The "Open for Business" Agenda


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Thank you.  It is such an honor to be with so many business leaders as we roll out our strategic vision and priorities for the Commerce Department.

And it is particularly great to be here at 1776, which grew out of the resident’s Startup America initiative.   Here at 1776, revolutionary ideas are turned into products, business plans, and companies.  We can all feel the excitement and energy here because of the vital guidance and support that organizations like 1776 provide to budding entrepreneurs.  Can everyone give the 1776 community a round of applause? 

1776 is the perfect name for a place where start-ups are launched.  As America’s founding entrepreneur, Benjamin Franklin, once said: “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”  That notion comes to life here in a place where insight, ideas, and sweat equity result in new businesses… and perhaps even new industries.

Many things have changed since 1776 – but our American entrepreneurial spirit has remained steadfast. 

I, personally, have started several businesses.  I have felt that energy and excitement – and yes at times the fear – that comes with a start-up.

Since I came on board at the Commerce Department, I have worked to foster that kind of environment where good ideas can rise to the top.  Our 44,000 employees were already doing a great job, but we started pushing for ways to make our work even more meaningful, customer-focused, and outcomes-oriented.

On my first day, I hung a sign on the door to my office that says, “Open for Business.”

To me, that simple phrase captures it all…  It shows that we are focused on our most important customer – business leaders like you and the conditions necessary for your companies to grow.  That sign also shows that this administration is partnering with America’s private sector as you continue to lead us to full economic recovery.

I truly believe – just like the President – that we will only be successful with great corporate leadership.

The fact is, you have already brought us a long way over the past four years.  In 44 months, the private sector – leaders like you in this room – has created 7.8 million jobs. 

Our GDP has grown for 10 straight quarters… Our deficits have been cut in half… Exports are up… and… The housing market is coming back.

And while we need to put even more Americans back to work and lift incomes… this momentum shows that our businesses are positioned – more than ever before – to take the lead in the global economy. 

I know this first-hand, because over the past few months, I have heard from hundreds of CEOs and business leaders.

It is absolutely clear. 

We are ready to compete.

My question for business leaders is simple:  How can the Commerce Department help set the conditions for your success?

That is what I want to talk about today – three key areas that are crucial components of our economic growth agenda.

  • Trade – because our businesses need access to more markets and more customers.
  • Innovation – because our businesses need a strong digital economy… cutting-edge manufacturing and technology… and a well-trained workforce to stay competitive.
  • And data – because our businesses need access to more and better information to make smart decisions and stay ahead.

To expand on each of these areas, let me share my journey of the past few months with you.


In August, my listening tour took me to Houston, our nation’s top metro area for merchandise exports at over 
$110 billion dollars last year.

As I toured the newest expansion of its port, I was reminded that global trade has grown over 40 percent in just 4 years… millions of people in developing countries are being lifted into the consuming class each year… and… 95 percent of consumers reside outside the United States.

It is clear that the greatest commercial opportunities for our firms in the 21st century will not only be here at home, but also outside our borders. 

Simply put, trade must become a bigger part of the DNA of our economy.

Already, the President’s National Export Initiative has achieved impressive results…

We hit a record $2.2 trillion dollars in exports last year, up $600 billion dollars from 2009.  Nearly 10 million U.S. jobs are now supported by exports, up 1.3 million since 2009.  A record of nearly 14 percent of our GDP was driven by exports last year.  And, in fact, some places like Kansas City attribute their recovery almost entirely to increased exports.

However, we are still a nation that under-exports.  What that means is too few of our firms are selling goods and services into too few global markets.

That is why I have asked my team to take a fresh look at the National Export Initiative. 

This new effort, NEI 2.0, requires government and industry to work closely together to help businesses become more globally fluent. 

Together, we must answer several key questions…

  • Over the past decade, small businesses’ contribution to our exports has grown from one-fourth to one-third.  How can we continue to broaden our base of exporters?
  • Some states and cities still think that their local economies will do just fine without looking abroad. How can we help them realize that exporting is critical not just to survive but to flourish?
  • And, as our services sector thrives… How can we build on America’s unique advantage to attract more travel and tourism? And how can we expand the perception of Made in America from just a shipping container… to include a businesswoman with a Passport, a briefcase, and a consulting contract?

NEI 2.0 will help answer these questions.

In addition, I will work to ensure strong enforcement of trade rules… and a level playing field for our workers…

And, as our country’s Chief Commercial Advocate, I will do everything I can to open more doors for American goods and services.

For example, I heard repeatedly on my listening tour that we need more free trade agreements to open even more markets.

That starts with renewing Trade Promotion Authority.  I plan to go to Capitol Hill and around the country to make sure President Obama has this same authority given to previous Presidents.

In addition, we will work with the United States Trade Representative’s Office to deliver a high-standard Trans Pacific Partnership.  Our experts are working around the clock with the 11 other TPP countries.   We envision TPP as the foundation for a broader free-trade pact throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

Also, as I speak, members of my team are in Brussels at the second round of talks with the EU on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – T-TIP.

Last year, America’s 20 free trade partners attracted 46 percent of American exports, even though they only represented 13 percent of global GDP… Imagine our potential when these two new agreements link us with 33 more countries totaling over 60 percent of the world’s GDP.  Suffice it to say that the Port of Houston will become busier than ever.            

Of course, we should also focus on America’s unparalleled position to attract more inbound investment. 

We have entered a unique era of opportunity.  Global businesses want to be here because of our rule of law, our intellectual property protections, our stable financial markets, our universities, our strong consumer base, and the ingenuity of our people.

On top of that, key trends are working in our favor, such as low-cost and abundant energy.

The President knew that we needed to take full advantage of this moment when he launched SelectUSA at the Commerce Department in 2011.   Ever since then, SelectUSA has been working with foreign CEOs and our economic development leaders across the country to put even more deals in the pipeline.

In fact, just two weeks ago, 1,300 leaders from 60 countries converged on DC for the first-ever SelectUSA Investment Summit.  The demand for our summit was overwhelming, and the demand to invest in the United States is deep.

We announced that we are expanding and enhancing SelectUSA to help even more businesses grow their footprint here in America.

The feedback from the summit made it clear.  SelectUSA provides a powerful bang for our taxpayers’ buck.

Today we are in a global competition for investments.  That is why Congress should fully fund SelectUSA.  The President had it right when he said: “When you bet on America, that bet pays off.”

From Houston, let’s go to Albany, New York, where I went in July on my listening tour. 

There, the semiconductor industry is thriving – building the chips that go into our laptops and smartphones.

Albany reflects the importance of innovation in two important ways.

First, the chips that are built there support our digital economy.

I am sure that many of the startups here at 1776 have launched their businesses entirely online or through apps.

The fact is, as much as half of economic growth in the United States is due to advances in science, technology, and business processes.

The Commerce Department helps create broad opportunities for entrepreneurship and continued growth in the digital economy. 

For example, since 2009 we have laid 100,000 miles of broadband across the country – linking small businesses and their customers with high-speed Internet.

Looking forward, the Commerce Department will make sure that American businesses have a strong voice at the table when it comes to strengthening our digital economy.

We will fight to protect intellectual property online… We will work to ensure there is robust cybersecurity for our infrastructure, for industry, and for consumers…  And we will champion a free and open Internet throughout the world… while making sure that our companies are treated fairly.

In the months ahead, the Commerce Department will develop a coordinated approach to these and other internet policies that affect business.  That is our commitment.

A second way in which Albany’s semiconductor industry reflects innovation is through their unique model of collaboration.

Would-be-rivals are jointly engaging in pre-competitive research. 

This approach brings together the smartest minds from academia, the private sector, and government… to work on the most challenging opportunities… achieve more scientific breakthroughs… and then translate those discoveries into marketable ideas.

Not surprisingly, the region is becoming a global hub for semiconductor companies and their suppliers… attracting billions of dollars in investment and thousands more jobs. 

Notably, the success of this model traces back to the 1980s when the federal government made a major investment to ensure our long-term competitiveness in this industry.

How can we replicate that kind of success through future public-private partnerships? 

Our country’s top manufacturing CEOs and university presidents came up with an answer: the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation.

NNMI institutes align many of a region’s assets to support one emerging technology – a technology that will improve both WHAT we make and HOW we make it…

Already, we launched a pilot institute for 3D printing in Ohio.  Soon, three more institutes will be awarded in lightweight metals, power electronics, and 
digital manufacturing and design.  These are cutting-edge areas in which the United States must compete and lead.  Our innovation-driven economy depends on it.

The competition for these institutes is fierce, and the fact is, communities and industry are clamoring for us to help fund more of these hubs. The President has called for up to 45 institutes. Importantly, leaders from both parties in Congress have co-sponsored legislation to make this network a reality.

Other countries are making major investments in manufacturing innovation.  To win the future, we need to lead the next wave of exciting new industries and technologies – right here at home.

But all the best technologies in the world are worthless unless we have a workforce that can bring these cutting-edge products to market and work to continuously improve them.

The most common concern that I have heard from CEOs is their challenge of finding workers with the skills they need to help their businesses grow.

The fact is, too many jobs are going unfilled at a time when millions of Americans are still looking for work. 

To help drive innovation in our economy, we simply must make better connections between what businesses need… and what our training institutions provide.

