Canton Repository

August 13, 2006

Union Metal talk lures Lavin back home

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service


WASHINGTON - Since he became undersecretary of commerce for international trade last year, Franklin L. Lavin has been jetting around the globe to such far-flung destinations as China, Iraq, Afghanistan and India to promote U.S. trade.

But this weekend, Lavin’s travels took him in a different direction — to his hometown of Canton, Ohio, where he is taking four days to visit with his parents, meet with local business executives and salute a Canton company.

Lavin, the top trade official in the U.S. Commerce Department, is set to deliver the keynote address when Union Metal Corp., a Canton-based manufacturer of light poles, celebrates its 100th birthday Tuesday.

HE WANTED TO SPEAK

The former ambassador to Singapore said he “grabbed” the invitation to speak at Union Metal when it was sent to his immediate boss, U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez.

“I said, you know, that’s my hometown,” Lavin recalled during an interview hours before his scheduled flight to Ohio on Friday. “Union Metal wanted somebody from Washington to come to commemorate the event, so I said, ‘Put in my name.’ ” The speech at Union Metal will mark Lavin’s first official trip to Ohio since he became undersecretary.

Lavin, whose parents, Carl and Audrey Lavin, still live in Canton, said he plans to celebrate the company’s success in his talk.

Employment at the company has grown by 25 percent in the last two years, an achievement Lavin said may offer “some broader lessons or points about the U.S. economy and U.S. economic growth and competitiveness.”

He also has scheduled meetings with executives at the Timken Co. in Canton and the J.M. Smucker Co. in Orrville, two global enterprises that are based locally. Lavin also plans to visit Germany later this year or early next year at the invitation of the U.S. ambassador there, William R. “Tim” Timken Jr.

He and the former Timken Co. chairman want to discuss initiatives that could improve the already-strong economic relationship between the two countries, he said.

Like Timken, Lavin was a prolific fundraiser for Bush’s first campaign, leading to his appointment as ambassador. He also served in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

The one-time banker and venture capitalist in the Pacific Rim took over as undersecretary last November after the Senate confirmed his nomination by President Bush. His duties include promoting American exports, administering U.S. trade laws and developing trade policy.

Lavin, 48, insists he’s having a great time in his new role.

“I love it,” he said. “With all respect to the president and my secretary (Gutierrez), I think I’ve got the best job in Washington because U.S. businesses are competing and winning every day around the world. I get to work with them and help them — U.S. workers and farmers — get their products to market.”

Lavin is preparing to lead his first trade mission, a trip to India in late November, which he said will be the largest U.S. trade mission so far.

About 200 companies are expected to take part, including several from Ohio. The names of those companies have not been released yet, and it is unknown whether any will be from Stark, Tuscarawas or Carroll counties.

Though India is still considered poor by U.S. standards, Lavin said the world’s second-most populous nation has a large, growing middle class, a lucrative market for American products.

During his first nine months in the job, Lavin has focused on the problems and opportunities posed by China, a rising industrial power that he said will surpass Japan as the third largest export market for the United States by the end of the year. Canada and Mexico rank first and second as destinations for American exports.

As the nation’s lead trade negotiator with China, Lavin said he’s been pressing for greater access for U.S. products and better compliance with trade laws. “China’s not there yet but they’re moving the right way,” he said.