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Secretary Clinton's Global Diaspora Forum

As Prepared for Delivery

Fred P. Hochberg

May 18, 2011 – Washington, D.C.

I have been asked to talk today about export opportunities for the large community of citizens of the world who come to America and start businesses.

But behind each of those export opportunities is an equally important story about imports. America has been one of the most successful importers of entrepreneurs the world has ever produced.

From Andy Grove, the founder of Intel, to Sergey Brin, the creator of Google, from Indra Nooyi, the CEO of Pepsi, to small business owners in communities across the country.

America has succeeded because we are an importer of the most talented, most creative, most industrious men and women in the world.

These individuals are building and running innovative businesses that export around the globe. They are transforming industries and changing the way we see the world.

We are both an import nation - and export nation. And that is why I am so excited to be here today to talk about how we can help more immigrant business owners, sell more products, to more customers around the world.

As I look around this room, I see America's strength - and I see our future. And I am reminded of my own family's story.

My family, like many others, came to this country to escape persecution. For us, it was at the hands of the Nazi's - and the rise of Hitler in Germany.

It was 1933 in Leipzig. After my mother's brother—for whom I was named—was chased home - and then thrown down a flight of stairs, my grandfather decided it was time to pack it up. It was the final act. They settled temporarily in Amsterdam.

And from there my grandfather sought safe haven and a new beginning for his family in America in 1937. They came to these shores with little more than their hopes, their dreams - and their desire to pursue a better life.

They came to escape religious intolerance—to find acceptance, and in search of the American Dream.

My grandfather was a businessman in Germany. And he looked to America because of the way it celebrated entrepreneurialism and opened its doors to outsiders seeking opportunity.

Once in New York, he built a small leather factory. Years later, my mother—with $2,000 in wedding gifts—followed in her father's footsteps, starting her own business….a mail order company…. at our kitchen table. We still have that yellow Formica table.

Her goal was simple: She wanted to make sure that her children and her family could have access to everything America had to offer. She started out small. All she initially wanted was an extra $50 a week.

In the early days we didn't even have enough money for an adding machine. I remember going down to our local bank with her, checks in hand, because the bank manager would lend us his.

But, over time, those checks grew, sales rose - and my mother's ambitions and business began to take off. Only in this country - with our entrepreneurial spirit and enduring drive toward opportunity - would her story even be possible.

My mother, through hard work, sacrifice and perseverance, grew that business - into the Lillian Vernon Corporation—a company which I ran for more than 20 years.

We took it public - and built its international presence. That's my family's American story - and our American Dream.

And the opportunity to make that story - and that dream possible - for others is one of our central goals at the Export-Import Bank of the United States. We do it by working with people like Mukund and Kusum Kavia.

The Kavias were born in Kenya, grew up in England - and then moved to the United States, with little more than the clothes on their backs.

Since their arrival, over the last twenty years, they have built a growing business called Combustion Associates in Corona, California. They started as environmental consultants and later moved into manufacturing.

Today, their family business, with 40 employees, is completing multi-million dollar sales of electric power generating systems around the globe. 80 percent of their sales are exports.

And Ex-Im Bank is providing the accounts receivable insurance they need to make those sales possible. This allows Combustion to extend credit terms to their foreign buyers. Because we can cover the risk of non-payment.

One of the area's they are focused on is Africa. Since they were born in Kenya, they not only have an understanding, but also an affinity for the region. And you know that is critical to doing business abroad.

In fact, because of their knowledge and expertise, the Prime Minister of Kenya recently appointed them to a foundation that is working to provide guidance and recommendations on infrastructure building in Kenya.

And their work is not only helping to ensure that their homeland is able to power up—and that electricity is more equitably distributed throughout the region—but they are creating good jobs and economic development opportunities - both in the California community where they live, and in markets around the world.

Business leaders like the Kavias make America strong - and they will ensure that their adopted country and homeland both continue to prosper.

It was President Kennedy who wrote, A Nation of Immigrants, about what he believed to be the secret of America.

We are a nation of people with fresh memory of old traditions who dared to explore new frontiers.

That story continues to be told and retold each and every day. It is why there is such richness and diversity in our culture. From which we can draw the most talented, most creative and most passionate individuals.

Our diversity is our strength - and our competitive edge in the global marketplace. And it is why America continues to be the greatest place in the world to build and grow a business.

I get to see these businesses in action every day. They are companies like Aquatech in Pennsylvania.

Aquatech was founded in 1981 by Prem Sharma, an Indian born and educated chemical engineer, who worked in water treatment in India, Canada and the United States.

When Mr. Sharma was ready to build his own business, he set up shop in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania--outside of Pittsburg. When he passed away, he left the company to his wife and sons.

