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Obama Expands Executive Council to Increase U.S. Exports
Posted by Donald A. DePalma on July 8, 2010  in the following blogs: Business Globalization, Global Marketing, Translation and Localization, Best Practices
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On March 11, 2010, President Barack Obama announced the National Export Initiative (NEI) to "double our exports over the next five years, an increase that will support two million jobs in America." This week, the White House announced that Obama would name 18 American executives to the Export Council, an advisory group that he created to focus on expanding U.S. exports.

Why are exports such an issue for Obama? In 2009, the U.S. exported approximately US$1.046 trillion worth of goods and services, making it the fourth biggest exporter in the world (CIA World Fact Book). For 2008, U.S. exports totaled US$1.277 trillion. However, the U.S. historically runs a trade deficit, meaning that it imports more than it exports. For example, it imported US$1.563 trillion and $2.117 trillion in 2009 and 2008, respectively. Given this negative balance of trade, a recession-hobbled economy, a heretofore jobless recovery, U.S. obligations in its two wars, and the offshoring of manufacturing and services, increasing the dollar value of American exports is one avenue for Obama to get the economy back on its feet. That means job creation and increased competitiveness in world markets.

The CEOs that he invited to the Export Council represent a wide spectrum of U.S. manufacturing, services, entertainment, and agriculture. Boeing CEO James McNerney and Xerox CEO Ursula Burns, appointed by Obama in March, head up the group. New appointees hail from Archer Daniels Midland, Dow Chemical, Dow Corning, Disney, Ernst & Young, Ford, MetLife, Pfizer, United Airlines, UPS, Verizon, Warburg & Pincus, and several other firms. Besides being large international businesses, three of these companies have done a good job on their international websites -- Pfizer offers 24 languages, UPS 25, and Xerox 26. Those languages contribute to these companies being able to get their messages out to populations representing access to roughly 95% of the world's online gross domestic product (see "The Top 40 Online Global Brands," Nov09).

What will these captains of American industry tell Obama? Presumably the same things that we've been writing about for years:
  • International revenue is critical to their growth. Companies like Apple, Boeing Caterpillar, FedEx, Hewlett-Packard, and McDonald's earn a good chunk of their revenue from non-U.S. customers, and their continued growth depends on their ability to sell their goods and services to many more consumers and business buyers than just the 310 million people in the States.

  • Just saying you're international doesn't make it so. To increase global sales, companies need to develop products that people want (think "innovation"), advertise so prospective buyers know that they exist (marketing), sell through the channels that people are accustomed to buying from (sales), and support their products (customer care). All of these functions need to be made global-ready.

  • Speak  the language of the customer. All this needs to happen in the languages of the markets where they're selling, and has to be adapted to meet the expectations, regulations, and competitive benchmarks of the target country  (see "Can't Read, Won't Buy," Sep06 and "Localization Matters," Nov08). Otherwise, buyers will look elsewhere for products that meet their needs in their languages.
While Obama's Export Council will likely perform a great service to the President in terms of telling him that more global revenue is important to them, their shareholders, their employees, and ultimately the American taxpayer, we are certain that they won't offer a lot of useful advice on how to create a global business from the bottom up. We hope that their advice on creating that multilingual, globally ready company goes beyond the expedient of more machine translation (see "Obama White House Calls for Machine Translation," Sep09) and gets into more nuanced, corporate-wide plans to localize their product offerings, marketing, websites, and call centers. The Export Council is notably lacking in representation by someone who could speak to the nitty-gritty issues of going global and the major language services industry that regularly supports such activities (see "Language Services Market: 2010," May10).

The bottom line is that language services and exports are inextricably linked in a chicken-and-egg kind of relationship. Export is enabled by language, and more exports increases demand for more language across the spectrum of marketing, product, and support (see "The European Translation Market," Nov09). American CEOs that think export is important to their businesses should be interested in what the Export Council advises the President to do -- and what that means in terms of the incentives for basic research and development, workforce development and retraining, information technology, clean energy, and other innovations outlined in Obama's "Strategy for American Innovation: Driving Towards Sustainable Growth and Quality Jobs."


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