Most people didn’t notice that Commerce Secretary Bryson resigned late last month. And why would they? The Commerce Department has long been one of the more obscure federal institutions, viewed by many as a hodge-podge of important but seemingly unrelated agencies like the Patent & Trademark Office, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, Bureau of Economic Analysis, and Census Bureau. The agency is so partitioned that most Commerce employees probably haven’t noticed the unexpected departure.
That is a shame. Rather than being irrelevant, the Secretary of Commerce now plays a critical role as a champion for domestic investment – effectively America’s ‘Chief Investment Officer.’ Recent actions by President Obama put the Commerce Department at the forefront of encouraging U.S. investment. That places a significant responsibility on the Department, since business spending on stuff like new office space and equipment is critical to stimulating economic growth.
Last June President Obama designated the Commerce Department as the main advocacy organ of nondefense private domestic investment. In the executive order, Invest in America – a small office contained in the International Trade Administration dedicated to attracting U.S. investment – became SelectUSA, the federal government’s domestic investment cheerleader. SelectUSA organizes global and domestic marketing campaigns to encourage domestic business investment, working with state offices and foreign governments. The SelectUSA website also acts as a clearinghouse for all U.S. investment programs run through the federal government, including funding opportunities and tax incentives.
What’s more, some of the federal government’s other efforts to encourage and facilitate private domestic investment are housed in the Commerce Department. For example, the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, under National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), provides funding and guidance to small and medium-sized manufacturers to assist in product development and sales expansion. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) oversees select broadband regulations that directly affect a telecom company’s willingness to invest in wireless data infrastructure, a sector currently leading domestic investment.
Any narrative about getting the economy back on track, creating jobs for Americans, and being globally competitive must start with investment. Investment is how companies create new products and expand production. It’s how we have cell phones instead of landlines, computers and ergonomic chairs at work instead of typewriters. This investment in turn boosts worker productivity, which boosts real wages and perhaps most importantly, creates jobs for millions of Americans directly and indirectly.
That means the Commerce Secretary has the potential to bridge the gap between public and private objectives, showing both sides why they need each other and how they can work together. Public-private partnerships are the key to getting millions of Americans better jobs and better wages, to recapturing lost U.S. competitiveness. Certainly that does not fall under ‘irrelevant.’
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