"There has never been a better time to invest in the United States,” Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said this week at a summit of global business leaders and investors in Washington.
Pritzker told an audience of more than 2,400 that the U.S. economy "is 14.4 percent larger than it was in 2009, 14.5 million more people are employed, and overall U.S. economic growth is significantly outpacing that of every other advanced nation.”
WATCH: Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker Speaks at SelectUSA
But investing in a market as big as the U.S. can be intimidating for many, especially for small and medium-size businesses.
“When they look at the U.S., they see 50 states plus the territories, so sometimes they just don’t know where to start,” said Felicia Pullam, director of outreach for SelectUSA, a Commerce Department-sponsored annual summit that promotes foreign direct investment in the United States.
It’s important, Pullam said, “to help people understand the system [and] find the transparency the federal, state and local governments offer, and here at the summit, companies can meet people that represent thousands of miles of U.S. territories, all in one room.”
As of 2013, U.S. affiliates of foreign companies directly employed 6.1 million people in the U.S., the Commerce Department said.
One of those companies, 85°C Bakery Cafe, has over 900 stores in Taiwan, China and Australia — and 19 locations in California.
“Our primary product is bread, but we do have cakes as well as beverages, such as coffee and tea,” Gloria Gorden, 85°C's human resources director, told VOA. "We are looking to expand in Texas, Washington state, D.C. and maybe New York.”
Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, center, sits with other guests at the SelectUSA investment summit in Washington, June 20, 2016.
Solid research advised
Establishing in California was not the easiest. Gorden said the state has a lot of rules and regulations to follow, and her company wishes it had done more research on the legal and regulatory aspects. "The ride would have been smoother, and finding a local partnership is also a must,” she advised newcomers.
Taner Basaga, general manager of flooring manufacturer Yildiz Entegre USA Inc., said his company has been in the U.S. for about six years, with locations in North Carolina and Alabama, and it hopes to build more plants in other parts of the U.S.
Basaga said getting started in the United States was easy for his company because "we came with capital, but we did a two-year pre-study.” He recommended that newcomers “spend a lot time and try to understand the country first” before establishing a business.
WATCH: Participants Discuss Opportunities, Plans at SelectUSA Summit
Other participants at SelectUSA were starting from scratch. Lingyan Andy Song, chief executive officer of JiangSu JingCheng Textile Co. Ltd., operates four factories in China. He told VOA he wanted to take advantage of the size of the U.S. market and hoped to strike some deals during the summit.
So did Nándor Nagy of Xanga and InnovAir, a real estate, marketing and development company based in Hungary. He told VOA that his firm wanted to open offices in the U.S. "because it’s a big market with great possibilities and strong rule of law. We’ve been here for five days and have visited Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., and are headed to Charlotte after the summit” to scout locations.
Pitch for the South
The tendency for many investors is to concentrate on better-known U.S. cities such as New York, Washington, Chicago, San Francisco and others. But Gene Stinson, president of Southern Economic Development Council, was at the summit to sell the “unbeatable potential” of doing business in 17 states in the South.
Whether it’s manufacturing, automotive, aerospace, banking or health care, "transportation, energy and labor costs are lower in our region than in other parts of the U.S.,” he told VOA.
Douglas Devereaux, program manager with the Manufacturing Extension Partnership at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, said some summit participants had questions about such matters as the availability of skills and how to transfer their existing technologies in America.
“We hope to introduce services that are provided by the federal, state government and private sector partners to any manufacturer coming to the United States," Devereaus told VOA. "There is a network in 580 locations that can serve these manufacturers" in such areas as workforce issues, supply chain development, compliance with domestic and international standards, process improvement and productivity.”
This was the third SelectUSA summit, and participation rates have gone from “1,300 the first year to 2,400 this year, with over 1,000 people who came from other countries, and 70 different foreign markets represented," Pullam said. "We have U.S. participants from 52 states and territories.”
WATCH: Excerpt of Obama's Keynote Address at SelectUSA Summit
In his keynote address to the gathering on Monday, President Barack Obama insisted that "no country can match our competitiveness in cutting-edge manufacturing. ... No country has done more to build a culture of making and tinkering, and entrepreneurship and risk-taking, and of innovation and invention. And no other country is home to more foreign direct investment than the United States."
The president also said that the summit was "not just about jobs and trade, it's not just about hard, cold cash. It's also about building relationships across borders." The value of that should not be underestimated, he said.