Spotlight on Commerce: Felicia Pullam, Director of Outreach, SelectUSA


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Spotlight on Commerce:  Felicia Pullam, Director of Outreach, SelectUSA
Spotlight on Commerce: Felicia Pullam, Director of Outreach, SelectUSA

Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting members of the Department of Commerce and their contributions to the Open for Business Agenda.

Guest blog post by Felicia Pullam, Director of Outreach, SelectUSA

I was on vacation a couple of weeks ago, and the last thing I was thinking about was Women’s History Month. I happened to bring along The Economist—mostly because it was easy to carry—and when I flipped to the lighter sections at the back I stumbled upon a review of The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe, by Elaine Showalter.

I knew that I knew Howe’s name, vaguely. I read. “She awoke with the lyrics to the ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’ almost fully formed in her head.” I definitely should have known that, but that wasn’t all. There was something buried deeper inside my vacation-time brain.

As I continued to read, I started hearing my mother’s voice saying “Julia Ward Howe” in the same breath as “Susan B. Anthony” and “Elizabeth Cady Stanton.” Howe fought for our right to vote, along with her own right to have a career.  My mother made it a priority to tell my sister and me about these women, and she organized a family road trip to the Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, NY when I was in high school.

The drive was less than an hour—my hometown of Phoenix, NY (just north of Syracuse) is close enough to have a sense of regional pride for the location of the first Women’s Rights Convention in 1848. Nonetheless, it has been more than two decades since I’ve visited Seneca Falls.

In the interim, I’ve been focused on building my own career.  After college, I moved to China through the Princeton in Asia program, taught English, worked for a Chinese celebrity, and then “settled down” in Beijing and Hong Kong at an American public affairs firm. After about nine years in Asia, I repatriated and took a position with Governor Jack Markell’s office in Delaware, where I experienced firsthand the essential role that state and local governments, along with local media, play in our daily lives.

I explored near and far, and most importantly, I listened and learned from people from all walks of life. All of this proved to be a strong foundation for my current position. I joined the Department of Commerce in 2013 to manage outreach for SelectUSA, including communications, legislative and intergovernmental affairs, and relationships with other external stakeholders. We work to attract job-creating business investment into the United States by providing services to international companies as they seek to establish or expand operations. SelectUSA partners with state and local economic development organizations to highlight the advantages of doing business in the United States. In other words, we have the incredible honor of helping to share the story of American opportunity with the world.

SelectUSA is a lean organization, with the energy of a start-up, so I’ve also often played the role of troubleshooter. From the day I started working as a consultant in 2002, I’ve built my career on solving problems. And there is always a problem; whether it’s personal or professional, every day there’s a new challenge and many new items added to my to-do list. Just like most people, I sometimes find it a struggle to renew my focus and my commitment.

But when I read about Howe, when I hear Secretary Pritzker speak about women in business, and when I remember a secondhand book on suffragettes that I read in middle school, I’m reminded that it’s an incredible privilege to focus on the challenges of my job. I was only able to work my way to the job I’ve always wanted because of the many women who came before me.

So, in honor of Women’s History Month, I’m adding a few things to my 2016 to-do list: return to the Women’s Hall of Fame (paired with at least one stop at a Finger Lakes winery, of course), read Professor Showalter’s new book (downloaded and ready to start!), and then read something by Julia Ward Howe herself (much of which can be downloaded for free).

But that list itself lays bare my privilege. The real questions are: What can I do to give back? How can I pay it forward to the next generation? I hope you’ll join me in learning more about our history and asking those questions—and many more—in honor of the women who, less than a century ago, had to ask questions like, “Why can’t we vote?” and other women who, today, still have to ask, “Why can’t my voice be heard?”

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Last updated: 2016-03-14 11:18

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