For that reason, for the first time ever, I am pleased to announce that the Commerce Department is making skills a top priority. 

In coordination with the White House, the departments of Commerce, Labor, and Education are joining forces.  We are exploring how to better align federal funding for workforce development to support demand-driven skills training.

For our part, the Commerce Department will emphasize industry-led training when funding state-level partners who work with small manufacturers…We will track those partners’ outcomes and share best practices throughout this network – called the Manufacturing Extension Partnership.

In addition, our Economic Development Administration will encourage grant applicants to incorporate local workforce needs in their proposals.

Furthermore, we are going to take advantage of the great minds on our National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship…  in which a key advisor to 1776, Steve Case, has played a critical role. The Council will gather ideas on the best ways to equip Americans for tomorrow’s jobs in high-growth industries. 

Most importantly, I have already met with many CEOs who are leading the way on this very issue.  Some of you have partnered across your industry to address the skills gap.  Others are working with community colleges to develop curricula and broadly recognized credentials.

My team will continue to help operationalize and act on your best ideas.  After all, a globally competitive economy requires a globally competitive workforce.


Finally, let me turn to data.  Let’s go west to Seattle where I visited Amazon and other tech companies in September on my listening tour.

As you know, Amazon is a multi-billion dollar business driven largely by data.  We discussed how they use “big data” to grow their business… and how the Commerce Department can put more of our extensive data into the hands of entrepreneurs.

I know the value of this first-hand.  My first startup 25 years ago was built with the help of information from the Census Bureau.   I needed to know how many seniors lived in certain areas, their incomes, and much more.  Census data helped my team choose where to put our senior living communities, launching a company that now has thousands of customers and thousands of employees.

Since then, the need for timely, relevant, and accessible data to make informed business decisions has grown exponentially.

It is already clear that government data is fertile ground for business creation and market growth.

For example, each day, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration produces 2 terabytes of weather and climate data that the public can easily use.  Those 2 terabytes alone power a multi-billion-dollar industry – everything from the Weather Channel to your smartphone weather apps. 

Here is the opportunity: There are about 17 additional terabytes each day that go largely untapped.  To put that in perspective, that is roughly the printed collection of the Library of Congress… times two.

Today, we are taking the first steps to create a public-private initiative to unleash more NOAA data.  This will help more entrepreneurs launch businesses using public information about our oceans, climate, and weather. 

Just as importantly, this will bolster our longstanding Commerce Department priority of protecting our environment: This includes helping communities adapt to climate change… developing stronger resilience standards for buildings and infrastructure… and maintaining world-class weather forecasting capabilities.

We can NOT stop there in our efforts to free up data.

We will work throughout our Department, across government, and with industry to make even more data standardized and easy-to-use.  And if you have ideas for new data products to better meet industry needs, we want to hear them.

One last point.

Data does NOT get a lot of attention until it is not available.  Americans were reminded of this when the Commerce Department’s economic reports were delayed due to the shutdown.

Businesses depend every single day on the rich data we provide.   

Suffice it to say that Congress should continue to support the high-quality information that comes from the American Community Survey… our satellites… and the 2020 Census which we are preparing for now.

After all, as Ginni Rometty of IBM says, “Information will be to the 21st century what steam, electricity and fossil fuels were to prior centuries.”   I could not agree more. 

Let’s make sure that both data and our digital economy are fully empowering entrepreneurs and businesses in the years ahead.

As we traveled to Houston, to Albany, to Seattle – and everywhere in between – this new Open for Business Agenda was driven by what I heard from leaders like you.

This agenda is a critical part of the President’s overall effort to grow the economy and create jobs.

Let me be clear: I will continue to speak up as the voice for business on all of the administration’s priorities that affect our private sector.

This includes:

  • business tax reform to help our companies compete globally…
  • investing in infrastructure to move our goods, information, and people…
  • immigration reform which will strengthen our workforce, lower our deficit, and boost our economy…
  • and, of course, cutting red tape and reducing unnecessary regulatory costs wherever possible.

Moreover, my team will work harder than ever to break through unexpected roadblocks and distractions, including those originating here in D.C.  We can NOT afford manufactured crises anymore.

Instead, it is time to get things done.

We have an opportunity right now to work together to set the conditions for a vibrant, 21st century economy and the good jobs that come with it. 

My commitment is that my Department will be responsive, customer-focused, and outcomes-driven…

And we will demand a strong return on investment just like American businesses do.

That sign on my door is more than just a symbol. 

I want everyone who steps in – from a CEO… to a foreign leader… to an intern – to know that sign reflects the core values of America’s businesses as well as the core values of this administration and our Department.

Yes, we are OPEN for BUSINESS.  I look forward to working with you in the months and years ahead.

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