Good afternoon everyone, and thank you all for joining us here today.
It’s great to be back in the USA, a country where I spent many happy years working with Chase Manhattan.
I’ll confess, Chicago isn’t a city I’ve been to that often.
In fact my previous visits followed the pattern of Cubs World Series wins.
Twice in two years, and then nothing for decades!
I don’t want to jinx it, but could 2016 be the year we both make it three?
As you may know, I haven’t come to Chicago alone.
I’ve brought with me more than 20 business leaders from the heart of England.
Some are small, some are large.
They all have their own stories to tell.
But one thing they all have in common is that they’re ready, willing and able to do business with the people of Illinois.
Now, I appreciate that you might not know a great deal about the English Midlands.
Compared to the likes of London and Edinburgh, the area is not well known internationally.
But for a part of the world that sometimes hides its light under a bushel, it has certainly made quite an impact on the world stage.
The Midlands is the home of William Shakespeare, of Charles Darwin, of Isaac Newton.
The plane that flew me to Chicago was powered by Rolls Royce engines designed and built in the Midlands.
The car that took me to the airport, a Range Rover, was manufactured in the Midlands.
And the woman who inspired me to get into politics, Margaret Thatcher?
Well, she was from the Midlands too!
It’s home to more than 11 million people, 25 world-class universities and two major international airports.
It’s got a fast-growing economy worth almost $300 billion a year.
Since 2010, it’s created more new jobs that the whole of France.
And it’s also home to Premier League soccer champions Leicester City!
So let’s recap.
Right in the middle of the country.
Often overlooked in favour of bigger names elsewhere.
A powerhouse economy that’s growing faster than its neighbours.
Home to political figures who changed the world.
And a sports team that’s suddenly come good after years of under-achievement.
Remind you of anywhere?
It’s no coincidence that we chose Illinois for our first Midlands overseas trade mission.
The Midlands and the Midwest are natural bedfellows.
And in many ways, what you’ve achieved here is an example for the rest of us.
“Second City” may have been intended as an insult, but Chicago turned it into a badge of honour.
You ignore the sneers, you shrug off the jokes and you get on with doing business.
It’s really a positive, can-do, attitude.
One that’s as much a part of life here as deep dish pizza, live blues, and rush-hour congestion on the Dan Ryan Expressway!
If you come to the Midlands, you’ll see it’s an attitude we share.
And you’ll also find that there’s never been a better time to do business with us.
Of course, the world of international business is facing a major change.
Back in June, the people of Britain made the historic decision to leave the European Union.
It wasn’t the decision I wanted to see, but it’s one I completely respect and one the Government will honour.
The people have spoken, and as our new Prime Minister Theresa May put it, Brexit means Brexit.
But the referendum was only a vote to leave the European Union.
It wasn’t a vote to turn our backs on the world.
It wasn’t a vote to pull down the shutters on international trade.
Britain is still very much open for business.
And no matter how the details of Brexit pan out, that is not going to change.
Some people predicted that a vote to leave would be catastrophic for Britain.
That it would do to our economy what Mrs O’Leary’s cow did to Chicago.
And yes, there will be challenges.
But there also opportunities.
Since the referendum there’s been a lot of talk about seeking out new partners for British businesses beyond Europe.
When people say “non-traditional markets”, it’s usually done with their eyes cast east to Asia or south to Africa.
And that’s great.
When I worked in international finance I specialised in emerging markets.
I know there’s a lot of potential there.
But I also see it more widely.
This is an opportunity to take more of the UK to more of the world.
International trade shouldn’t just be about London working with New York or LA.
There’s a lot more to my country than its capital, and there’s a lot more to yours than its great coastal cities.
There is tremendous economic potential right across the UK, and as a government we have a duty to help tap it.
That’s the thinking behind what we call the Midlands Engine.
It’s not a marketing campaign or a one-off event.
It’s a serious, long-term strategy to make the heart of England greater than the sum of its parts.
To harness the region’s incredible potential, and make it a destination of choice for investors from around the world – including Illinois.
