When Ron Kirk was Mayor of Dallas he spent lots of his time on economic development efforts. He built partnerships across the region and around the world to help generate domestic and foreign investment and to promote local products and services.
For the last 15 months Kirk has been doing the same job only on a grander scale. He has traded the title of Mayor for that of Ambassador; acting now as President Obama’s point man on trade promotion and enforcement.
Kirk’s years as mayor grounded him in communities. He is still as likely to be found meeting with mayors in Detroit, Seattle, Des Moines and Milwaukee as he is meeting with other trade ambassadors in Geneva or Beijing. This ability to see the local picture is what gives Ambassador Kirk a distinct advantage. “The only way to grow businesses,” he says, “is to have a local export strategy.”
The Obama Administration wants to double U.S. exports in the next five years. The National Export Initiative calls for increasing capacity at the Commerce Department, SBA and the Export-Import Bank. There is a particular focus on assistance to small- and medium-sized enterprises who presently don’t export or who only sell to one or two customers in one or two markets outside the U.S.
In the present political climate the debates about the benefits of international commerce and trade have become as passionate as debates about the theory of evolution. In truth it is this fracture in the trade consensus at home that is proving a bigger problem than finding eager trading partners abroad.
Perhaps this is why Mayor Kirk has so seamlessly transitioned into Ambassador Kirk. At one level he is required to consider grand strategy for America’s long-term economic health. But at the day-to-day level he spends his time thinking about mom and pop businesses on Main Street, about the infrastructure to move goods around town or across states, and above all about good jobs that are created in cities and towns – just like the one where he used to be mayor.