08/09/2012 09:21 am ET Updated Oct 09, 2012

Growth Opportunities

As grim as the economic situation looks right now, both here and abroad, there is ample reason to be more sanguine about our long term prospects.

Economists can and do disagree about a host of issues, but if there is one common thread that they all come together on it is surely the pivotal importance of growth. The key to our ability to reduce the deficit, manage the debt, handle entitlement programs and create jobs depends on growth. If we can only get our economy growing in the 3-4 percent range, all of our other problems will become more manageable.

And the world offers us vast potential for growth. Nothing spells growth more clearly than a rising middle class and Kiplinger reports that worldwide the middle class will expand from about 1.8 billion people today to close to 5 billion by 2030. We need only look back to our country in the 1950s and 60s to imagine what that could mean. When you have tens of millions of young people setting up households and filling them with consumer goods, it sets the stage for lots of economic growth.

We can see it happening all around the world -- in China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, Turkey, even Mexico. Billions of people entering the middle class want a bigger piece of pie and can see a reasonable prospect of making it happen.

All of which portends tremendous opportunity for U.S. businesses that have the foresight to go global. This is our fundamental challenge. The great majority of those entering the middle class over the next two decades live elsewhere. Most of our citizens are already in the middle class. We are on the verge of a major shift in global wealth. Today the U.S. accounts for about 20 percent of all middle class spending. By 2030, as the great expansion of the global middle class reaches maturity, our share will fall to about 8 percent.

I have often cited the importance of exports for U.S. manufacturing, but it isn't just manufacturing that depends on the growing global middle class. We enjoy tremendous competitive advantages in banking, insurance, consulting, advanced technologies, engineering, and environmental protection. Indeed, thanks to new technologies for extracting oil and gas, it now appears we will soon be exporting energy as well. And health care may be the most promising export sector of all. We complain a lot about the cost of health care, but a major portion of our investment in this sector is producing scientific advances that we can market overseas. For example, one company I am associated with -- Northwest Biotherapeutics -- is developing new therapies for cancer treatment that have great promise for the future. In sum, we have a lot to sell the world, but we have to get out there and sell it.

It may seem difficult to focus on matters like this while we are caught up in a partisan election and our government is tied up in knots, but maybe this is exactly what we need to do -- focus on global opportunities. Such a focus could enable us to rise above ideological squabbles and lay the groundwork for a prosperous future.

Jerry Jasinowski, an economist and author, served as President of the National Association of Manufacturers for 14 years and later The Manufacturing Institute. Jerry is available for speaking engagements.