The fourth annual SelectUSA Investment Summit, which took place across the Potomac River from Washington, DC, June 17-20, set records for total registrations and participating international business representatives, according to organisers. The event attracted more than 3000 attendees, including 1200 business representatives from 64 foreign markets. Mr Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama had played host and keynote speaker for each of the previous three years. 

In opening the event, secretary of commerce Wilbur Ross lauded the “economic resurgence” the country is experiencing and promised an improved investment environment under the Trump administration. 

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“There is no better time to invest in the US than right now,” Mr Ross said. “The Trump administration has the most rational approach to business of any recent presidency. I have no doubt the pro-growth environment we are creating will continue to attract more and more investment. [The administration’s] actions on regulation, taxes, energy and trade gives businesses and communities the confidence they need to invest in the future…Our large market and business friendly environment are enduring sources of investor interest and these conditions will continue to improve.” 

The secretaries of energy, treasury and labour also addressed the conference. 

Optimism running high

Many parts of Mr Trump’s “America First” populist platform, predicated on prioritising US job creation and supporting domestic manufacturers, are music to US industrial ears. 

Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, which represents 14,000 companies, said optimism among US manufacturers is at “a record high”. A Q1 survey by NAM and Industry Week found that 93% of manufacturing-industry respondents are optimistic. “Manufacturers are very excited about what’s going on in the US today. It’s always a good time to invest in the US, but now is a great time to invest in the US.”

Business groups have welcomed proposed corporate tax and regulatory reforms and what they see as a pro-growth agenda. Many have also expressed support for Mr Trump’s costly plans to upgrade the US’s creaking infrastructure.

“We’re very bullish on what’s ahead [for the US],” said Greg Scheu, president for the Americas region of ABB, a Switzerland-based power automation company which has tripled its US workforce in the past seven years and invested $11bn to expand manufacturing in the US and its reach in the market.

Senior executives in foreign companies with operations in the US were careful to avoid sensitive political issues during the summit, however, as were the many chief executives of US companies who were on hand. 

Jane Liu, vice president of Chinese textiles company Shandong Ruyi Group, which is investing $400m in a production facility in the southwestern state of Arkansas, said national politics has “zero impact” on these plans. “Business is business and we are putting aside the political and ideological issues… We are an industry player and we pursue the best interests of mutual growth, not only the growth of [our company] but also the growth of our hosting country.” 

Promising signs 

Mary Barra, chairman and CEO of automotive giant General Motors, told fDi she was encouraged by the president’s tax, regulatory and infrastructure proposals. “Those are three things that are a work in progress, it’s still relatively early, but I think will definitely support growing business in this country,” she said. 

“One of the most important things the Trump administration is working on is in the regulatory environment, simplifying and streamlining…It is vitally important for business to have the harmonisation and simplification of regulations.”

Jeffrey Immelt, chairman and CEO of General Electric, who recently announced his plans to step down at the end of this year after 16 years at the helm of the industrial conglomerate, echoed Ms Barra’s comments. “Tax reform, infrastructure and regulatory reform - these aren’t new ideas. These are 30 year old ideas and if we could get action in these three things, and you add that to a great entrepreneurial spirit in this country, that would be amazing,” he told fDi

Mr Immelt went further, offering a defence of the president’s nativist stance on trade and investment. “Take it from me, I’ve travelled the world for 35 years. I’ve heard this [same] speech in every language 100 different times, and there’s nothing wrong with the president of the United States saying ‘‘I care about the country and we should make things in the United States’,” he continued. “There’s also nothing wrong with the president standing up for a level playing field [for US companies internationally].”

Mr Immelt said clarification on some of the administration’s policies is needed, but overall so far he likes what he has heard. “Do I agree with everything? No. But on the big points I think there’s a chance to make the US more competitive, reduce the trade deficits and get more people back to work, and there's nothing wrong with that,” he said.