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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?
Have you ever thought about the contribution that universities can make to an economy? Here’s a fact: Around 6,900 MIT-alumni companies with worldwide sales of approximately $164 billion are located in Massachusetts, representing 26 percent of the sales of that state’s companies. MIT’s impact extends to the national level with, for example, 4,100 alumni-founded firms based in California generating an estimated $134 billion in worldwide sales.
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.
We have received an overwhelming number of “wake-up calls” alerting us to the need for change. Because such change can only arise from innovative thinking, we must nurture the innovative mind. Young, creative people around the world have the potential to design solutions to the most pressing global challenges, such as global warming, the spread of HIV/AIDS, and even financial risk monitoring.
One of the few effective government programs to support innovation is at risk. The language authorizing the Small Business Innovation and Research (SBIR) program is set to expire on March 20, and so far, disputes have hampered a reauthorization resolution. What is at stake? Millions of jobs and technological innovations that contribute to national defense, the environment, and health care, among many other areas.
The $787 billion economic stimulus package includes large investments in innovation in areas such as energy, health IT, and broadband. Developing these new technologies will be scientists and engineers, but here’s a reality check: we don’t have enough of them. Although increasing the number of U.S. scientists and engineers is a must, in the shorter term, we need a quicker fix: more high-skilled immigration.
Last week, I argued in favor more high-skilled immigration to bring additional entrepreneurial talent into the country for the near future. Today, I want to focus on an urgent policy issue that needs to be addressed to produce results over the long-run. Improvements in education are essential to equipping American citizens with entrepreneurial skills. Creative thinking and prudent risk-taking are no different than any other skills people are born with; they are likely to be useless unless the skill is developed through education and experience.
Every day—while building roads, giving inoculations, sitting at computer screens—individuals are quietly thinking: “I know a better way to do this.” Or: “I could create something new that would make this easier for everyone.”
And then they go back to work, never transforming their thoughts into action. Why does this happen, and how can we unleash these hidden ideas?
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