Saturday, April 14, 2012
With new cities rising from the sands of Saudi Arabia, the country is a ripe market for Minnesota companies looking to export their products, Rep. Keith Ellison told a group of business leaders from around the state Thursday.
“I can assure you this is a market where they want American products,” he said.
The 5th District congressman visited Golden Valley insecticide manufacturer McLaughlin Gormley King for an export and manufacturing roundtable where he fielded questions about exports and discussed his experience on trade missions, including one he took to Saudi Arabia earlier this month.
“If you have soft demand in the state, there are people abroad who want what you make,” he said.
“I think when we approach exports we’ve got to say to ourselves, ‘The reality is Americans are not going to go live like the average Chinese person. That’s just not in the cards. We will not be cost competitive on a labor basis with China,” Ellison said. “But if we use innovation and technology and we have the best product in the world, the United States has every reason to become optimistic about the future.”
Referring again to his trade missions, Ellison said Saudis told him without prompting that America has higher quality products than those coming out of China. Chinese companies also don’t do as well providing long-term maintenance and training, which leads to reduced technology transfer for the buyers, he said.
The comments echoed points Ellison made the day before while touring Hopkins boat manufacturer Go-Float and Minneapolis wire and cable company Absolute Quality. During those tours and the roundtable, he talked up President Barack Obama’s pledge to double exports by 2015.
Not all of the attendees were sold. One business owner said he’s watched the source of one imported part move from China to Vietnam to India as his buyer continuously sought the cheapest location.
“They just keep finding ways to get things cheaper in the Asian rim,” he said. “Why would they buy from me?”
Said Ellison: “There will be products that simply are all about how cheap you can do it. And there will be other products where it’s how well can you do it. And there will be still more where it’s a mixture.”
He did allow that European countries do a better job talking up their industries. U.S. ambassadors should understand that their job is to promote American companies as they do American security, and presidents should be willing to pick up the phone to promote those companies.
But Ellison emphasized that Obama’s aim to double exports is a good one.
“I think this is a noble goal. I think this is certainly something that we can do,” he said. “Of course, the real energy comes from you—the entrepreneur, the business person.”