Press-Republican

August 24, 2011

Export initiative can help local companies

DAN HEATH
Press-Republican

PLATTSBURGH — The National Export Initiative has a goal to double U.S. exports in five years.

At a recent Export and Investment roundtable at the North Country Chamber of Commerce, Peter Perez, deputy assistant secretary for manufacturing for the U.S. Department of Commerce's International Trade Administration, provided details on the initiative, which took effect in March 2010.

Perez said 95 percent of consumers worldwide live outside the United States. They remain a largely untapped market, he said, as only 1 percent of U.S. companies export and most of those do so to only Canada or Mexico.

In 2009, exports made up 11 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product, he said. That compared with 25 percent in China, 27 percent in Canada and 41 percent in Germany.

"This suggests we've got some work to do," Perez said.

EXPORT INCREASES

The initiative aims to improve trade advocacy and export promotion. Perez said the government wants foreign consumers to buy U.S.-manufactured products.

It also intends to increase access to credit through the Small Business Administration and the Export-Import Bank, remove barriers to the sale of U.S. goods and services abroad, robustly enforce U.S. trade regulations, and pursue policies that support strong, substantial and balanced growth.

Perez said that to double exports during the five-year period, exports need to increase by about 14 percent annually. In 2010, exports increased 17 percent to $1.83 trillion, 12.5 percent of the gross domestic product.

In the first 6 months of 2011, exports increased 15.8 percent. Perez said recent turmoil in the financial markets may drop that figure in the near future.

SOME FIRMS RESHORED

The International Trade Administration conducted 35 trade missions worldwide last year. It also arranged for 13,000 foreign buyers to visit the United States for trade shows, which resulted in $535 million in export success.

Perez also talked about the Commerce Department's SelectUSA program, created by a Presidential Executive Order in June. He described it as a one-stop shop for those who want to invest in U.S. companies.

The site, www.selectusa.commerce.gov, provides foreign and domestic businesses and economic-development agencies a searchable guide of federal programs and services available to businesses that operate in the United States. That includes information on grants, loans, loan guarantees and tax incentives. It also provides information about the advantages of operating a business in the United States.

Perez said a number of firms are starting to "reshore" their operations, bringing manufacturing back to the United States. He said rising fuel and transportation costs, workforce and quality-control issues have led companies such as Caterpillar and General Electric to build new plants in America.

'LOOK FOR EXPORTS'

The roundtable was attended by 17 members of the local business community. Polled by Perez, five of them said they feel better about their business than they did last year, three planned to add employees and 10 intended to increase their capital investments.

U.S. Rep. Bill Owens took part in the roundtable.

"My belief is if we're going to look for jobs, we're going to need to look to exports," he said.

Owens said he participated in seminars that started 25 years ago to bring Canadian businesspeople to town and show them the various forms of assistance that were available. While the area wants to continue those efforts, the recent roundtable aimed to show how they can now export their products back to Canada and around the world.

Owens said he sees future expansion in markets in Southeast Asia.

"I see no reason Canadian and U.S. companies should not look" at those markets, he said.

STILL IN PLACE

Perez asked attendees what keeps them awake at night. Imperial Industrial Park Manager David Bray said he is concerned about free-trade agreements and the effect on U.S.-content provisions that are an important reason numerous companies have opened locations in the Plattsburgh area.

Owens said most of those provisions are built into state municipal purchasing provisions. He said there was a recent accord between the United State and Canada that keeps U.S.-content provisions in place.

Email Dan Heath at:

dheath@pressrepublican.com