Archive for the ‘Spotlight on Commerce’ Category


Spotlight on Pride Month: Jeff Dutton, Commercial Service Officer

June 17, 2021

Jeff Dutton is a Commercial Officer based in Shanghai, China

This post coincides with the Department of Commerce’s spotlight on LGBT Pride Month.

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ITA Commercial Service Officer Jeff Dutton speaks to industry leaders at the Carrier Air Conditioning Museum in China.

I work at ITA’s U.S. Commercial Service office in Shanghai, China, supervising a team of 7 local staff and 2 fellow commercial officers. We offer a variety of export promotion services to small and medium-sized U.S. companies. Whether it’s a consumer product such as air fresheners or nutritional supplements, or a service provider helping industrial parks in China use less energy and lower carbon emissions, my colleagues and I help connect U.S. companies with potential agents, distributors, and customers in China.

As a college student in my home state of Arkansas, I studied abroad in Spain, Mexico, and Japan. I decided to pursue my interest in international trade and economics with a Master’s degree in International Relations at the Maxwell School of Public Affairs at Syracuse University in New York. A Maxwell School alumna who had landed at ITA recommended that I apply for several ITA jobs. I didn’t get the first job that I interviewed for, but I kept trying and in 1998 was offered an International Trade Specialist position. What excites me about export promotion and commercial diplomacy is that it brings people together for mutually beneficial economic exchange while at the same time helping communities across America by creating good-paying jobs. I also enjoy meeting business owners who succeeded in expanding their operations and hiring more American workers as a result of trade agreements ITA helped negotiate or a contract signed with a foreign distributor that my teammates introduced them to.

International trade is inherently cross-cultural and being a successful practitioner of it requires sensitivity to other cultures, flexibility in the way you communicate, and a readiness to expect the unexpected. I think that many members of the LGBTQ+ community have honed these skills for a variety of reasons, but partially because many of us felt not quite at home in the communities where we grew up, even if we did have supportive and loving families (as I had, even in rural Arkansas). So there may be a disproportionately higher number of LGBTQ+ people in organizations like the State Department, ITA, and the Foreign Agricultural Service. On the customer side, there are many LGBTQ+ owned and -led businesses in the United States who are our clients, particularly in the travel and leisure, design, and other creative industries. As U.S. exports become more service-oriented, knowledge-based and creative, it will be important to engage this dynamic segment of the American economy.

For those in the LGBTQ+ community interested in expanding your business through international sales, please take advantage of ITA’s many low-cost services for U.S. small- and medium-size exporters. Go to and check out the growing number of free market intelligence reports from virtually every major market worldwide where the Commercial Service has offices. Also on, find your local U.S. office of the Commercial Service and give our expert colleagues near you a call to explore your options and brainstorm about best prospects.


Spotlight on Commerce: Ava Jamerson, International Trade Specialist

May 20, 2021

Ava Jamerson is an International Trade Specialist in the Enforcement and Compliance Office of Communications

This post originally appeared on the Department of Commerce blog as part of its Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month series.

I am an International Trade Specialist and professional communicator for ITA’s Enforcement and Compliance (E&C) unit. In this role, I help U.S. industries, media and the public understand the work we do to support a free, fair, and rules-based system of trade that protects American workers and businesses. Working in E&C’s communications office is extremely rewarding because I get a birds-eye-view of the entire business unit’s daily operations, and the great variety of work I do makes every day fresh and exciting.

I want to share my story of growing up Asian American with a twist. Born in Oregon, I was whisked away to China within the first two weeks, where I spent five years of my life before being towed around the world by my State Department parents. From a young age, I felt that I didn’t fit in. I am half-Chinese and half African American but being “Blasian” (Black and Asian) comes with its own unique set of experiences. At the market in China, vendors would call my Chinese mom a nanny, while pointing at me whispering “wai guo ren,” or “outsider.” In other countries, I was called an “American” while my more “Asian-looking” friends were called “Chino.” Even back in the states, people are not very quick to realize that I am Asian. At first, I struggled with feelings of belonging, but my life abroad has blessed me with a broader perspective as I absorbed cultures from around the world and met inspiring people from extremely diverse backgrounds. It taught me that although the brain is hardwired to depend on labels and biases, we need to question and challenge our subconscious, and sometimes override our preconceptions.

