;Smart power' gathering sees economic security in diplomacy, defense

pgannon@ncinsider.comNovember 25, 2013 

— The U.S. Global Leadership Coalition calls it “smart power” – an international strategy emphasizing diplomacy and foreign aid and economic development along with a strong defense. It was a topic that brought several hundred business, military and civic leaders, along with two former governors, to downtown Raleigh on Monday.

The hope of the group – the N.C. Advisory Committee to the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition – is that North Carolina’s economy and security will improve as a result of positive American engagement in the world, or “smart power.”

“We think the small but strategic investment in about 1 percent of the federal budget not only will keep us safe and advance our economic interests, but will demonstrate our values,” said Liz Schrayer, Global Leadership Coalition founding executive director. She referred to the country’s international affairs budget.

“I believe … that the stakes are just too high to diminish our role in the world,” Schrayer said. “We believe when you see something like the tragedy in the Philippines overseas that it’s the right thing to do for us to be engaged. But we also think it’s the smart thing to do for our security and our economic interests.”

The event focused on the importance of the U.S. role in the world, and how U.S. efforts abroad would promote domestic businesses and make the country safer.

Bob Geolas, president and chief executive officer of the Research Triangle Park Foundation, said trade supports about 22 percent of jobs in the state. North Carolina exported nearly $30 billion in goods and services in 2012, and more than 88 percent of N.C. companies that export products are small- or medium-sized businesses. Geolas said the business world can take some credit for the statistics but that the success must be shared with development and diplomacy programs funded by the federal International Affairs budget. “That, in the broadest sense, provides the foundation that allows business and development to take place,” he said.

Jenny Fulton, founder of Miss Jenny’s Pickles in Kernersville, is a member of the coalition, at least in part as a way to market her pickles. She said 95 percent of the world’s population lives outside the United States. “Well, guess what? Ninety-five percent of the world needs Miss Jenny’s Pickles, and that’s why we do what we do.”

Fulton said her company already exports to China, Canada and the United Kingdom and that she has Germany in her sights. The company employs four full-time workers and four part-timers with growth plans. “The more we export, the more jobs we can create,” she said.

Former Govs. Jim Hunt, a Democrat, and Jim Martin, a Republican, launched the program, demonstrating the coalition’s nonpartisan nature. U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-Dunn, attended the event and said she believes in the concept of “smart power.” She added that she wouldn’t immediately support additional spending for international relief and aid efforts, but instead wants to ensure the money is going to the right places.

“At some point in the future, if we ever get a fiscal hold on where we are in Washington, I’m not opposed to (more spending). But at this point right now ... I don’t necessarily see more dollars being spent, just more efficient dollars being spent.”

Patrick Gannon writes for the NCInsider, a government news service owned by The News & Observer. Visit ncinsider.com

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