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Mayors Launch Metro Exports, Ports Initiative
Jacksonville to Host National Meeting February 23–25

By Dave Gatton
January 30, 2012

Saying that U.S. export systems are fragmented, unfocused and not integrated to get the greatest return on investment, Conference Mayors President Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced a major initiative to encourage mayors from across the country to develop comprehensive metro export plans to create jobs and spur economic growth.

Speaking to the plenary session of The U.S. Conference of Mayors Winter meeting January 19 in Washington (DC), Villaraigosa dubbed the effort the "Export Ready Metro Challenge" that will be spearheaded by the newly formed Metro Exports and Ports Task Force, chaired by Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown.

Partnering with the Brookings Institution, the Conference of Mayors Task Force will assist mayors in developing export strategies that pull together the disparate players and issues necessary to increase exports.

Villaraigosa's remarks kicked-off a plenary panel moderated by Pulitzer prize winning, Washington Post journalist Mary Jordan, who told the mayors that only one percent of U.S. businesses exported. She said the world's rapidly growing middle class wants to buy U.S. products, citing her recent visit to England where Virginia wine has become popular in British pubs. "For a long time it was enough to sell to the U.S. market, but now there are billions of new consumers overseas," she said.

Undersecretary of Commerce for International Trade Francesco Sanchez announced he, along with his fellow panelists, were "self-proclaimed trade evangelist." "Ninety-five percent the world's consumers live outside the U.S., and 85 percent of the projected world economic growth will happen outside our borders," he told the mayors. He cited rapid economic growth and urbanization of China, Brazil and India as examples of future opportunities.

Sanchez also said that U.S. seaports played a critical role in U.S. export strategy. U.S. seaports handle 78 percent of all exports by tonnage, and 36 percent by value. Yet he acknowledge that U.S. shippers often complain of infrastructure and policy impediments that dramatically slow the movement of U.S. goods, resulting in lost sales.

He told the mayors that the federal government, acting alone, could not achieve President Obama's goal of doubling exports in five years. "We must work with cities across the country," he said.

Following the Undersecretary's remarks, Brown announced that a national meeting on Metro Exports and Ports would be held February 23-25 in Jacksonville. "We will expand on all these themes in more detail at the meeting," he said, "but one objective is to identify how we can make our ports more globally competitive by making the infrastructure improvements they need."

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, who serves as the Task Force's vice-chair, said there were three things the mayors should do to develop export strategies. First, get real data, and create a base line for what is currently exported in a particular metro area; second, create a template from which an export strategy can be developed; and third, convene the disparate players within the metro area that must be a part of the strategy, including universities, businesses, unions, workforce training, and others.

Bruce Katz, Vice President of Metro Economies at the Brookings Institution, echoed Rybak's comments. "Only the mayor can pull together the advanced manufacturing and services industries, skills training organizations, and infrastructure planners that must work together," he said. "Mayors are the hub of these sectors…they serve as the coordinating role," he said.

Katz said the first job of the mayor is to make the case locally for exports and investment as part of a job growth strategy. With domestic demand crippled, he said that overseas markets are key to new job creation in the U.S., but that strategies must be localized and tailored to particular metro economies. "Traditionally we have left export strategy to the federal government and states," he said, "but we are quintessentially a nation of metro economies."

The panelists agreed that the opportunity to export was there for the taking, but that export strategies must be developed at the metro level to take full advantage. Sanchez said that of the one percent of U.S. companies that export, 58 percent export to only one market. "Imagine what would happen if we could expand each of those exported products to just one more market," he told the mayors.