Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visited Milwaukee today as part of a multi-city campaign designed to help connect small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) with the resources they need to export their food and agricultural goods overseas. At the "New Markets, New Jobs" conference at the Milwaukee Grain Exchange, Vilsack brought the focus to Wisconsin agriculture, pointing out that Wisconsin farm exports grew 36 percent over 2009 figures, delivering a record $2.4 billion in sales. Only Texas and Tennessee farm exports grew at a better rate. The conference, sponsored by the Commerce Department, aims to bring awareness to President Obama's National Export Initiative (NEI), a program intended to coordinate federal efforts to double U.S. exports by 2014 and create several million new jobs.
"USDA is focused on stimulating growth, creating jobs, and setting in place a framework for a robust future for the rural economy," said Vilsack. "U.S. farmers and ranchers are seeing record sales of farm goods abroad and looking forward to some of the best net incomes in decades. To spur additional export growth, USDA is reaching out to small- and medium- sized producers and agribusinesses with education and financial support to help reach the more than 6 billion consumers outside our borders. As demonstrated by Wisconsin's agricultural success in 2010, the nation's farm economy is stronger than ever. However, when you consider that just 1 percent of U.S. businesses export, you realize there much more capacity to grow our economy and create jobs. Today's event is about seizing those opportunities."
Wisconsin's agriculture industry supports nearly 350,000 jobs in the state, or 1 in 10 jobs overall. The state's success underscores a larger success story for U.S. agriculture, as American farm exports for 2011 are on course to shatter previous records and enjoy a $44 billion trade surplus, giving a major boost to our economy. Tomorrow, at the Wisconsin State Fair in West Allis, Vilsack will hold a Rural Forum with businesses and community leaders, farmers and ranchers to explore ways federal, state and local officials can work together to improve economic conditions and create jobs. As chair of the White House Rural Council, Secretary Vilsack is exploring ways to strengthen job creation, innovation and quality of life in rural America. Senior Administration officials have been holding similar events on behalf of the Rural Council across the country.
Vilsack was joined in Milwaukee by Karen Mills, Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration; Sharon Bomer, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Agricultural Affairs and Commodity Policy; Fred Hochberg, Chairman of the Export Import Bank of the United States; and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.
At the NEI event, Vilsack's comments focused in part on the potential economic impact to Wisconsin's economy of the U.S.-Korea Trade Agreement. Economic output is estimated to grow more under U.S.-Korea agreement than from the United States' last nine trade agreements combined. That type of growth would bring additional jobs to Wisconsin, where South Korea is the state's fifth largest agricultural export market. Congress can help U.S. farmers and ranchers all across the country sustain their record growth by moving expeditiously to pass the South Korea, Colombia and Panama trade agreements. When fully implemented, those three agreements have potential to add more than $2.3 billion per year to U.S. exports and support job creation here at home.
Exports of U.S. farm goods in fiscal year 2011 (Oct. 1, 2010 -- Sept. 30, 2011) are projected to surpass previous records by more than $20 billion. In his remarks, Vilsack noted that every $1 billion in farm exports supports roughly 8,400 jobs in the United States, and that farm exports alone will support more than 1.1 million jobs in 2011.
America's small- and medium-sized businesses, the engines of growth, still face many hurdles in getting their products and services to new markets: the lack of readily available information about exporting and market research; challenges in accessing export financing; and strong competition from foreign companies and governments. The "New Markets, New Jobs" tour is designed to help address those challenges. Vilsack spoke about the need to continue to reach out to small- and medium- sized businesses with guidance and assistance on breaking into export markets. Higher wages, rising populations and an expanding middle class have contributed to U.S. agriculture's export surge.