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Does This Strong Dollar Make U.S. Look Too Fat For Foreign Investors?

President Obama speaks at the SelectUSA Investment Summit, hosted by the Commerce Department on Monday, at National Harbor, Md.
Cliff Owen
President Obama speaks at the SelectUSA Investment Summit, hosted by the Commerce Department on Monday, at National Harbor, Md.

The U.S. economic expansion has been gaining so quickly that foreign investors are paying attention. Many want to open factories and offices that could swell their profits while creating jobs for Americans.

But U.S. growth also has pushed up the value of the dollar, which has surged about 14 percent over the past year relative to other currencies. That makes it more difficult for foreigners to spend their money in the U.S. The dilemma is not lost on the White House.

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said in an interview Monday that on one hand, having a strong currency "is a reflection of the fact the U.S. economy is strong. ... So that's the good news."

On the other hand, "it would be naive to say the strong dollar isn't something that some companies are taking into account" and might make land and equipment too expensive here, she said.

The key to overcoming that currency drawback is to be sure foreign investors see the big picture and understand the long-term value of the U.S. market, she said. "Your location decisions are ones made for decades" and should not be based on today's currency bounces, she noted.

Over the long term, the United States offers a very long list of assets, including cheap, abundant energy; leading universities; intellectual-property rights; political stability; rule of law. She could go on and on about the upsides.

And she did just that at her department's event, called the Investment Summit, held at National Harbor, Md.

At the two-day gathering that began Monday, about 2,500 participants came to check out "matchmaking" discussions and exhibitions. Basically, economic development teams from various states and cities talked up their assets with potential foreign investors.

President Obama himself showed up for Commerce's second large-scale "investment summit." The last one was held in 2013.

Looking out over a huge ballroom, Obama told the foreign attendees that his administration is taking steps to make it easier to spend money in this country. "The American people like doing business and they respect business, and they're looking forward to working with you," Obama said.

The country added almost 3 million jobs last year, the most since the late 1990s. The unemployment rate is down to 5.5 percent.

"We've got a good story to tell and we wanted to make sure you all had a chance to hear it," Obama said. His administration announced some tweaks to the SelectUSA program, such as strengthening its "partnership" with states.

In the exhibition hall, Matt Englehart was manning the JobsOhio booth, hoping to attract new business for Buckeyes.

He said that thanks to abundant cheap natural gas, Ohio has been attracting more interest from foreign investors, even though a stronger dollar hurts a bit. He said state officials are looking for investors who could create jobs in Ohio, as the huge Honda operation has done in Marysville.

Being at SelectUSA is useful, Englehart said. "We're very glad to be here, but we do a lot of our own footwork," he said.

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Marilyn Geewax is a contributor to NPR.
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