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President Barack Obama spoke yesterday at a gathering of foreign business leaders. The initiative called Select USA is a program that brings together the U.S. State Department and the Commerce Department to help foreign companies set up businesses in the U.S.
President Obama told business leaders, “When you bet on America, that bet pays off.” But will they be deterred by the political dysfunction in Washington?
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Business leaders from around the world are in Washington today for an event hoping to convince investors that the U.S. is open for business. The event was headlined yesterday by President Obama, who addressed the summit and made a pitch to foreign investors.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I want your companies to know - I want companies around the world to know - that I believe there is no better place in the world to do business than the United States of America. Think about it. Globalization and technology means you can go just about anywhere. But there are a whole lot of reasons you ought to come here.
HOBSON: Well, it's not every day you hear the president of the United States making a sales pitch like that. NPR senior business editor Marilyn Geewax has been at the event. She joins us now. Marilyn, what was this all about?
MARILYN GEEWAX, BYLINE: Jobs. That's really what it's all about. The president knows that he needs to create more jobs to have a better economic legacy, and it's been tough getting those jobs going in the United States. So foreign money coming here - opening a steel mill, an auto plant, a chemical plant - boy, that's all gravy for the economy.
So the administration wants to focus on that, and they've done it with this program called SelectUSA where they're trying to get everyone on the same page. They had all of these top officials there, all the highest-ranking economic advisors for the administration as well as Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker. And the thing that made it kind of different was Secretary of State John Kerry.
HOBSON: Well - and that's the thing that's interesting here, is that why does the U.S. have to work so hard to sell itself to foreign investors?
GEEWAX: Well, you know, sometimes you're just overseas and you don't - you know you'd like to invest in the United States, but it can be complicated. There's language barriers. You don't know all the rules. So that's why they're bringing the State Department into this. They want to knock down those barriers between commerce and state and have them work together. So they're going to have 32 ambassadors who now have a core mission. Not only do they have to be diplomatic, but they're also going to be, in effect, economic advisors.
So, say, you're a business person in Brazil and you think, gosh, I'd love to do some business in the United States. How do I get started? You can knock on the door of the U.S. Embassy. They'll welcome you in and say, look, here's the process. We'll hook you up. And not only does it take you into the federal bureaucracy to help you out, but the big thing there, too, was there were all these exhibits set up with state and local booths so that they also reached down to the local level and connect that business person from overseas with the local person.
HOBSON: Well - and who was there from overseas? What was the turnout like?
GEEWAX: Oh, it was amazing, actually. It was quite a turnout. There were 1,200 people there. I talked to quite a few different people, and they were all, you know, sometimes you feel it's just so negative in the United States. You know, we hear all the terrible news about the government shutdown and jobs (unintelligible) And then you talk to these foreign business people, and they're like, oh, my goodness. This place is wonderful.
GEEWAX: Look at all the business opportunities. They see it totally differently. They're like, oh, this is great. There is much less paperwork than in my country. You have a good court system. Your contract law makes sense to us. There's transparency. There's liquidity. They want to do business here. They're actually quite excited about the U.S. economy, and they want to find ways in.
And, you know, we really are this giant magnet for foreign direct investments. You'd think, from our perspective, a lot of times when you see jobs leave - and sometimes they do. They do go overseas. But a lot come here, and there's a lot of money pouring into the United States, building real estate, doing all kinds of things that create jobs for us. And that was really the focus of this, was to get people all on the same page.
And, you know, some of those exhibits were so darn cute. It was like - because I'm originally from Ohio, I went straight to the Ohio booth...
HOBSON: Of course.
GEEWAX: ...and they were handing out chocolate candies in the shape of buckeyes, buckeye nuts, and that was great. So, you know, there were business people talking with them, and it was really a neat event.
HOBSON: NPR senior business editor Marilyn Geewax, thanks as always.
GEEWAX: Oh, you're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.