WisBusiness: Commerce secretary sees manufacturing as economic bright spot

MILWAUKEE — Acting U.S. Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank says the U.S. economy can continue to move forward by increasing consumer spending and spurring innovation in manufacturing, while boosting “insourcing” of jobs and exports.

Speaking at the University Club in Milwaukee Monday afternoon, Blank expressed optimism about manufacturing and the potential for companies to increase investments in creating jobs in America. She said manufacturing has been a bright spot over the last two years and continued innovation will keep American manufacturing in the lead.

“These are good jobs that pay well,” said Blank, who was joined by Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and County Exec Chris Abele.

Blank cited her department’s efforts to develop a national network for manufacturing as an an example of working with regional areas to advance new technologies.

“We’re not selecting winners here as much as we’re trying to facilitate and jump start a process that’s already happening,” Blank said.

“Now we have limited amounts of dollars,” she noted. “Therefore we are going to pick the best. We can’t give it to everyone.”

She said increases in U.S. energy production, strong universities and a consumer-driven economy will lead to more investments in job creation.

“I am very optimistic about the opportunities we are going to have in the next five years to increase investment in the United States,” she said.

She also recounted the impact of the Obama administration’s economic efforts on Milwaukee and Wisconsin, noting the monthly job losses when the president took office were greater than the population of Milwaukee.

“It is easy to forget how quickly our economy was spiraling downward in 2008,” Blank said.

She also acknowledged the economy is not where it could be.

“The challenge is how do we accelerate this,” Blank said of signs that the economy is growing.

Blank also noted the need to address the national debt.

“I’m an economist. I’m worried about the national debt,” she said, but added there needs to be a balanced approach to fixing the nation’s fiscal situation.

She said a little bit of budget discipline each year, not dramatic cuts during a time of weak economic growth, will help fix the debt situation.

Barrett said Blank did very good job of laying out why reasons for increased optimism in the U.S. economy.

“Everything is done in comparison, and by comparison the United States is looking better,” Barrett said.

Blank said not all industries and sectors will recover at the same pace as manufacturing; housing was one area Blank said would be slower to recover.

“It was a rather deep recession. It takes a while to get out of that, but we have the right fundamentals in place and we are moving in the right direction,” she said.

See Blank’s prepared remarks from the speech

— By Arthur Thomas