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U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker answers questions from Chicago Tribune business columnist Melissa Harris in front of 150 CEOs and business executives at Google Inc.'s Chicago offices Wednesday.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker praised business resilience during shutdown

by Sydnie Abel
Nov 07, 2013

Sydnie Abel/MEDILL

In her first appearance in Chicago since being named the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, Penny Pritzker praised the resilience of American businesses in an economy that was challenged by last month's 16-day partial federal government shutdown and debt ceiling crisis.

“What CEOs need and want is certainty; certainty that Congress is going to stop manufacturing crises,” Pritzker said Wednesday at Google Inc.’s Chicago offices in front of 150 CEOs and business executives. ”And it’s clear that the shutdown and the debt limit have hurt our businesses and our economy and job creation. We have to stop the self-inflicted wounds.”

Even so, third-quarter real gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of 2.8 percent, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported today, the housing market is improving and exports are at an all-time high, she said.

“I work on the economy,” Pritzker said. “You take care of the jobs,” she told the audience, referring to the near 7.6 million U.S. jobs created in the past 43 months.

In Chicago, technology companies are doing much of the heavy-lifting regarding job creation, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Wednesday as he introduced Pritzker.

Chicago currently has 40,000 people working in the technology sector compared with 30,000 two or three years ago, Emanuel said.

“This year our agenda is to double the size of our tech jobs here in the city,” he said. “Our goal is to add another 40,000 in the next decade.”

In order to achieve that goal for Chicago and the rest of the country, Pritzker said she plans to focus on business infrastructure, workforce skills, immigration reform and research and development in her efforts to help grow the economy. She specifically emphasized that immigration reform would yield positive results for business

The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, passed in the Senate on June 26 and sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), could provide permanent visas to foreign students who get masters and PhD degrees in science and related fields; a much needed change, Pritzker said.

“We need folks in Washington to wake up to the fact that we are in a global competition for talent,” Pritzker said. “It’s mind-boggling to think that Chicago universities attracts some of the world’s brightest students, gives them a top-notch education and then we force these potential innovators and job creators to leave.”

She also urged more spending on research and development. As a percent of all basic research funding, federal research funding slipped from 70 percent in 1980 to 57 percent in recent years, Pritzker said.

Regardless of what she’s doing in Washington, Pritzker said she’s still very much tied to Chicago. She brought Garrett popcorn to her Department of Commerce staff and was present at the White House when President Obama welcomed the 2013 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks hockey team Monday.

“You can take the girl out of Chicago but you can’t take Chicago out of the girl,” she said.