The U.S. government is stepping up its efforts to boost foreign investment in the country, President Obama announced Thursday.
In a speech to the Commerce Department's inaugural SelectUSA conference in Washington, the president laid out the key points of what the administration called in a written statement the "first-ever comprehensive, all hands on deck effort led by the federal government" to bring in more foreign business.
The steps include ambassador-led "investment teams" tasked with encouraging and tracking investment in the U.S., as well as federal assistance for companies trying to navigate government bureaucracy.
"Officials at the highest levels, up to and including me, are going to do more to make the case for investing in America," he said.
Data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development show the U.S. was the top recipient of foreign direct investment among all OECD members last year, with $174.7 billion. The next-closest country was the U.K., with $62.7 billion.
Obama spoke to a room of business executives from 58 countries, as well as city and state economic development professionals working to woo those executives' business to their localities.
The president touted a productive U.S. workforce, efforts to become less dependent on foreign oil, and health care reform efforts as key reasons why businesses might want to come to the U.S.
The push comes at a time when new foreign investment could be a shot in the arm to a recovery showing signs of slowing. While job growth has been relatively steady, it shows no signs of accelerating, and September job growth was disappointingly slow, with employers hiring 148,000 new workers.
October's shutdown and debt ceiling crisis could drag the economy down even further in months to come. They helped send October consumer confidence figures plummeting, and the infighting has also shaken business confidence. Even before the shutdown, lawmakers' constant impasses may have eroded business confidence, and political uncertainty appears to be weighing on factory orders, according to Bloomberg.
A continually gridlocked government could be a particularly bad sign at a time when many businesses are clamoring for tax and immigration reform. And hitting the debt ceiling could be economically calamitous on a global scale. Larry Fink, CEO of investment firm BlackRock, said in a Thursday morning panel at the conference that congressional gridlock is hurting the U.S.'s reputation around the world.
"We are the standard bearer of principles. Democracy in America is a standard," he said, adding that the "narrative of threat" of hitting the debt ceiling and default on the nation's obligations "goes against all the standards" that the U.S. has developed over the years.
President Obama acknowledged that these signs of instability could deter foreign investment, and he called on Congress to avoid such fights in the future.
"I assume if you ask any CEO here if shutting down the government makes them more confident about wanting to bring jobs to America, the answer will probably be no," he said. "The notion of not paying our bills on time doesn't inspire confidence."