Despite struggling with the disconnect when I was younger, not “looking” Chinese has been a blessing that taught me that being Asian is all about what’s on the inside. Some of my favorite memories in Dalian include catching cicadas with my cousin on a hot  summer day, watching my nimble-fingered aunts pinch pillowy dumplings at New Years, and sitting on plastic stools in the street to eat a breakfast of deep-fried dough and soymilk. These all became formative experiences of what being Chinese means to me. The same memories later pushed me to learn even more. Right before graduating from high school in Mexico, I moved back to the U.S. just in time to experience one year of public school and, in 2014, I enrolled in the University of Oregon’s Chinese Flagship Program. The following year, I attended a summer language program hosted by Princeton, and later received the Boren scholarship to fund a full year of study and work abroad in China in 2016. After graduation, I was naturally drawn to public service because I watched how the government gives hardworking and kind people like my parents the opportunity to build relationships with people all over the world while also representing something bigger than themselves. To me, Asian American Pacific Islander month is all about recognizing how being Chinese plays a big role in my life and sharing my culture with others.

The lessons I’ve learned surrounding the Asian identity are especially prevalent right now. Recent high-profile race-based hate crimes have spurred much-needed conversations about the aggressions that minorities face on a daily basis. It hits even closer to home to know that even the older generation is targeted, and folks like my mom, uncles, and aunts, are being harassed based on their heritage. It is deeply saddening that fear and ignorance can be so damaging, when my global exposure has shown me firsthand the commonalities, we have between each other. None of us is going to solve racism in a day, but one first step that we can all take is to focus on changing ourselves and the people around us. The key takeaway is to take on the world with an open mind and ask the people who surround you to do the same. As for the young people out there, visibility is everything. Having diverse representation in the federal government is important because it gives minority groups the opportunity to amplify their voices and shape America into a country that is institutionally inclusive and fair for everyone.   

Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting the contributions of Department of Commerce employees during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month


Spotlight on Commerce: Tricia Van Orden, Deputy Director of the Trade Promotion Coordinating Committee Secretariat, International Trade Administration

March 29, 2021

Tricia Van Orden is the Deputy Director of the Trade Promotion Coordinating Committee Secretariat

This post originally appeared on the Department of Commerce blog.

Tricia Van Orden

Tricia Van Orden

As the Deputy Director of the Trade Promotion Coordinating Committee Secretariat, an office within the Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration (ITA), I spend my days developing programs and strategies to promote U.S. exports. I work with a multitude of partners – U.S. trade agencies, state governments, trade associations, universities, and others – to design and deliver practical tools and resources to help U.S. companies succeed in global markets. Since arriving at ITA in 2008 as a Presidential Management Fellow, I have constantly been amazed and inspired by the women around me and their commitment to collaboration, creativity, innovation, and equity.  Whether working on women’s economic empowerment activities or otherwise contributing their expertise to the major trade issues of the day, these colleagues have consistently demonstrated the utmost competence and professionalism.

From a young age, my passion for supporting women’s economic empowerment has stemmed largely from the fearless women leaders who have paved the way for my own advancement. Women college professors and internship supervisors encouraged me to pursue a career in international economics, lighting a path before I knew where my career would take me. After earning degrees in economics and political science from Colorado State and the University of Washington, respectively, I moved to Washington, DC, to pursue a job on Capitol Hill. I interned for the woman senior Senator from my home state, which led to a full-time job with the woman junior Senator, an invaluable experience that taught me how effectively women can lead.

As we address the COVID-19 pandemic’s social and economic repercussions – which disproportionately affect women and women-owned businesses – we should keep in mind the positive impact that global business opportunities can have on recovery and resiliency.  International markets represent untapped potential for women-owned businesses. On average, businesses that export earn higher revenues, pay higher wages and are less likely to go out of business. Going global can help women build more successful, resilient businesses while supporting themselves, their families, their workers, and their communities.

