President Obama visited one of the nation's busiest seaports today as a prelude to weekend South American summit that he said is about courting customers for U.S. exports in order to boost job growth at home.
"Ninety-five percent of the world's consumers live outside our borders. We want them buying our products. And I'm willing to go anywhere in the world to open up new markets for American businesses," Obama told a crowd of port workers and small business leaders at the Port of Tampa, Fla.
"In fact, that's what I'm going to be doing right after this visit to Tampa. I'm heading to Colombia to take part in the Summit of the Americas, which brings together leaders from the Caribbean, and from North, South and Central America," he said.
Obama, who had set a goal of doubling U.S. exports by 2014, said business with trading partners in the Western Hemisphere is booming - up 46 percent since 2009. He called the trend a "big deal," especially for Tampa and Florida, a state critical to his re-election bid.
"We now export more to the Western Hemisphere than to any other region in the world," he said. "And those exports support nearly 4 million U.S. jobs."
"So while I'm in Colombia talking with other leaders, I'm going to be thinking about you," he added.
The administration announced today that it is launching a Small Business Network of the Americas aimed at making it easier for small- to medium-sized firms access capital to expand their business to the south. Obama billed the initiative as a sign he believes in free enterprise.
"I've always said that the true engine of job creation in this country is the private sector, not Washington," he said. "Our job in government is to help businesses grow and to hire - to create platforms for their success."
In a lighter moment at the top of the speech, Obama joked about his tour of the port, which is lined dozens of tall, commercial cranes.
"I was hoping to try out one the cranes - Secret Service wouldn't let me. They don't let me have fun," he joked. "They were more concerned about your safety than mine, though - (laughter) - they didn't want me messing anything up."