Commerce’s Pritzker lays out her priorities

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker plans to announce a new vision for the agency Thursday, outlining efforts to boost exports, spur more foreign investment in the United States, expand worker training and allow companies to better tap government data.

Pritzker, a longtime Chicago businesswoman who joined Commerce in June, will announce the strategy after four months of traveling throughout the country and abroad, talking to companies about how the government can better serve their needs. The travel and talks are part of an overall effort to grow the economy and create jobs.

In an interview Wednesday, she said the principles meant to guide Commerce could be summarized as trade and investment, innovation and data. “This is [an] agenda that reflects my listening tour and also reflects our voice at the department as the voice of business,” Pritzker said.

In some ways, she is trying to follow through on President Obama’s first-term idea to merge a hodgepodge of federal agencies and create a “secretary of business.” Such integration may seem unlikely at the moment, but on her first day at Commerce, Pritzker hung a sign on her door: “Open for Business.”

“That simple phrase captures it all,” Pritzker plans to tell executives Thursday at a Washington meeting, according to excerpts of her remarks. “It shows that we are focused on our most important customer — business leaders like you and the conditions necessary for your companies to grow.”

In the interview, Pritzker said U.S. companies want help mainly in two areas: expanding trade and foreign investment, and developing more skilled workers.

The administration is pursuing trade deals with Asia and Europe and other efforts to entice foreigners to buy U.S. goods and services.

“Trade must become a bigger part of the DNA of our economy,” Pritzker says in her remarks.

Late last month, she helped to lead the first SelectUSA summit — a gathering in Washington attended by top U.S. officials trying to recruit foreign investment.

Pritzker said Commerce would also focus for the first time on improving the skill set of U.S. workers. She noted that 4 million Americans have been unemployed for more than six months. A nearly equivalent number of jobs are open across the country.

Commerce, she said, will focus on expanding a network of manufacturing hubs that connect colleges with companies in hopes of training workers.

Her final priority will be to make more government data available to companies. Her department includes the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis. And the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration produces, for instance, two terabytes of weather and climate data daily — equivalent to 2,000 gigabytes — that support businesses from the Weather Channel to smartphone apps.

Pritzker plans to tout an initiative to make more NOAA data available that “will help more entrepreneurs launch businesses.”

“We will work throughout our Department, across government, and with industry to make even more data standardized and easy to use,” she says in her remarks.

Zachary A. Goldfarb is policy editor at The Washington Post.

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