Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today spoke in Colorado about the importance of increasing trade opportunities and rural economic development efforts to help revitalize rural America. At the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp. and Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce's Global Access Forum, the Secretary stressed the need to provide agriculture producers and small businesses greater access to export opportunities, highlighting the fact that exports generated $2.3 billion in economic activity and supported 14,000 Colorado jobs last year. Later in the day, at a Rural Economic Development Forum in Greeley, Colo., the Secretary talked about how increasing export opportunities must be coupled with strategic investments in rural development in order to create jobs and grow Colorado's rural economy. The Secretary was joined by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper at both events.
"American agriculture and rural communities are helping lead our nation's recovery by driving innovation and creating jobs here at home," said Vilsack. "U.S. farmers and ranchers are seeing record sales of farm goods abroad with Colorado exports alone more than doubling in the past five years. The Obama Administration continues to work throughout rural America to help lay a foundation for a 21st-century economy, one that expands opportunities for businesses of all size, including farms and ranches."
At the Rural Economic Development Forum in Greeley, Vilsack noted recent USDA investments in Colorado's rural economy, including investments in energy and conservation projects, as well as infrastructure projects such broadband, hospitals, schools, libraries, senior centers and mental health facilities. Examples include:
* In the past two years, USDA helped more than 2,800 Coloradans buy or repair a home and improved drinking and waste water facilities that serve 17,000 residents.
* USDA invested in projects that will connect nearly 10,000 rural Coloradans and hundreds of rural businesses to high speed internet, including many in Weld County and elsewhere in northern Colorado.
* USDA recently announced support to help two Colorado school districts connect more than 5,000 students across 11 rural counties with advanced classes and interactive education sessions.
These investments, said Vilsack, are vitally important as we push our nation to out-build, our-innovate and out-educate the rest of the world.
Earlier in the day, Vilsack spoke to small businesses about export opportunities around the world. In 2010, President Obama laid out his challenge to all sectors of the economy with his National Export Initiative (NEI), a program intended to coordinate federal efforts to double U.S. exports and create several million new jobs by 2014. In his remarks at the Global Access Forum, Vilsack said that exports of U.S. farm goods in fiscal year 2011 (Oct. 1, 2010 -- Sept. 30, 2011) are projected to trump previous records by $20 billion. The agricultural trade balance -- a balance of U.S. exports versus foreign imports -- is also projected to set a record surplus of $47.5 billion in 2011. Vilsack noted that every $1 billion in farm exports supports roughly 8,400 jobs in the United States. Farm exports alone will support more than 1.1 million jobs in 2011. In Colorado, the agriculture industry supports nearly 110,000 jobs. Moreover, in the past five years, Colorado farm exports have more than doubled to $1.6 billion. Weld County, where Greeley is located, is the top county in the state in agricultural sales.
Vilsack highlighted the need to continue to reach out to small- and medium- sized businesses with guidance and assistance on breaking into export markets. Despite the recent export gains, he pointed out that only 1 percent of U.S. companies export, and yet 95 percent of the world's consumers live outside the borders of the United States. Currently, the Obama administration is working to move forward on proposed U.S. trade agreements with South Korea, then Panama and Colombia -- nations with 100 million consumers. USDA expects the U.S.-Korea Trade Agreement to expand U.S. agricultural exports to Korea by $1.9 billion, bringing more than 16,000 new jobs to agriculture-related industries. Trade is estimated to grow more under the U.S.-Korea agreement than from the United States' last nine trade agreements combined. U.S. exports of goods such as wheat, dairy products and beef will benefit from the immediate and eventual elimination of duties. Korea was the United States' fifth largest export market in 2010.