Link U.S. businesses with global buyers

If you opened a business on Peachtree Street, would you ignore 95 percent of the consumers that walked by? Of course not. So, if your company has an exportable product or service, why ignore the 95 percent of the world’s consumers that live outside U.S. borders? You shouldn’t.

In today’s increasingly connected economy, the world is full of opportunities. I’ve seen this firsthand as under secretary for international trade; international partners tell me they want what America makes. We need to link more U.S. businesses with global buyers.

That was my primary message when I participated in a recent Atlanta forum organized by the Global Cities Initiative (GCI), a joint project of the Brookings Institution and JPMorgan Chase. It was fully embraced by Mayor Kasim Reed and the city. A diverse group of leaders talked about shaping a more competitive southeastern region, one where businesses reach as many international markets as possible. As part of the GCI, Atlanta will join other metropolitan areas that are prioritizing exports as a key pillar of economic development under the Metropolitan Export Initiative, a Brookings program.

This work is aligned with President Barack Obama’s National Export Initiative, launched in 2010 to expand U.S. exports and support an increase of 2 million American jobs by the end of 2014. There is already a lot to celebrate. U.S. exports grew by almost $100 billion from 2011 to 2012, reaching a record $2.2 trillion. This growth was widespread, with 29 states including Georgia experiencing record exports. Nationally, jobs supported by exports grew by 1.3 million or more than 60 percent between 2009 and 2012.

Increasing exports is good for jobs and economic growth across the Southeast. The U.S. Department of Commerce has offered our support to Reed and the Atlanta GCI team. The International Trade Administration’s U.S. Export Assistance Centers in Georgia know the export process and offer expertise in areas such as market intelligence. They are also letting businesses know about overseas opportunities, including those created bynew trade agreements with Korea, Colombia and Panama.

Another great source of economic growth and job creation is foreign direct investment (FDI). We are working with local leaders throughout the Southeast to attract more investment to our shores. The United States is the most attractive investment market in the world; we are the largest recipient of FDI, which helps employ more than 5 million people in the United States. Nevertheless, the U.S. share of global FDI flows has decreased as other economies continue to open up and compete for these investment dollars. To partly address this trend, President Obama launched SelectUSA in 2011.

The program helps leverage the resources of the federal government to ensure more dollars reach our shores. A big part of SelectUSA’s work involves partnering with local stakeholders and economic development organizations.

Attracting more investment dollars and selling products abroad makes business sense. It helps our national and regional bottom lines. It promotes good jobs and makes us more competitive globally. Your leaders recognize this. Together, we can shape a stronger Southeast region.

Francisco Sanchez is U.S. under secretary of commerce.

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