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Business Roundtable (BRT) is an association of chief executive officers of leading U.S. companies working to promote sound public policy and a thriving U.S. economy.

Midwestern governors highlight trade in State of State addresses

Feb 6, 2012
Carter Wood

Reading through three midwestern governors' State of the State addresses, we're pleased to see the recurring emphasis on trade, exports and foreign direct investment -- all connected to job-creation.

In Illinois, Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, used his Feb. 1 speech to announce the creation of an Export Advisory Council. From the release:

“Illinois is home to world-class goods and services, and we should utilize all of our assets in order to market them around the world,” Governor Quinn said. “Expanding trade opportunities in growth markets like China, Australia, Brazil and India puts Illinois products in the international marketplace and creates jobs here at home.”

The council, which is headed by Navistar chairman and CEO Daniel C. Ustian, will work to increase exports by providing recommendations on state policies and programs with the goal of fully leveraging Illinois’ competitive strengths in the international marketplace. The council will also advise the Governor on trade advocacy positions at the federal level, and council members will serve as international ambassadors for Illinois. Members will work to promote Illinois firms and the inherent advantages Illinois can offer countries seeking trade opportunities.

“The key for Illinois manufacturers and other businesses is to foster a strong environment for growth, and Governor Quinn shares my passion for creating those opportunities by developing a strong trade policy,” said Ustian. “We have great companies and Illinois is rich in assets and talented workers. With business leaders and the Governor’s administration working together, we can gain a competitive edge in the global economy.”

Navistar's Ustian is a CEO-member of Business Roundtable, and the council's membership roster also includes BRT members Doug Oberhelman of Caterpillar, Inc. -- he chairs BRT's International Engagement Committee -- and Michael Brown, chairman and CEO of Motorola Solutions.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, declared with pride, "It's clear the world wants what Missouri's got: Cotton and chemicals. Soybeans and semiconductors. F-150s and F-15s." However, Missouri's exports are not just limited to Fortune 500 companies, he said, but also include small businesses and family farms. One example is Forrest Keeling Nursery in Elsberry, a nursery that grows more than 250 types of trees, shrubs and grasses, selling productsw around the world. The governor welcomed CEO Wayne Lovelace and his family to the statehouse, declaring, "Because of companies like this, Missouri exports were up by $1.2 billion in the first three quarters of 2011. And that was on top of our outstanding 35 percent growth in 2010."

In his Jan. 17 address, Nixon further embraced the opportunity represented by the Chinese market.

[With] the new trade offices we'll be opening soon in China, Southeast Asia and South America, we're taking the "Made in Missouri" brand global.  

Last fall, I led a delegation of more than 60 Missouri business and agricultural leaders to China, where we signed agreements to sell $4.6 billion worth of Missouri products. 

Because, I don't know about you ... but I think it's time the guy in Beijing walked into his local store and saw "Made in America" stickers on the products he's buying.

Gov. Terry Branstad (R-IA), last month delivering his 17th (!) State of the State address -- or in Iowa, a "Condition of the State" speech -- made an observation about global competition that BRT President John Engler, a former governor of Michigan, often makes, as well:

The simple truth is Iowa no longer only competes against other states for attracting new jobs, careers, economic development, and investment.

We now compete in a worldwide economy.  We must compete with Brazilian ethanol, with Chinese production of technology, and with every other emerging nation ready to claim our economic mantle.

Branstad recalled a trade and investment misssion he took last September to Korea, China and Japan. In Beijing, he met with Vice President Xi Jinping, who visited Iowa in 1985 as a Hebei Province party official, meeting with Gov. Branstad back then. Slated to be elevated to general secretary, Xi returns to Iowa on Wednesday, Feb. 15. (Xi's father, then governor of Guangdong, had also visited Iowa in 1980 as part of a delegation.)

In his speech, Branstad again put the ties in a global context:

Out of that meeting [in Beijing] one message was clear: for Iowa to compete in the future, we must compete globally.

On that trip, I met with companies in each country I visited.  I was able to communicate a message that Iowa is open for business and poised for growth–a message that Iowa is full of hard-working citizens who are ready to work. 

As a result of those efforts, we convinced South Korean company CJ to invest $324 million in the Fort Dodge area and bring 180 great jobs to Iowa.

However, companies abroad should not be the sole source of our growth.  

American companies have seen the work we have collectively done to enhance stability in our state through our fiscal discipline. 

As a result, numerous companies have announced their relocation or expansion plans for Iowa.  Cargill purchased the Tate & Lyle’s plant in Fort Dodge and will create over 100 new jobs in Webster County and provide another market for Iowa corn.

ALCOA is investing nearly $300 million in their Davenport factory where they will begin producing automotive aluminum to meet the rising demand for lighter and more fuel efficient vehicles.

Lesson from the governors? If you compete, you can succeed.