[This op-ed was originally published here at The Colorado Statesman on May 17, 2016.]
Now that both parties have decided on the presumptive nominees for the 2016 presidential election and Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump make their case to Coloradoans, it is easy to find the stark differences between them on any number of issues — from terrorism to trade to taxes. In a highly partisan campaign environment, it can seem near impossible to find common ground. But there is one thing that all the candidates can and should agree on: the vital importance of strengthening America’s global leadership.
This may be an unusual question, but what does Nepal have to do with the presidential race?
After last year’s devastating earthquake, a young woman, Laxmi, was left to die. Suffering from a broken back, legs and pelvis, she was pulled from the rubble and transported to a medical center. Her injuries were severe, but treatable. Due to the lack of medical supplies, though, there was little that could be done. She was sent back to her destroyed village with no hope of recovery. It was in that village that Tom Dickey, a Fort Collins-based physician’s assistant, found her. Working with Project C.U.R.E., he had travelled to Nepal following the disaster and was able to provide lifesaving aid to countless victims, including Laxmi. Working with a local medical equipment engineer, Tom helped establish a post-operative rehab center for dozens of people who suffered traumatic injuries. Thanks to American generosity—Laxmi is able to walk again.
Tom’s story is a powerful one because it demonstrates on a personal level how Denver has long played an oversized role across the globe—and how what happens overseas directly matters to us here at home. Not only is Denver headquarters to international charities, but the Mile-High City is proud to host global companies like IBM, Intel, Cargill, and Lockheed Martin. They, as well as local industry leaders like CH2M have all invested heavily in Colorado.
The candidates should know that more than 710,000 jobs are supported by trade statewide—more than one in five—and with close to $8.4 billion in foreign exports last year, Colorado plays a central role in the world economy. Nearly 5,000 small and medium-sized Colorado businesses sold goods overseas, a number that is only likely to increase in the future. As these companies can attest, America’s customers are no longer our traditional allies in Europe and North America. In fact, over half of our exports now go to developing countries in Africa, Latin America, and Asia.
We’re proud that Denver-based organizations like Project C.U.R.E. and the DaVita Village Trust not only provide humanitarian assistance overseas, but also help promote development that opens doors for economic growth and opportunity. Together with our U.S. government counterparts, like USAID, the Peace Corps and the Millennium Challenge Corporation, we help save lives and create stability overseas. As we confront growing challenges overseas from ISIS to Russia to the Zika virus, these are the civilian tools that our next president will need on their first day in the Oval Office.
Our development and trade efforts build peace and prosperity in places where it had been previously lacking. Not only do they reduce the risk of conflict and terrorism, Colorado companies—many which belong to the Colorado Business Roundtable and its affiliates—also foster relationships around the world to advance American interests and values. As countries move up the development ladder, investments by the U.S. are repaid many times over through improved business ties and expanded customer bases. This is not just a hypothetical—11 of our top 15 trading partners today were once recipients of U.S. assistance.
Calls from the campaign trail for isolationism or turning inward ignore today’s globalized economy and our increasingly interconnected world. We can no longer only count on our domestic customers to remain competitive. Denver businesses depend on strategic investments in development and diplomacy to open doors and create a climate to facilitate trade and investment. As our nation helps increase prosperity in the developing world, we expand our access to emerging markets and new consumers have the buying power to purchase American goods.
And our generals are the first to say that American military might alone, will not keep us safe from threats like pandemics, terrorism, weapons proliferation, and environmental disasters. No longer do the mountains or the plains insulate us from threats and changes overseas—now we must fully engage in what is happening in London, Jordan, and Indonesia. Only with strong American leadership can we help influence events internationally and ensure that the world remains a safe place for the United States to do business.
In November, Colorado voters will be going to the polls to choose the next commander-in-chief. What do we expect to hear from all the candidates? A clear vision for how they will use all our tools—development, diplomacy, and defense—to strengthen our nation’s role in the world.
Dr. Douglas Jackson is the President and CEO of Project C.U.R.E., the largest provider of donated medical supplies and equipment to developing countries around the world. Jeff Wasden is the President of the Colorado Business Roundtable, a leading business organization that advocates for business development and a stronger Colorado economy. Both are members of the Colorado Advisory Council of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition.