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America’s heritage as a nation of immigrants is a source of tremendous economic strength, and current research confirms that immigrants who have been attracted to the U.S. for its pro-growth culture and excellent universities often stay and create valuable, fast-growing startup firms. High-skill immigrants in particular have two significant positive impacts on growth – first as critical engineering and science talent at U.S. companies and second as potential entrepreneurs of new U.S.-based companies. Despite the nearly universal bi-partisan support for high-skill immigration, the existing system of immigration into the U.S. has become a disaster. Visas and green cards are bureaucratic, the number of high-skill migrants to the U.S. is capped at an artificially low level, and security laws have made travel to the U.S. after 9/11 difficult. America now risks losing its attraction as a “brain magnet” in contrast to other nations that are reforming in order to compete for the critical resource known as human capital.
The crown jewel of the U.S. university system – the finest in the world – is the research university, where knowledge creation is the ultimate goal. Recognition of the centrality of knowledge creation to economic growth makes the efficiency of university innovation a top concern to policymakers, especially since the federal government funds two-thirds of the $48 billion of R&D performed in academic institutions. In too many universities, commercialization of research discoveries is not as rapid or as successful as it could be. The solution provided by Technology Transfer Offices (TTO) has been mixed, as too many have been directed to focus on maximizing revenue through patent licensing, leading to a sub-optimal level of technology diffusion. In the face of declining funding of basic science research, venture capital migration to downstream opportunities, and heightened competition from abroad, the optimal commercialization of U.S. university innovations could not be more important.
Developing the human capital of young Americans is vital to keep America’s entrepreneurial economy growing. Our future entrepreneurs and their workers need the twenty-first century skills and knowledge to create successful ventures and to spur innovation in the economy. Yet education in the U.S. is struggling to stay competitive and fails to provide access to a quality educational experience for all students. Developing tomorrow’s talented, capable innovators is a challenge that will require major, entrepreneurially-driven improvements in education from pre-school through graduate school.
For the past five years, the National Dialogue on Entrepreneurship has helped expand the discourse about how to best to advance innovation and catalyze economic growth beyond “small business” to debates on science, technology, engineering and research. While we will continue to advance discussion driven by developments in the all important innovation economy, the initiative will carry a new name - the Policy Dialogue on Entrepreneurship (PDE). PDE will pick up exactly where NDE left off -– broadening attention to the field of entrepreneurship and connecting thought leaders looking to advance it.
Congress is considering the American Recovery and Reinvestment Bill of 2009. This new $825 billion economic stimulus package includes $275 billion in economic recovery tax cuts to individuals and businesses over two years, making it clear that the U.S. is relying heavily on entrepreneurs to jumpstart our economy. And they’re right to do so.
Times are tough. Layoffs are growing every day and despite massive government intervention, there is little talk of anything more than a slow prolonged recovery. There are a few reasons though to remain optimistic. The main one: as long as we have entrepreneurial people, jobs will be created, and when times get tough we learn to do more with less. There are many entrepreneurs out there who see new and better opportunities for innovation now we are in the midst of crisis.
Making what is urgently needed consistent with what is needed for the long-term is not a bad idea. The current House bill on the economic stimulus nicely blends the short- and long-term perspectives, particularly in the way it addresses renewable energy. The challenge now is to figure out how to achieve progress in developing and commercializing green technologies without turning the government into an obstacle to the entrepreneurial innovation needed to end the climate change and economic crises.
Employment in the U.S. has been in a free fall. Payroll employment has declined by 3.6 million since the start of the recession in December 2007, according to the latest report from Bureau of Labor Statistics. Firms have shed jobs every month since January 2008. Last January alone, the national payroll dropped by 598,000 jobs. The unemployment rate has risen from 4.9 percent in January 2008 to 7.6 percent in January 2009. Is it time to consider a payroll tax cut?
Although the reputation of the U.S. has gone through some bumpy air of late, we have consistently been held in high regard for our entrepreneurial prowess and culture. Even during these times of great economic stress, we are flooded with enthusiastic visitors from overseas (both in person and on-line) searching to understand and replicate the ecosphere that has fostered so much job creation and growth.
Readers of this column are now well acquainted with this author’s views on the central role in re-starting the global economy of those unperturbed citizens around the world who see opportunity rather than doom. Often driven by a desired to do well and do good and an interest in not working for Wall Street’s CEOs but using them as mentors, our new generation of entrepreneurs are geared up and underway. They are also global in their mindsets.
We should approach innovation in a similar fashion, taking steps to boost R&D and the commercialization of new technologies at home, while at the same time scouring the world to help those with the best innovative ideas, programs and policies that nurture innovation. When the fires burn out and the market bottoms out, it will be the entrepreneurs who seed the new ideas and jobs from the ashes.
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