Remarks by The First Lady during Department of Commerce visit
2:44 P.M. EST
MRS. OBAMA: Hey! (Applause.) All right, so who would have thought that the Department of Commerce was so happening? (Laughter.) You guys are alive. There's energy here. Thank you. I am thrilled to be here. It is exciting for me to come and see you. I've been planning to come for a little bit, but now I'm here.
I want to thank your dear Secretary, Secretary Locke, for that kind introduction and for his outstanding work for this Department. And I want to take this moment to wish him a happy birthday, yes -- (applause) -- as a fellow Capricorn, right -- (laughter) -- that's what you are, that's what it is, yes. And he doesn't look a day over 30, 35, right? (Laughter and applause.) Whatever the number, my husband and I wish you a happy birthday, and we are so proud of the work that you're doing here at the Department of Commerce.
You didn't exactly start this job at a quiet time for the agency, right? From the economic challenges that we face, to the challenge of conducting our census, which I know many of you are involved in -- let's hear it for the census people -- (applause) -- I think that it's fair to say that your Secretary has had a pretty busy year. But he's risen to the occasion, leading by example, calling on more than 50,000 employees of this Department to give their jobs everything they've got. And it feels like, in here, that you all are doing just that. Am I right? (Applause.)
And all of you, and your colleagues all across this city, the nation, across the world, quite frankly -- and I know some of them are watching -- you all have answered the call, and we're proud of you.
Some of you have been here for decades now -- (laughter) -- as we just heard, like these folks on stage, who are some of the longest serving employees here. I'm always excited to meet people who have worked at a place longer than I've been alive. (Laughter.) So that's a good thing. And they look wonderful. (Applause.)
And then there are others of you who may have started just this year in this administration, so we want to give the newbies a shout-out. (Applause.) Take a look onstage with responsibility, dedication, focus. This could be you. (Laughter.) Don't laugh. It's a job, right? (Laughter.) But we welcome you all.
But I know that all of you are working, and working hard every day for the American people, and I'm here to do what I love doing most, and that is to say thank you to all of you for the work that you're doing. This is something that I've been doing for an entire year now as First Lady, one of the many things, is coming to the agencies and thanking you for your work and your service, because a lot of times we forget that behind all the news headlines and the reports, there are people who are making sacrifices and working long hours and sometimes not feeling appreciated at all. And it's been a wonderful part of my job to be a representative from the White House to tell you how much we value your work and your sacrifice over the years.
But it's been substantively useful for me, as well, coming here, listening, learning, getting a better understanding of what happens at each agency, using the spotlight to share with the rest of the country all that you do.
So I'm pleased to have the chance to be here today at this Department to make one more stop, because what you all do to spur innovation, support America's businesses, and keep our economy competitive is so very important. It's important at any time, but it is particularly critical during the tough economic times that this nation is facing right now.
And we know that there are a lot of families out there who are struggling. Some of you are struggling right here. You know people in your communities and your families and your churches who are struggling. We know that a lot of young people are worried about whether they'll have the opportunities that they need to build their own careers, and make a life of their own, and to provide for their families, and to build their future dreams.
But we also know this -- that in difficult times like these, we have always as a nation come together, always. And as my husband says, these are not the most difficult times by far in this nation. In these times, we come together and we overcome and we're able to face these challenges. And we have what it takes to do that again today. I'm sure of it.
Right now, there are scientists and innovators who are working around the clock. You know them. You're supporting them. They're chasing the breakthroughs and the discoveries that are going to change the way we live and work from this point forward.
There are entrepreneurs in garages and basements and college dorm rooms who are brainstorming late into the night about how they're going to turn that good idea into a viable business.
Workers across this country are pouring themselves into their jobs every single day, determined to offer the best products and services on the planet. That is the nation that we live in.
And that's where all of you come in, all of you here in this Department, because CEOs don't just flip a coin to decide whether to set up shop here in America or overseas. You know that. Products don't just sell themselves. And businesses don't succeed by accident.
These things happen in part when companies have the right conditions for growth and the right markets for their goods and the kind of support they need to get off the ground in the first place and keep growing and expanding.
And that's the kind of assistance that all of you do to support and provide these businesses with the opportunities they need -- helping people protect their ideas and to make their businesses more productive; opening new markets for their products, and connecting them with resources and customers around the world. And that's what it's going to take for us to create new jobs and promote new prosperity.
And it's important for America to know how important this Department is in making all of that happen. And that is the real human story behind the work that you do.
Again, it's important for America to understand that connection -- how every innovation that you spur here, every business you help, every dream that you nurture means a livelihood for another family out there somewhere; a source of income for another community; it means another building block for our economy.
And you all aren't just helping create jobs today. This isn't just about right now. Your work doesn't just strengthen our economy this year or this decade. You are laying the foundation for our economic prosperity for generations to come. You're going to be helping my girls by connecting underserved communities to the Internet, for example; driving innovation in everything from nanotechnology to cyber security. I hear that you're even fast-tracking patents for inventions that promote clean energy, something that my husband has talked about since the day he took the oath of office.
And all of this speaks to the broader mission of this Department -- again, something that people don't know that you're here doing. It's the mission at the heart of the NOAA's work -- can I hear it from NOAA? -- (applause) -- to protect our oceans and our environments.
It's the mission of the Census Bureau's work -- yes, again for the Census Bureau -- (applause) -- to ensure that everyone is counted so that our government can truly serve all our people.
And I learned that you have even hit the road with your Portrait of America Road Tour, which is really fascinating, covering more than 150,000 miles to encourage people across the country to participate in the census. What a wonderful idea to encourage people to engage, to paint that picture of why the census is so critical.
In the end, everything that you do here at the Department of Commerce is in service of a common purpose, and that is to protect and promote what's best about this nation -- the industry and the ingenuity of all the people who live in this country; the vitality of our national resources; the success of our democracy.
And for all of that, we should honor you and thank you. We're very proud of you. And this year is going to be even more important. The focus of this administration has always been but it really will be in this year on job creation, because, again, people are hurting. So what you all will be doing over the next year, everything you do, will mean something to someone in this country.
So we want to make sure that you feel good as we enter this new year, that you feel ready, that you feel inspired, and you feel passionate and engaged. (Applause.) And we look forward to working with you in the years to months to come. I'm going to be back. (Applause.)
So thank you all again, and I'll come out and shake some hands. Good luck with the year. (Applause.)
2:54 P.M. EST