The U.S. is embarking on a new effort to attract more foreign investment to boost the sluggishly advancing American economy.
The U.S. boasts the world's largest economy, but President Barack Obama announced plans Thursday to start a national government effort to lure more overseas companies to its shores, especially businesses that would expand the U.S. labor market. Until now, such missions to attract offshore investments have typically been left to governors of the 50 U.S. states and mayors of big cities.
The White House said it would use its SelectUSA program to make job-creating foreign investment a priority at its embassies overseas. It said the focus first would be on 32 key regional markets that already account for 90 percent of foreign investment in the U.S.
In the past, senior government leaders have often made pitches to individual foreign companies, but the new effort calls for a more coordinated effort that includes officials all the way up to Mr. Obama. The president and key government economic officials are hosting the country's first Investment Summit Thursday and Friday in Washington, an event that has attracted 1,200 visitors from 60 countries.
In a speech at the gathering, Mr. Obama cited numerous foreign companies that have already opened U.S. operations. He told the group he wants foreign business executives to know there is "no better place in the world to do business" than the U.S.
"History shows over the last two centuries that when you bet on America, that bet pays off."
The new investment search appears to be a recognition that the U.S. is not always viewed as a favorable venue for business investment, especially compared to countries where companies routinely pay workers much lower wages.
As recently as 2000, the U.S. attracted 37 percent of the world's foreign investment, a share that has fallen to 17 percent. Foreign companies made $166 billion in direct investments in the U.S. last year, a 28 percent drop from 2011.
The U.S. economy is advancing at slightly more than a 2 percent annual pace. But even as it edges ahead, the country's jobless rate has by its historical standards remained at an elevated figure, 7.2 percent in September. Some economists say the U.S. government's recent 16-day partial shutdown will take $24 billion out of the economy in the last three months of the year.