014 and will be spending billions more. Their share of chip production is already higher than our share, and they will have almost 25% of global chip capacity by 2030.

Every day we wait is a day we fall further behind. We need to act.

Currently, there is a bill weaving its way through Congress that would include $52 billion in funding for the Commerce Department to revitalize America's domestic chip manufacturing.

Companies like Samsung and Intel have indicated that their recent investments in American semiconductor manufacturing are predicated on passage of this chips funding. In the case of Intel, they’ve been very clear that their recently announced $20 billion investment in a new semiconductor facility in Ohio could turn into investments of $100 billion.

The bottom line is this:  these companies are going to build their facilities somewhere, and it’s on us to create the incentives so that they choose to make chips here, on American soil.

Getting the Bipartisan Innovation Act signed into law will create good jobs, rebuild American manufacturing, and strengthen our supply chains here at home for decades to come.

But this is one example of one product. America needs massive investments to rebuild our industrial base.

These investments will also drive innovation.

The second thing we need for America to be competitive in the 21st century is innovation.

If we’re going to lead the world in finding solutions to our most difficult problems – like combatting climate change and curing and treating diseases – we need to be the industry leader in the technologies of the future.

We have the world’s best universities – Brown among them – that attract top talent from around the world.

And the US is home to research centers and entrepreneurs that are the incubators of creativity and invention.

But over the last few decades, we’ve underinvested in the fundamental building blocks of innovation. 

We’re no longer leading the world on important indicators of research, development, and scientific progress.

In the era after World War II, the US was the world leader, responsible for 69% of annual global R&D. But in 2019, our share was just below 30%.

China’s growth rate in R&D spending is more than three times ours.

If we want to remain at the forefront of science and technology, we have to reinvest in R&D so that we can move innovations from the lab to the marketplace at 21st century speed.

At the federal level, we’re working on increasing our commitment to R&D. The Bipartisan Innovation Act would invest in basic R&D once again, helping to unleash the next generation of innovation and scientific advancement in the United States.

But we also need the private sector and universities to step up and get back into the business of R&D. It must be a collaborative effort.

America’s research universities are vital to enhancing our competitiveness. We need your help and we need your work to be accessible to everyone.

That’s why I’m excited about the work Brown is doing, particularly in the field of translational science.

The Brown Institute for Translational Science is bringing teams of scientists and local clinicians together to convert scientific discoveries into medical breakthroughs right here in Rhode Island.

Brown’s Legorreta Cancer Center is using cancer research and translational science to understand how cancer grows and develop better therapeutics to treat patients.

And Brown’s Center for Alzheimer's Disease Research is connecting lab science with clinical research to improve early detection and treatment of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

This is exactly the kind of work we need our institutes of higher education to be doing.

Innovation is also critical in our fight against climate change.

According to the International Energy Agency, to reach net zero emissions by 2050, we’re going to need to develop technologies that either don’t exist yet or are currently in the prototype phase.

When I was Governor, I was proud to see Rhode Island become the home of the first offshore wind farm in the nation. The Block Island Wind Farm created good jobs and established a new source of clean, renewable energy.

Last year, shortly after I became Secretary, the Departments of Commerce, Interior, and Energy announced a shared goal to deploy 30 gigawatts of offshore wind in the US by 2030.

Meeting this target will trigger more than $12 billion per year in capital investment in projects on both coasts, and create tens of thousands of good-paying, union jobs.

It will also generate enough power to meet the demand of more than 10 million American homes for a year and avoid 78 million metric tons of CO2 emissions.

But we all know governments can’t solve climate change alone. We need strong partnerships to develop the necessary technologies to get the job done. I believe there’s also a role for the private sector, and I’ve been working on a concept of patriotic pools of capital for private investors to invest in American technologies.

If we strengthen our collaboration on this critical issue, while staying true to our values − equity, inclusivity, and science − we will lead the world toward a clean energy future.

Along the way, we won’t just address the climate risks of today – we’ll also create millions of good-paying jobs for tomorrow.

But we have to ensure that those jobs are available to everyone.

That brings me to my third point of equity.

Equity is key to ensuring that our work unlocks the full potential of our economy. America’s diversity is a competitive advantage, but only if we give everyone an opportunity to participate and fulfill their potential.

That means women. That means people of color. That means people who live in rural areas and on tribal lands.

Homogeneity is the enemy of innovation. Our diversity is America’s core strength.

Today – March 15 – nearly 75 days into the year, is Equal Pay Day. It’s how far into 2022 women must work to make what men earned in 2021.

And that date is even later in the year for most women of color.

For Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander women, Equal Pay Day won’t come until May 3. For Black women, it’s September 21. For Native women, it’s November 30. And for Latinas, it’s December 8.

Closing this wage gap isn’t just the right thing to do for women, it’s good for our economy and it’s good for all hardworking families. Families are increasingly relying on a mom’s wages to make ends meet.

One way to close the wage gap and improve equity is by investing in our workforce. We need people trained and ready for careers in the jobs of the future.

During my time as Governor, I saw firsthand what’s effective when it comes to workforce development.

Employers need to be at the table, partnering with training providers and institutes of higher education to set up pathways that lead to real, high-quality jobs.

Training programs should include wraparound services, like childcare, transportation, and career counseling, to ensure all Americans have the chance to gain skills they need to succeed.

Workforce investments should lead to industry-recognized credentials, so that Americans can use the training they receive to advance their careers or pursue a post-secondary degree in the future.

And training systems need to be sustainable so that they live beyond the initial government funding.

We’re using these priorities to guide our work at the Commerce Department.

Case in point is the work we are doing in broadband.

