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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“Lizard King” John Bello describes his first entrepreneurial venture as a miserable failure. Bello launched South Beach Beverage Co. in 1995. Despite the popularity of other geo-based drink brands such as Nantucket Nectars and AriZona iced tea, South Beach didn’t resonate with consumers, not even in the upscale Florida community that shared its name. Within two months, Bello knew the $2 million startup investment was heading, well, south.
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