Locke’s big surprise

Credit where credit is due. I have been quite critical of outgoing Commerce Secretary Gary Locke over the past couple of years. But on Wednesday he did something really worthwhile by announcing the establishment of SelectUSA, the first ever U.S. federal program to attract and win new business investment for the United States. As readers ...

ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images
ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images
ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

Credit where credit is due.

I have been quite critical of outgoing Commerce Secretary Gary Locke over the past couple of years. But on Wednesday he did something really worthwhile by announcing the establishment of SelectUSA, the first ever U.S. federal program to attract and win new business investment for the United States.

As readers of this space know, I have long lamented that the U.S. government does not match the investment incentives and moral suasion that the likes of China, Singapore, France, Israel, and others use to attract investment to their shores and to keep domestic investors at home. For many years, the individual states of the United States have had economic development programs aimed at attracting and holding investment, but the Federal Government has never joined in the game. For example, in China, it has long been the case that visiting business leaders hear nothing but questions about when they are going to invest in China from President Hu Jintao on down. While, from the President of the United States on down, this issue is never raised with business leaders visiting Washington.

Credit where credit is due.

I have been quite critical of outgoing Commerce Secretary Gary Locke over the past couple of years. But on Wednesday he did something really worthwhile by announcing the establishment of SelectUSA, the first ever U.S. federal program to attract and win new business investment for the United States.

As readers of this space know, I have long lamented that the U.S. government does not match the investment incentives and moral suasion that the likes of China, Singapore, France, Israel, and others use to attract investment to their shores and to keep domestic investors at home. For many years, the individual states of the United States have had economic development programs aimed at attracting and holding investment, but the Federal Government has never joined in the game. For example, in China, it has long been the case that visiting business leaders hear nothing but questions about when they are going to invest in China from President Hu Jintao on down. While, from the President of the United States on down, this issue is never raised with business leaders visiting Washington.

Locke’s announcement says that’s all about to change. In his announcement remarks, Locke said:  "America too often finds itself competing on a 21st century playing field using a 20th century playbook. In recent years, we have been losing ground to our foreign competitors in attracting and retaining business investment and have seen U.S. jobs move overseas. In our increasingly global business environment, SelectUSA will help keep businesses in the United States and attract new businesses from around the world." 

Locke went on to say that SelectUSA would be a key component of strengthening U.S. competitiveness and winning the future by slashing red tape, coordinating with the states, and removing barriers to new investment. Although he didn’t say so directly, the move appears to herald a dramatic shift toward having government officials actively urging investment in the United States a la the practices of top leaders of other countries. In this respect, America may be in the process of becoming a normal country.

According to Locke, under "newly appointed Executive Director Barry Johnson, SelectUSA will encourage foreign businesses to operate in the United States, U.S. and foreign businesses to expand and grow in the United States, and U.S. businesses operating outside our borders to return their previously off-shored operations back to the United States by:

·  Providing assistance to U.S. states, at their request, to address federal "red tape" issues through a new interagency investment facilitation task force;
·  Engaging in advocacy and outreach to promote the United States as the best market for business operations in the world, and;
·  Consolidating all information on federal programs and services available to companies that operate in the United States to a one-stop web portal, http://www.SelectUSA.gov.

Of course, this is still a long way from Singapore’s Economic Development Board or China’s Five Year Plan. But with Larry Summers urging the administration to "aggressively enforce trade agreements", President Obama presenting his auto industry bail out as a triumph, and Gary Locke now launching an invest in American program, maybe the United States is not as far from a real economic strategy as I have been thinking.

So here’s a big thank you to Secretary Locke. Keep up the good work at your next post as our ambassador in Beijing.

Clyde Prestowitz is the founder and president of the Economic Strategy Institute, a former counselor to the secretary of commerce in the Reagan administration, and the author of The World Turned Upside Down: America, China, and the Struggle for Global Leadership. Twitter: @clydeprestowitz

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