Acura MDX sport utility vehicles roll off the assembly line at a Honda plant in Lincoln, Ala., in May. Overseas investors have U.S. assets totaling nearly $4 trillion, including auto plants, banks and mines.
When many Americans hear the word "globalization," they think: "jobs going overseas."
And sometimes it does mean just that.
But as globalization knits nations closer together, foreign companies increasingly are creating jobs in the United States, not luring them away. Despite the Great Recession, slow recovery and political dysfunction in Washington, the United States remains a top destination for the world's wealth.
Overseas investors have U.S. assets totaling nearly $4 trillion, including auto plants, banks, mines and more. U.S. affiliates of foreign companies employ about 5.6 million people in this country.
On Thursday, President Obama highlighted those investments, and urged foreign business leaders — packed into a Washington, D.C., hotel ballroom — to build more plants and offices in this country.
"There is no better place in the world to do business," Obama said.
The administration welcomed 1,200 participants from roughly 60 countries, and urged them to learn more about an initiative called SelectUSA. Under the program, the U.S. State Department works closely with the Commerce Department to help foreign companies set up shop here.
U.S. ambassadors in 32 countries will now add "economic development" to their list of chores, according to the Commerce Department. The goal is to have local, state and federal officials in all departments working together to smooth the way for foreign direct investments.
Obama told the foreign guests "when you bet on America, that bet pays off," thanks to this country's many economic advantages, including cheap energy, an educated workforce, intellectual-property protections, a sophisticated financial system and much more.
"There are a whole lot of reasons you ought to come here," he said. "We are the land of opportunity. That is not a myth; it's a proven fact. "
U.S. business leaders who spoke at the gathering raised concerns about this country's ability to continue to be attractive to investors. For example, Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, a global investment management firm based in New York City, said he has become "alarmed" by Washington's political dysfunction, which he says unnerved many foreign investors.
Speaking on a panel about investing opportunities, Fink said that when some Republican lawmakers used the U.S. debt ceiling deadline as a lever to try to win concessions a couple of weeks ago, they endangered the country's status as a stable place to invest.
"I am very bullish about America," he said. But "it's important that we drop the conversation about default," he added.
Despite any reputational harm done by the October government shutdown and debt-ceiling threat, foreign executives didn't seem deterred about investing in the United States.
"It's very easy to do business here," said Leonardo Figueiro, vice president of the WTC Business Club in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He says that in Brazil, he faces "lots of costs and bureaucracy."
But in the United States, people want to close on real estate deals and open clubs. "We always want to do business in this market," he said. "We built a building in Miami, and now we're looking forward to investing more."
That upbeat assessment could be heard again and again among the foreigners visiting the exhibit booths set up by cities and states.
At the Ohio booth, representatives handed out chocolates shaped like buckeye nuts. At the Carmel, Ind., booth, a large sign made sure visitors knew more about "A City to Experience." Many guests were impressed with the pitches.
"The United States is definitely the leading economy in the world — it's the most stable and progressive," said Hiten Parekh, CEO for the Americas operations of Waaree Energies Ltd., based in India. "This is the No. 1 country in the world for investing."
Blair King, an economic development manager for Alabama Power Co., stood in his state's booth, talking up business opportunities. He said foreigners are impressed with U.S. energy abundance.
When it comes to electric power, "they want to know what it costs," he said. And they often find it's cheaper here, he said.
Speakers at the two-day gathering include Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and Secretary of State John Kerry. Top executives from Wal-Mart, Caterpillar, Dow Chemical and other U.S.-based companies are participating in panel discussions that end Friday.