National Export Initiative: Boon for US Exporters

President Obama’s State of the Union address last month yielded a windfall for those companies who earn their way in foreign trade, and for those federal agencies who support their cause. The goals of our new National Export Initiative include doubling American exports over the next five years and supporting up to two million jobs here at home.

The proposed 2011 budget for the US Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration will increase by 20%. And, the ITA has been ordered to hire about 300 additional foreign commercial service officers.

While launching this ambitious and praiseworthy initiative, the president continues to guide debate on the ratification of free trade agreements with Korea, Colombia, and Panama; and stepping into challenging trade negotiations with China (see my previous entries about these topics here, here and here) Fair and competitive global trade policies – a certain result of the National Export Initiative – must by logic include the elimination of trade barriers in order to work.

Notably, the NEI creates an Export Promotion Cabinet, reporting to the president, that will consist of top leaders from the Commerce, Treasury and State Departments, the Department of Agriculture, the Export-Import Bank, the office of the United States Trade Representative and the Small Business Administration. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke will head up the cabinet.

Within 180 days, all of the agencies in the Export Cabinet will be responsible for submitting a coordinated, detailed plan to the president about how they will collectively enhance United States exports. Tall order, isn’t it? It will be a challenge to the cabinet to move nimbly and in lockstep, given the size and scope of coverage each department enjoys. Of note is the president telling our Export-Import Bank to increase the financing it makes available to small and medium-size businesses from a record $4.4 billion last year to $6 billion next year. That should relieve the angst over available credit to exporters who need to expand in order to claim their markets overseas.

I’ll make a note to assess the movement and report back in 181 days!

California Space Race

A vocal and well-prepared team of aerospace professionals and backers in California is gaining momentum in its quest to enhance the region’s aerospace prowess. Influential members from myriad economic development, utility, education, government, military, and defense contractor groups have pooled their talent, assets, know-how, and hefty political backing to form the California Space Authority (CSA) . Notable projects underway include the formation of a new California Space Center (CSC), to be located on 71 acres in Santa Barbara County, within Vandenberg Air Force Base. The CSC will take shape as a curious blend of educational/interpretive center and R&D-fed mission control facilities, and will be within line of sight of Vandenberg’s existing launch systems.

I am closely watching local news coverage from Central California communities regarding the initiative, particularly with respect to land use planning and environmental regulations. It is a particularly beautiful part of the state, where agriculture, vineyards and aerospace have been co-existing for decades. All stakeholders are vocal and assertive; let’s hope it stays that way.

Also spearheaded by the CSA is the formation of the California Innovation Corridor. Funded in 2006 by the US Department of Labor, the California Innovation Corridor (CIC) is, simply, 13 California counties – from the Mexico border to the northernmost Bay Area – wherein reside the bulk of the state’s wealth of innovation assets. The CIC fulfills part of the Labor Department’s plan to nurture “job-generator” enterprises of innovation and entrepreneurship.

An example of how these Labor Department funds are already making a difference can be found at El Camino College, which offers an Aerospace Manufacturing Technician Certificate. That’s a real-life solution for how to train 21st-century workers.

Just as it takes a mighty engine to hoist a rocket space-ward, so too do the political and business engines behind such initiatives need to be high-powered. The CSA will need all of it, as it signals that, indeed, the state of California can and should retain its status as aeropsace giant.

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