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Last week, the Commerce Department brought together senior administration officials with business leaders, investors, and economic development organizations both foreign and domestic for its first annual Select USA Summit.
The goal of the summit? To promote and facilitate investment in the U.S. Duh!
What happened in reality? A whole lot of rhetoric, with plenty of dealmaking on the side.
It goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway: Promoting the U.S. as a good place to do business is a worthy effort of any administration, and a convention center in Washington, DC full of potential business partners might not have been the most, uh, opportune time to address some of the fudgy statements made by those who addressed the crowd. So, that said: Your friends at the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) attended Select USA, heard a couple of whoppers, and have just got to correct the record. Yes, we’ve got the itch: The record must be corrected.
Day One: Walmart soaks up the love.
Shortly after Bill Simon -- CEO of the import-fueled retail leviathan that is the largest private employer in the United States -- participated in a panel discussion with a senior administration official, came a “big announcement” from the convention’s official Twitter handle:
Ahem.This big announcement amounted to a total of 385 jobs.
AAM is psyched that Walmart has determined that increasing it domestic procurement will help its image. But let’s not line a path with rose petals for a company whose purchasing strategy was solely responsible for 11 percent of America’s trade deficit with China (not to mention a lot of lost jobs) between 2001 and 2006.
Later in Day One: President Obama blesses the mic.
The president only spoke for fifteen minutes, but it was to a packed room and a friendly audience. He managed to slip this aside into his speech:
People are looking at lower energy costs here. They're looking at stability. They're looking at the increased productivity of our workers. All these things are adding up.
Emphasis added, because that gets claimed a lot. Obama said as much during his 2012 State of the Union, in fact.
But alas, it’s really more of a talking point provided by institutionalized statistical error. The Public Policy Institute’s Michael Mandel laid it out in an excellent article:
American workers ... often have little to do with the gains in productivity attributed to them. For instance, if Company A saves $250,000 simply by switching from a Japanese sprocket supplier to a much cheaper Chinese sprocket supplier, that change shows up as an increase in American productivity—just as if the company had saved $250,000 by making its warehouse operation in Chicago more efficient.
Movin' on to Day Two: Kerry and Froman talk trade
Secretary of State John Kerry kicked off the second day of the summit with a rousing speech about the potential for growth in the U.S. from domestic and foreign investments.
So what did the latest jobs report tell us? The manufacturing sector added only 2,000 jobs in September, while revised July and August data showed a loss of 2,000 manufacturing jobs. That means that manufacturing job growth has essentially flat-lined, and we’ve only added 12,000 manufacturing jobs this year.
Later, United States Trade Representative Michael Froman spoke on the progress of trade agreements, specifically the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP):
This is the second time in a week that Froman has made encouraging statements about the TPP. But addressing currency manipulation in the pacific trade agreement doesn't seem to be on the administration's radar, despite the concerns of the 230 Representatives, 60 Senators, and captains of American industry.
But okay! Okay, enough nitpicking. Here's what AAM did like about the the Select USA Summit: It was a step in the right direction, because, as learned minds have noted, attracting foreign direct investment is important for the American economy, let alone our domestic manufacturing sector.
The administration is right; there are plenty of reasons to invest in the United States. But if the administration is serious about injecting a little life into a stagnant American economy, this needs to move out of hotel covnention centers and away from the rhetoric. There's plenty it could do right now to spur job creation. Dealmaking at at DC summit is just a bunch of hot air if it doesn’t amount to real improvement -- real jobs -- for American citizens.
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