The number of women-led businesses going global is growing, but women lag behind their male counterparts when it comes to international business expansion for a variety of reasons: Women typically have less access to capital than their male counterparts; women may not have the extensive international networks that lead to partnerships and business deals; and, in some countries, there are legal barriers that restrict women’s economic activity. ITA wants to change that. I serve as the agency’s coordinator for women’s economic empowerment activities, with a mandate to dramatically rethink how we deliver our services and share our expertise so that more women-owned businesses are equipped to successfully expand into international markets.

Women’s History Month is a time to honor the hard-won battles of our female forerunners, but it also is an occasion to take stock of our current moment and create a more equitable future for women as individuals and as economic actors. It is my great privilege to contribute to ITA’s mission and women’s economic empowerment efforts.

Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting the contributions of Department of Commerce employees during Women’s History Month.


Spotlight on Commerce: Chris Higginbotham, Deputy Director of Outreach, SelectUSA

November 9, 2017

This post originally appeared on the Department of Commerce blog.

Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting the contributions of Department of Commerce employees in honor of Veteran’s Day.

When Congress first declared November 11th as a holiday that ultimately became Veterans Day,  it said the day should be marked with “exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations.”

U.S. Army Segeant Chris Higginbotham standing with comrades in Iraq in 2004.

U.S. Army Sergeant Chris Higginbotham in Iraq in 2004.

I am fortunate that in my two careers — one in the U.S. Army and one in the U.S. Department of Commerce — it was my mission to do just that.

I began my career in the U.S. Army and had the best job in the service; that’s no exaggeration. For six years, I followed Army units around Europe, Southwest Asia and the great Commonwealth of Kentucky as a photographer and videographer. I did my best to tell soldiers’ stories, and to help people in the United States and abroad understand the important missions my colleagues took on every day.

I regularly think back to some of the work we did, like when I joined the airborne troops of 5th Quartermaster Company to photograph one of their jumps, only to learn after takeoff that the C-130 pilot also needed to practice “evasive maneuvers,” which did not make for the smoothest ride. That is the only day I have ever been envious of people who were jumping out of an aircraft.

My unit participated in the ceremony recognizing the 60th anniversary of D-Day, and I had the honor of interviewing veterans who stormed the beaches of Normandy in 1944. There was a man who I swear could still beat me in a race who recounted his feelings about the war stating, “Oh, it didn’t bother me at all.” That was tough to believe, but you don’t often question someone who’s been through something like that and lived to tell about it.

And I remember being inside a trailer on Camp Victory in Ballad, Iraq, recording video messages for home from the deployed members of 95th Military Police Battalion. There was one soldier whose message would be the first time his newborn son would ever hear his father’s voice or see his face. The soldier kept reaching out to the camera as if by touching it, he would be touching his baby. Giving that tape to those Soldiers’ families back home might have been the most meaningful work I ever did.

Working now in the Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration is something I see as a continuation of my service in the military. Just like in the Army, my job is to tell the stories of the work my colleagues do through assisting U.S. exporters and attracting foreign direct investment. Their work supports millions of American jobs, and it’s something in which we all take a great amount of pride.

And this work in international trade and business is right at the core of promoting mutual understanding and good will between nations — it’s an everyday perpetuation of what Congress asked Americans to do every November 11th. One recent example of this was at the Trade Winds Business Forum and Trade Mission in Bucharest. I heard U.S. Ambassador Hans Klemm and Romanian Prime Minister Mihai Tudose repeatedly reference trade as a key pillar in U.S. relations with Southeast Europe. I witnessed first-hand the ability of our government to connect U.S. companies and organizations to promising business opportunities. I am proud to be part of a team of professionals who work tirelessly every day to help U.S. business compete at home and abroad.

On Veterans Day and every day, I salute all of the great men and women who are serving or who have served in our armed forces, and I give thanks to all who have fought to perpetuate peace and good will around the world.