However, the biggest indicator of the auto aftermarket's economic strength is in its attractiveness to investors, according to Mr. Rassuli.
“Investment in the auto care industry is at an all-time high,” he said. Market capitalization in the industry has nearly tripled in five years, to $160 billion this year from $58 billion, according to Mr. Rassuli. Mergers and acquisitions have also tripled, to 483 in 2011-2014 from 163 in 2007-2011, he said.
“The auto care industry is not a high flyer, but it doesn't bust and its people stay employed,” he said. “Through hard times, auto care employees keep their jobs and contribute to the economy.”
Other featured speakers at the forum included Marcus Jadotte, assistant secretary of commerce for industry and analysis, and NASCAR driver and team owner Michael Waltrip.
Mr. Jadotte, who works within the Commerce Department's International Trade Administration (ITA), said his agency is dedicated to increasing export business for the auto care industry and other U.S. manufacturing sectors.
“Two years ago, when (Commerce Secretary) Penny Pritzker was sworn in, she put a sign on her door — ‘Open for Business,'” he said. “That sign is still there.”
Today, U.S. exports support roughly 11.7 million jobs in the U.S., and the auto aftermarket alone accounted for $81 billion worth of exports last year, according to Mr. Jadotte.
“We are working on strengthening the global competitiveness of U.S. industry and enforcing fair trade,” he said.
The ITA has staff in 75 countries and Export Assistance Centers in 108 U.S. cities, Mr. Jadotte said. All of these offices are ready to help auto aftermarket companies and other potential U.S. exporters find overseas markets, he said.
The agency also works with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to protect intellectual property rights; hosts trade events to present market opportunities and efficient export strategies to U.S. companies; and identifies export market and market trends, including its annual list of the Top 30 markets for auto parts, he added. .
Mr. Waltrip spoke of the auto parts dealer in Kentucky who first financed him as a NASCAR driver, and of his experience as an auto aftermarket employer with a team of 250 people touring with him 38 weeks a year.
“Each NASCAR race brings about $150 million to local economies,” he said. “There are thousands of employees of all types. There are technicians, degreed engineers, self-taught mechanics and the athletes who jump over the wall the change the tires in the pit.”