Gary Locke has run a tight ship as secretary of the giant U.S. Department of Commerce, saving taxpayers billions of dollars on such large projects as the national census and the conversion to digital broadcast TV. Now the former Washington state governor is leading a new effort to double the nation’s exports over five years.
Life in Washington, D.C.: [It’s] hot and humid in the summer. There are lots of bugs. I brought my lawnmower with me from Seattle in the moving van. I had to take three passes over our yard, lowering the adjustment each time to get it right. They have a tougher variety of grass there. [But] we are still firmly committed to Seattle. My daughter keeps saying she has to graduate from a Seattle high school.
First job: I worked in my father’s grocery store stocking the shelves, sweeping the floor, making deliveries, working at the cash register. Dad opened the store at 9 a.m. after picking up the groceries, and wouldn’t come home until 10:30 p.m. He worked seven days a week, 14 hours a day. He wouldn’t even close the store at Christmas or New Year’s.
Life lessons: Small businesses are overwhelmed with so many things. We in government have to be more responsive. One of our first initiatives [in D.C.] was to allow businesses to access services from all the different branches of government such as the Small Business Administration and the Department of Labor from one location. We started in Detroit and now we are rolling it out across the country.
Patents: Today, it takes an average of three years to get a patent. If you are working out of your garage and you come out with a great invention, you need that patent. The longer we hold that up, the longer we hold off job creation. The one thing I brought from the governor’s office was to have quantifiable goals. Our goal for patents is [for applicants] to complete the process in one year.
Trade friction: The number of complaints filed by companies [alleging dumping and subsidized exports from companies in places like China] has risen dramatically. When China entered the WTO, they promised there would not be a huge surge of exports that would injure local companies. But when there was a big flood of tire imports, the Bush administration failed to act. We imposed tariffs on tires coming into the United States. We feel that it is important to use these tools to enforce existing agreements so that the American public and members of Congress will be supportive of other trade agreements.
Chinese favoritism: We are very concerned about China’s proposed regulations to promote indigenous innovation by favoring their own companies’ technology in government procurement, and requiring [U.S. companies] to make minority investments [in joint ventures] in order to sell in China. Because of our vocal opposition to this in concert with other governments, the Chinese have not gone ahead with this.
Intellectual property protection: There is progress being made. American companies are winning in court, getting their rights enforced. The Chinese are beginning to understand that as they innovate, as their own inventors and entrepreneurs come up with new technologies, they want a very strong intellectual property protection regime.
U.S. economy: A lot of people have misunderstood the $800 billion recovery act. One third of it went to tax relief for working families, another third of it went for assistance to the states—taking care of road and bridge repair projects that have to be done sooner or later, and by doing it sooner, it’s cheaper and you stimulate the private sector. But a lot of it also went to leveraging private sector investment. We need sustainable long-term job creation, and a lot of that is going to be in innovation. A lot of money is going into the private sector, whether it is for tax incentives for R&D or allowing companies that are spending on plants and equipment to write it off right away instead of over 20 years. If people are on the fence about whether to invest, if you do it now, that lowers your taxes substantially. That increases factory orders and that has a stimulus effect, a ripple effect throughout the economy.
Recovery: Washington [state] might rebound faster [than the rest of the country] because there is huge demand for the state’s products and services, whether it’s agriculture, Boeing airplanes, environmental cleanup in developing countries, water systems engineering or medical devices. There is a huge affection for American brands because they stand for quality. The leaders of Vietnam would much prefer to buy products and services from the United States than from China. Those communist leaders openly brag about how they send their children to be educated in the United States for MBA degrees. When you think of the needs of developing countries, there is an enormous opportunity for win-win situations.
Export expansion: We’re partnering with UPS and FedEx to go after that 50 percent of companies that are just exporting to one country to get them to export to other countries. Since they already understand customs and currency issues, it’s a lot easier. Companies can go to a foreign assistance center in Seattle and say they would like to export a product to, say, Hungary or Vietnam, and they will line up 10 companies in those countries for you to talk to. It’s like speed dating. People rave about it.
Protecting U.S. jobs: You are actually seeing a lot of manufacturing come back to the United States. Even some Chinese companies want to set up operations here. We need to make sure these projects aren’t bogged down by red tape. We are also promoting tourism through a new travel promotion corporation. We assess a fee on visitors from other countries and we market America around the world—everything from natural attractions like Mount Rainier to Las Vegas.