To make this vision a reality, central government is investing literally billions of dollars in the Midlands.
Roads are being widened, rail links improved.
The region’s universities are opening their doors to businesses so that ideas can be shared, tested and brought to market.
And we’re giving the people and businesses of the Midlands a much greater say over how the region is run.
One of the things I’ve always known about America is the sheer number of public offices that are directly elected by the people.
It can bring incredible accountability to the public sector.
I recently read that there are more than half a million elected posts across the nation.
Per head of population, that’s about five times as many as in the UK!
England might be the mother of Parliaments, but for too long we’ve lagged behind our precocious offspring when it comes to devolving power from the centre.
The level of control exerted by London over the rest of the country would astound an American used to local accountability.
I’ve been in politics long enough to know that having a lot of politicians isn’t necessarily considered a good thing!
In fact, when I left banking to get into politics, I got the sense that I was the only new Member of Parliament moving into a more popular profession!
But I also know that on-the-ground decision-making can be a huge boost to business.
After all, who knows more about the needs of a business in Illinois?
Someone who lives and works right here in Chicago, or a pen-pusher sat at desk in Washington?
That’s why we’ve created something called Local Enterprise Partnerships, or LEPs.
Lead by senior figures from private industry, they bring local government together with local businesses to drive economic growth.
They can set priorities for spending, and bid for a share of almost $2 billion of public money.
If a road needs upgrading, the LEP can make it happen.
If a new railway station will bring more jobs to an area, the LEP can secure the funds.
If local people need more training to meet the needs of employers, the LEP can organise it.
It’s a great way of putting communities in control of their own economic growth.
But it’s not all we’re doing, not by a long way.
We’re also bringing power to the people by creating a wave of directly elected mayors.
Now, again, you have a bit of a head start on this!
In the Midlands’ biggest city, Chicago’s twin city of Birmingham, the people will vote for their first-ever mayor next May.
By my reckoning that’ll be a mere 180 years after William B Ogden was first elected here in Chicago!
So it’s been a long time coming, but it will certainly be worth the wait.
The new mayor, who will represent nearly 3 million people right across the West Midlands, will be responsible for transport, housing, planning and much more besides.
Again, it’s about giving the people and businesses of the Midlands control over their own affairs, their own economic destiny.
In 2016, the global economy is very different to anything we’ve seen before.
The traditional idea of world trade, of country ‘A’ making a product, putting it in a shipping container and then sending it to country ‘B’, is increasingly a relic of times past.
Supply chains have become just as global as the marketplace.
Components made in China are used to build an engine in the UK.
That’s put into a car assembled in Germany.
And that’s sold here in the USA.
Old certainties have been turned on their heads.
In 2016, British companies are selling tea to China, wine to France, even boomerangs to Australia.
Although it’s possible we’re just exporting one boomerang over and over again!
The international trade in services, in ideas, is bigger than ever before – in fact services now make up the bulk of the British economy.
And of course technology has completely transformed the business landscape.
The world’s biggest taxi company is Uber.
But it doesn’t own a single taxi.
The world’s biggest provider of vacation accommodation is AirBnB.
But it doesn’t own a single hotel room.
Facebook has become a $350 billion media company without producing any original content.
And not one of these businesses is more than 12 years old.
Thanks to the internet, a small retailer in rural Illinois can easily and instantly do business with customers thousands of miles and a dozen time zones away.
It’s not just business that the internet has transformed.
When I was young, if I misbehaved and had to be punished, my parents would ban me from going out and playing cricket.
Today, things are very different.
I’ve got four children of my own.
And if I need to punish them, I just change the wifi password!
So the way we live is changing.
The way we do business is changing.
And the UK’s relationship with Europe and the world is changing.
In such a period of flux it can be comforting to cling to the old certainties.
Comforting, but wrong.
This is the time to seize new opportunities.
This is the time to forge new partnerships.
And this is the time for the Midlands and the Midwest to come together and show the world that, when it comes to business, the outside might look more exciting – but it’s what’s in the middle that counts.