Commerce Sec. Penny Pritzker on our export economy

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker speaks during a discussion at the Atlantic Magazine May 13, 2014 in Washington, D.C.

American cities exported $1.4 trillion in goods and services in 2013, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday. That includes everything from manufacturing to secondhand goods, scrap, mining and agriculture.

Two states benefit most in dollars and in number of jobs from the export economy: Texas and California. That may not be a surprise, given the vast area and population in both places, but some of the cities showing growth from exports may be: Kansas City, Missouri; Youngstown, Ohio; Detroit. 

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker joined Marketplace's Kai Ryssdal to dig into the findings. 

What kinds of jobs are being created by exports?
Of the goods jobs, 88 percent of them are manufacturing jobs that are created. Those are good jobs. But in general, the exporting jobs that are being created pay 13 to 18 percent more than the average job. We're very excited about that, and 1.6 million Americans have new jobs since 2009 because of exports. 

I ask this question against the backdrop of an economy growing at 4.2 percent on an annualized rate, we learned last week...
Isn't that exciting?

It's great news, but here's the thing, to your report: You can't export your way to growth, right? Because everything we export, somebody else has to buy. With the dollar at highs and with slowdowns in Europe and Asia, how confident are you that this export-led growth can continue?
I am confident. We have doubled exports to over 30 countries around the world. There are a lot of countries that want our goods and services, and one of the things we want to do is help our companies export, because that'll continue to support the kind of GDP growth we've been seeing. 

One of the things that happens when exports are a topic of conversation is that the Export-Import Bank comes up, that government agency that helps finance exports for a lot of American companies. There's a great political brouhaha right now in Washington over whether to renew the charter when it comes due. Why do we need the government to be helping in this way?
It's absolutely imperative that we reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, and I'll tell you why. Sixty other countries have export-import banks. The Export-Import Bank over the last five years has supported the creation of 1.2 million jobs in the United States. We can't afford not to have this tool in our tool chest. 

Speaking of who is doing these jobs, last time we spoke [January 2014], I asked you about the prospects for immigration reform. You said you were confident it would be done in the first half of this year. I'm going to give you the opportunity for a Mulligan here, Madam Secretary. 
Well, the reason for supporting immigration reform has not gone away. First of all, we have a moral responsibility to deal with the 11 million undocumented individuals living in our country. But we also have an economic opportunity that comes with immigration reform.

If you look from a more technology and STEM standpoint, we know that over 50 percent of students in most STEM fields that are getting a master's or Ph.D. are immigrants. So this is crazy. We're educating all these terrific young people, they're here in the country. If they want to stay, why shouldn't we encourage them to stay? It would be good for our businesses, too. They need this kind of talent. I know where we're at, but I believe that pragmatism and the reality will win out [...] and that we will get some kind of action on immigration reform. 

I won't ask you to speak for your boss, but do you anticipate that action to be executive action from the White House, most likely after the election?
Well you know what, since you hang out with my boss, I'll let you ask him that question. 

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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