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Secretary of Commerce stresses exports in CMU talk

U.S. Secretary of Commerce John Bryson visited Carnegie Mellon on Wednesday morning as part of a longer visit to Pittsburgh. In a brief speech in the Gates Center, Bryson stressed the need for the U.S. to increase manufacturing and exports and encourage investment. (credit: Jonathan Carreon/Photo Editor) U.S. Secretary of Commerce John Bryson visited Carnegie Mellon on Wednesday morning as part of a longer visit to Pittsburgh. In a brief speech in the Gates Center, Bryson stressed the need for the U.S. to increase manufacturing and exports and encourage investment. (credit: Jonathan Carreon/Photo Editor)

Commerce Secretary John Bryson spoke at Carnegie Mellon last Wednesday. Video provided by Carnegie Mellon University.

In a visit that reinforced the themes of President Barack Obama’s recent State of the Union address, U.S. Secretary of Commerce John Bryson spoke in the Gates Center last Wednesday morning to a room of about 60 invited guests. Bryson’s remarks focused on innovation in manufacturing and restoring America’s manufacturing competitiveness in the world economy.

Much of Bryson’s time was spent describing his goals as commerce secretary. He stressed that, to get results, “you prioritize and prioritize ruthlessly ... you have to be very focused.”

Bryson laid out his three top priorities: advanced manufacturing, exporting, and encouraging investment in the U.S. These three categories are complementary.

Bryson said that the U.S. must enforce trade rules in other countries. “When American businesses compete on a level playing field, American businesses almost always win.”

Entrepreneurship was a central theme of Bryson’s visit. “One of our special traits as Americans that really is in contrast to substantially all the advanced ... countries elsewhere in the world is the extent to which we are entrepreneurs,” he said. “We break the norm and find ways to get to new places, new technologies, new things to be done.”

Although Bryson’s remarks were the focus of Wednesday’s event, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Carnegie Mellon Vice President for Research Rick McCullough also spoke about the economic opportunities available in Pittsburgh. McCullough highlighted the university’s success in commercializing research projects, calling the Gates Center an “innovation engine.”

“Every day our students and faculty are creating new innovations here that lead to new jobs,” McCullough said. According to the university, Carnegie Mellon faculty and students start 15–20 new companies every year.

The event included a panel of three Pittsburgh entrepreneurs who spoke about their experiences creating and supporting small businesses in western Pennsylvania.

Among the panelists was Scott Pearson, the CEO of Aquion Energy, whose headquarters Bryson had toured earlier Wednesday morning. Aquion Energy is a Carnegie Mellon spinoff that is commercializing battery technology based on research by Jay Whitacre, an assistant professor of engineering and public policy as well as materials science and engineering.

The other panelists were Rich Lunak — president and CEO of Innovation Works, a startup incubator — and Lalit Chordia, the president and founder of Thar Technologies, Inc., which develops supercritical fluid technology.

Bryson’s visit to Carnegie Mellon was part of a larger trip to Pittsburgh. In addition to his time at the university and his visit to Aquion Energy, Bryson met with members of the Pittsburgh District Export Council and other Department of Commerce representatives in the area.

“A lot of times a Carnegie Mellon visit will be part of a bigger plan and agenda to bring someone to the region,” said Tim McNulty, Carnegie Mellon’s associate vice president for government relations.

“That was the case with Secretary Bryson. He was in Pittsburgh focusing on manufacturing and focusing on export development.... The Carnegie Mellon component was added to the agenda,” McNulty said.

Although Bryson’s visit is the first in 2012 by a prominent government official, several more are likely to come. In 2008, the last presidential election year, “we were one of the few, if not the only, campus to have both major presidential candidates give a policy address — not just rallies, but policy addresses on campus,” McNulty said.

The Office of Government Relations has invitations open to all the Republican candidates for the 2012 nomination to come to campus.

The last few years have “been a great period for having high-profile public visitors,” McNulty said. “That’s all driven by the faculty and the students.”