We all know that fast and reliable internet access is vital for everyday life. We connect with family, work remotely, schedule telehealth appointments, and try to finish homework on time.

But that access isn’t always equal or affordable. More than 30 million Americans still do not have reliable broadband. That includes more than 50% of tribal households and more than 30% of rural households.

This is an untenable digital divide. If America going to lead in the world from a place of cohesion and strength, we need to eliminate this inequity

Thanks to President Biden’s leadership, Congress passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which includes nearly $50 billion in funding for the Commerce Department to achieve the goal of universal broadband.

That includes nearly $3 billion for the Digital Equity Act to invest in digital inclusion for communities that lack the skills, technologies, and support needed to take advantage of broadband connections.

With these resources, we’ll bring broadband infrastructure to every corner of our country and make service affordable for everyone.

And we’ll create thousands of high-paying jobs as we build out the networks.

We are building in job training. We’re determined to have these jobs also go to women and people of color.

These are historic investments. They will give Americans more power over their own lives – the ability to work where they choose, to study how they want, and to live in the place they love.

And they will spur innovation and drive a marketplace with lower costs for higher speeds.

The fourth and final thing we need for America to be competitive is a revitalization of our alliances around the world.

At the top of that list right now is responding to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

One of our tools at Commerce Department is export controls — regulations on the export of sensitive goods, software, and technology — to ensure our products aren’t being used against us by bad actors.

Just a few weeks ago, our department implemented a sweeping series of stringent export controls that are severely restricting Russia’s access to foreign-made semiconductors and other essential technologies.

That action alone has the potential to paralyze their military going forward.

These measures also reflect momentous cooperation among the US, the EU, and others in aligning on export control policies and requirements. We are sending a clear message that the US will not tolerate Russia's aggression against a democratically elected government. This level of collaboration is really unprecedented.

It’s part of our larger strategy to support our historically strong relationships in Europe.

We’ve launched the US-EU Trade and Technology Council, or TTC, a key forum to set the rules of the road for technology in accordance with our democratic values. I’m co-chairing it along with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai.

We will be updating and aligning our standards for things like cybersecurity and artificial intelligence; shaping policies in areas like data governance and competition; supporting transatlantic supply chains; and delivering for people and businesses in our countries.

As more business owners move their operations online, the work this council is doing will help American businesses access markets, reach new consumers, create new jobs at home, and ensure that Europe’s policies don’t impede with US competitiveness.

Our work to establish interoperable frameworks is a critical example of why it makes all the difference to reengage with our allies, rather than shutting them out.

Beyond Europe, another incredibly important area of the world is the Indo Pacific region. I’m  co-leading the Administration’s effort on creating an economic framework with the region. The Indo Pacific includes some of the most dynamic economies in the world and it is essential that we return to the region, shore up relationships, and enable US industry to access these markets.

Late last year, I took my first trip to Asia where I visited Japan, Malaysia, and Singapore.

After radio silence for four years, we were welcomed with open arms in the region.

Our partners and allies in the region are hungry for American leadership. They want to work with us on areas like supply chains, clean energy, and technology.

And the region is growing quickly. The World Bank projects Malaysia will transition to a high-income economy within the next six years. And more than one billion Asians are expected to join the global middle class by 2030.

Here’s the reality: solving our supply chain bottlenecks is a global endeavor.

We will need to shore up the like-minded partners who share our values and create diverse, resilient, and sustainable supply chains.

To address these challenges, the new Indo-Pacific Economic Framework will enhance collaboration and increase transparency and information sharing.

This will help us identify opportunities to collaborate on other shared priorities, like infrastructure and innovation investment, as well as semiconductors, R&D, and standards for artificial intelligence and privacy.

Coordination in these key areas, with allies and partners, is essential not only for global economic recovery, but to ensure American businesses are positioned to seize new opportunities in a post-pandemic world.

The last thing we want is to be dependent on foreign countries that don’t share our values for critical components.

Our competitiveness also depends on fair access to global markets and fair treatment by foreign governments.

Take steel and aluminum as an example.

For too long, China was able to flood the global market with cheap steel and aluminum, making it more difficult for American workers to compete on a level playing field.

As a result, the last Administration imposed tariffs on steel from the EU and Japan. This punitive approach increased tension with our allies and increased prices.

Last October, the US reasserted its global leadership by reaching a deal to allow a limited amount of steel and aluminum imports from the EU without tariffs. And earlier this year, we reached a deal with Japan on steel.

Working with our counterparts, we secured agreements that are protecting American jobs, avoiding retaliatory tariffs, reducing inflationary pressures, and alleviating a major supply chain crunch by supporting increased steel and aluminum capacity in the US.

The deals we struck will further help us rebuild relationships with our allies around the world as we work to fight against China’s unfair trade practices and create a more competitive global economy for America’s families, businesses, and workers.

I’ll close with this.

America’s success in the 21st century economy is dependent upon meaningful partnerships between the government, educational institutions, businesses, and workers.

We need to invest domestically and at the same time engage with our allies to advance the interests of democracy around the world.

Now more than ever, public-private engagement is essential to building the future, and educational institutions are crucial to that effort.

Thanks to the work of institutions like Brown, Rhode Island is leading the way.

America is the best place on earth to do business and start a business. We have the best entrepreneurs, the best scientists, and the best innovators in the world.

But if we don’t seize the moment – right now – to make the kinds of historic investments we need, we’re going to be left behind.

We cannot let that be the outcome.

We have it in us to be a strong, united, and effective America that leads the world with our core values and secures the promises over democracy over autocracy.

By investing in America’s greatest strengths – our unrivaled innovation, our diversity of talent, and our dogged resilience in the face of new challenges – we can take back the lead in the 21st century.