His sons, Venkee and Devesh, have honored their father's vision - and have built the company into a globally recognized leader in water treatment….with customers in India, China, the Middle East, Asia and across Europe.

And at Ex-Im, we have worked with Aquatech for more than 16 years to ensure they have the financing they need to reach these new markets and new customers.The company is one of the largest users of our small business working capital program.

It ensures that Aquatech has the funds to purchase the raw materials they need to fulfill the growing global demand for their products and services.

Today, exports make up almost 70 percent of Aquatech's business, up from 10 percent when they first started working with Ex-Im. And we are pleased to have worked with them to help finance that impressive export growth.

Global Access

One of the things that President Obama emphasized when he was launching the National Export Initiative - his plan to double exports in five years - was that small- and medium-size businesses need to be front and center as we build an export economy.

And there is no community more suited to ensure that American business can reach these global customers than the men and women in this room - and the people you work with. And there is no community more central to helping us navigate international markets.

That is why we created Global Access for Small Business. This program is a model for how government and the private sector can come together to support American business, stimulate private sector jobs, and strengthen our long-term economic growth through exports.

It's about taking your understanding of global markets - and ensuring that you have the access to capital to make selling to those markets a viable and growing part of our economy.

What's stopping many small businesses from selling overseas? Worry. Fear. Fear of non-payment. Fear of putting their entire business at risk.

I hear it all the time. Small business owners say to me: I know how to collect from my customers in New Jersey, New York and New Mexico.

But what if a customer in New Zealand doesn't pay?

Global Access helps small business owners have the peace of mind and security to sell their products in the global marketplace by removing the fear of non-payment--and ensuring access to capital when commercial banks are unwilling to take on the risk.

I want businesses focused on making the best products and competing for sales. If they focus on that, we'll take care of the risk.

One of those businesses is DemeTech, a medical supply company in Miami, Florida. DemeTech was started by Luis Arguello, a Nicaraguan immigrant who grew up in New Orleans.

Today, with the assistance of Ex-Im's multibuyer program, Luis is selling his products to more than 80 countries, including many in Central America.

Luis recently had his first $1 million sales month. And since he began working with Ex-Im, his sales have increased 6 or 7 times. More than 60 of DemeTech's 100 employees are working today to fill orders supported by Ex-Im.

And export sales now make up 90 percent of DemeTech's business. And this year they are on track to reach $15 million in sales. I want to help more businessmen and women like Luis, like the Kavias and the Sharmas.

Because I sincerely believe that immigrant business owners have always been one of our nation's strongest assets - our greatest imports - and our most effective ambassadors around the world.

Who better appreciates America's values, our ideals and what our nation has to offer. And who better to inject vitality and a global vision into our economy and our business community.

That's why our goals for Global Access are both concrete and ambitious.

By 2015, we plan to:

  • Approve $30 billion in total small business authorizations
  • Double our annual small business volume
  • And add 5,000 small businesses to our portfolio

The truth is: We cannot grow our economy without growing exports, and we cannot grow exports without small businesses.

And it is immigrant business leaders who have a unique understanding - and appreciation - of these export markets.

To help their companies, we are holding 20 Global Access forums across the country to build awareness for our products and services.

We are partnering with the Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers and our financial services partners so we have the most impact and the widest reach.

We are coordinating our efforts with the Small Business Administration, the Commerce Department, the US Trade Representative and other government agencies.

We are offering financial products - like supply chain financing and express insurance - which are designed specifically to meet the needs of small business. And I want to work with all of you to better identify companies and opportunities within your communities.

I need your help in reaching out to diaspora communities, so that we can reach more immigrant business leaders.

Commercial Diplomacy

So let me just close with a few quick points before I take your questions.

The power of export sales goes well beyond the exchange of goods and services. It lays the foundation for commerce, security and opportunity.

In today's global economy, what nations build reflect what they value. Their goals. Their hopes. And their aspirations. It reflects their vision for their countries' future and embodies the dreams of their citizens.

Whether its medical supplies, desalination equipment, or power plants—nations that build together - and buy from each other - are invested in each other---and connected with each other---in ways that go far deeper than just business deals.

They are investing in each other's people—their prosperity and economic vitality.

Trade and investments - stronger business engagement - reinforce the mutual respect and commitment that needs to exist between the U.S. and our allies around the world.

It provides opportunities to build on our shared values of: respect for human rights, diversity, democracy and promotion of economic opportunity for all our citizens.

But it requires more forums like this, as well as cultural exchanges and student programs to expand our understanding of other countries—their customs, history and traditions.

It is these types of activities that ultimately create the 21st century partnerships that Secretary Clinton has made a centerpiece of her work at the State Department. Thank you.