U.S. small businesses are surging into the global marketplace like never before. And, if Secretary of Commerce Mickey Kantor has his way, the trend will only continue.
Kantor became the 31st Secretary of Commerce on April 12, replacing Ron Brown, who died in a plane crash on a trade mission to Bosnia and Croatia. Before that, Kantor had served as U.S. Trade Representative for three years, negotiating more than 200 agreements to expand international trade, including an auto manufacturing and auto parts sales compromise with Japan.
As Commerce Secretary, Kantor's goals include generating new jobs through increased exports, expanding markets abroad and encouraging entrepreneurship. In this exclusive interview, Kantor shares some specifics with Entrepreneur.
Entrepreneur:What are your plans to promote U.S. exports and foreign deals?
Mickey Kantor: We've tried to [promote U.S. exports] in two or three very important ways. First, the president realized when he came to office that we had to restore the domestic economy. He's done that in a dramatic fashion.
[There are now] 10 million new jobs. More businesses [have been] created in the last 42 months than in any comparable period in all of American history. Four million [people are] new home buyers. The deficit has been cut by more than 60 percent. We have the smallest federal government since President Kennedy was inaugurated in 1961. Ninety-three percent of the new jobs created have been in the private [sector]. And, for three straight years, the United States has been the most productive and competitive nation on earth. That's the first time that's happened in 10 years. This is clearly the strongest domestic economy we've had in decades.
Step two [has been] opening markets by negotiating trade agreements. To supplement those agreements, we have [strictly] enforced our trade laws. Along with that, we implemented a trade promotion coordinating committee and policy, started by Secretary Brown, who did a fantastic job making sure we created a network of Export Assistance Centers.
The combination of these factors has led to month after month of record exports for the United States. We are by far the largest exporting nation on earth. We are the largest producer of automobiles and semiconductors in the world.
Entrepreneur:You've said you want to fine-tune small-business assistance programs. Which programs are you looking at, and how will you hone them?
Kantor: We've created Export Assistance Centers around the nation that bring together the Ex-Im Bank, the Small Business Administration and the Commerce Department to promote and help finance [international] trade, especially with small and medium-sized businesses. After all, 80 percent of the new jobs created in this economy are created by small and medium-sized companies. Our goal with these Export Assistance Centers is to make sure we help those businesses as much as possible.
Entrepreneur:What role does small business play in expansion of our trade globally?
Kantor: Small and medium-sized businesses represent about 12 percent of U.S. exports. That's a fairly large number. Still, we would like to see it grow. That's why we are aggressively targeting [small and medium-sized] businesses with better technical assistance, more outreach, improved trade facilitation and new export mechanisms.
The Department of Commerce alone counseled 41,000 small businesses [last year]. I'm thinking of the small companies I've visited that are now beneficiaries of a global economy. A huge percentage of business now comes from overseas. Atlanta Saw, in Atlanta, Georgia, has only 200 employees but now exports to 60 or 70 companies. It makes saw blades for butcher shops and sends them all over the world.
Entrepreneur:So clearly, major U.S. corporations aren't the only players in the global marketplace?
Kantor: That's right. And we're trying to make sure everyone can participate in what has become an explosion of global activity.
Entrepreneur:You've said you believe our most important assets as a country in competing in the global economy are the skills of our people. What do you mean by that?
Kantor: You can transfer technology and shift money around the globe in the blink of an eye, move management, even create companies overseas . . . but you can't compete and win in the global economy unless you have the best educated people in the world. Businessperson after businessperson tells me [what] they need most is trained workers. It's beginning to happen, but we have to make sure we invest in our most precious asset--human beings.