Selecting Success

We hope President Obama's last keynote at SelectUSA marked a beginning and not an end.

SelectUSA’s third Investment Summit, which we attended this week in Washington, DC, was the biggest and best to date of these gatherings, which promote the United States as the world’s leading destination for foreign direct investment.

foreign direct investmentIn 2011, President Obama decided his administration would undertake a full-court press to promote inbound FDI for the U.S. (our guess is Obama used that exact term to describe the effort, since he was the star shooting guard—they nicknamed him Barry O’Bomber—of his high-school basketball team, leading them to Hawaii’s state championship). Obama told the U.S. Commerce Dept. to take the lead in creating a special initiative dedicated to spreading the word to every nation in the world that America is the best place to put their foreign business investments.

In 2012, Commerce launched SelectUSA. Four years and hundreds of thousands of new jobs later, let’s all tip our hats to President Obama and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker for a job well done.

SelectUSA operates under the umbrella of Commerce’s International Trade Administration (ITA), serving as the single point of contact for foreign investors and coordinating with related federal agencies. Turbocharged with an infusion of federal funds in 2014, SelectUSA has led an aggressive, well-executed push to attract FDI to every region of the U.S. SelectUSA established a bevy of programs to assist locations large and small in getting a loud, clear and persuasive message out to foreign investors that the United States is the smartest and safest place to plant their business flags. It helps investors find the information they need to make decisions; connect to the right people at the local level; navigate the federal regulatory system; and find solutions to issues related to the federal government.

SelectUSA also organizes what it calls Road Shows, shepherding state economic development teams on FDI missions (most recently taking a team to Brazil) and using its network of in-country ITA reps to bring business leaders from the target nation to the table for face-to-face meetings about investment opportunities in the visiting U.S. state.

In the first two quarters of 2016, SelectUSA clients announced 67 projects totaling $2.6 billion that are expected to create more than 5,400 jobs in the United States.

By far the best thing SelectUSA has created is the Investment Summit, which has grown into a must-attend event for state, regional and metro economic development agencies. This week’s two-day Summit at the Washington Hilton drew more than 2,500 attendees, including international companies from 70 foreign markets and economic development organizations from across the U.S. More than 22 of ITA’s Chiefs of Mission and their investment delegations were on hand to promote the U.S. as the premier destination for FDI.

The speaker lineup at each of the Summits has featured an all-star team of U.S. Cabinet Secretaries, CEOs of Fortune 500 industry giants, several governors and a keynote from the top U.S. “pitchman” (his term), President Obama. Secretary of State John Kerry has interrupted his tireless international travel to global crisis hot spots to come back to Washington and deliver the closing speech at every SelectUSA Investment Summit.

At this week’s event, Kerry apologized for his hoarse voice, the result of a recent visit to a global crisis hot spot that’s getting hotter with each passing month: the Arctic. The nation’s top diplomat described a sobering aerial tour of glaciers that rapidly are collapsing into fjords, disgorging chunks of ice large enough to yield—when they float into the ocean and melt—an amount of water equivalent to the entire annual water usage of New York City.

President Obama opened his remarks by saying he’s glad SelectUSA is helping to create so many new jobs in the U.S.—because he’ll be looking for one at the end of the year. “I’ll be connecting with all of you soon on LinkedIn,” Obama quipped, getting a big laugh from the packed ballroom at the Hilton.

Then the president shifted into pitchman mode. “If you choose a place to expand your portfolio, to place your bets, to open up a plant, to start building the next great new business or service, you would select the USA—because nowhere in the world and never in history has there been a better place to grow your business,” he said.

Obama noted that a quarter of the world’s R&D investments are made in the U.S. The president said that 12 million U.S. jobs are directly attributable to FDI, with international companies now responsible for more than one-fifth of all U.S. goods exports. He also cited the fiscal reforms his administration enacted after the 2008 global financial collapse as a major factor impacting on FDI decisions.

“Over the last four years, no other country has been named by CEOs around the world more frequently as the best place to invest with confidence…in large part because the decisions [the United States has] made since the financial crisis to build our economy on a new foundation for the future,” Obama said.

The president also announced the launching of a new National Manufacturing Innovation Institute: the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition will lead a Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy. The winning coalition, headquartered in Los Angeles, brings together a consortium of nearly 200 partners from across academia, industry and nonprofits—hailing from more than 30 states—to spur advances in smart sensors and digital process controls that can radically improve the efficiency of U.S. advanced manufacturing.

Obama said five more Innovation Institutes are on the way, which is great news. But the best thing we heard our president say is that he’s confident that SelectUSA will continue its great work promoting FDI in the U.S. into the next administration, regardless of who wins the presidential election.

As this year’s Summit came to a close, Sec. Pritzker announced that the next SelectUSA Investment Summit will take place June 18-20, 2017 at the Gaylord Hotel at National Harbor in Washington, DC. Let’s hope it’s not the last Summit, but the first of many more to come.