WASHINGTON Commerce Secretary John Bryson urged corporate America on Thursday to open its pocketbook and start making the investments necessary to put millions of Americans back to work.
"Having run a large business, I understand that if you've got cash available, it can be tempting to sit on it," the former chief executive of Edison International, a California utility, said in a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
But "consumer demand will never rebound until more Americans have good jobs. The kind of jobs that build the skills that will let them keep learning - and earning - for a lifetime," Bryson said.
In his first major speech since becoming commerce secretary in October, Bryson acknowledged there were plenty of reasons for companies to be cautious with funds, ranging from economic turmoil in Europe to "dysfunction in Washington."
But at a time when protesters in cities across the country are denouncing "corporate agreed," Bryson appealed to both the companies' patriotism and pragmatism.
"America needs you to put people back to work. ... The second compelling reason for businesses to act boldly on jobs and investment is because that's what our economic competitors around the world are doing," he said.
Companies in China, Brazil and India are part of "the same troubled global economy, but they're not backing down."
Bryson also touted a program called SelectUSA aimed at encouraging more foreign companies to invest in the United States, and said the Commerce Department was creating a "National Program Office" to promote advanced manufacturing.
President Barack Obama appointed Bryson earlier this week to co-chair the White House Office of Manufacturing Policy.
CHINA 'IGNORING MANY TRADE RULES'
On the trade front, Bryson had tough words for China, which on Sunday marked the 10th anniversary of its entry into the World Trade Organization and infuriated U.S. politicians on Wednesday by slapping duties on American cars it said were unfairly priced or subsidized.
"The United States has reached a point where we cannot quietly accept China ignoring many of the trade rules. China still substantially subsidizes its own companies, discriminates against foreign companies and has poor intellectual property protections," Bryson said.
Bryson, along with U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, was in China last month for the annual U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade meeting, where Chinese officials promised new steps to address U.S. concerns in areas ranging from software piracy to agriculture.
"But we must see follow-through. We cannot rely just on words. We need time frames and concrete results. Anything short of that will be unacceptable," Bryson said.
To help meet Obama's goal of doubling exports by 2014, the Commerce Department will restructure its foreign commercial service to focus more on China and other fast-growing markets like India and Brazil, he said.
The Obama administration will also continue its work on reforming "outdated export control laws," which thwart exports of many high-technology goods, he said.
(Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Peter Cooney)