A policy wish list from America’s innovation leaders
By Jake Colvin and John Stubbs – 01/24/11 11:49 AM ET
America’s innovation leaders have a lengthy wish list for policymakers returning to Washington.
Last year, the National Foreign Trade Council’s Global Innovation Forum convened a series of workshops in innovation centers around the country. We asked small business CEOs, innovators from large companies such as General Electric and Procter &Gamble, entrepreneurs and educators in Detroit, Palo Alto and Research Triangle Park about their biggest obstacles to growing innovative businesses in the United States and how Washington could help. Here’s what they told us:
Obstacles to U.S. Innovation
Among the common problems they identified, the most frequently-mentioned is that U.S. immigration and visa policies are harming our ability to compete globally. “Access to global talent is one of the biggest issues facing the American video game industry,” said the president of Cary, North Carolina-based Epic Games. Our cumbersome system is driving jobs and research facilities to Canada, Europe and Asia.
Participants also suggested the U.S. education system needs work. University of Michigan President Mary SueColeman was blunt: “Science and math education in this country is in crisis.” From encouraging home-grown engineers to providing training to workers who have lost their jobs, the United States needs to do more to prepare students forknowledge-based careers.
Innovators identified a series of problems that uniquely affect small businesses. Smaller companies and entrepreneurs continue to face a real credit crunch that began with the global financial crisis. Even successful companies are finding it difficult to access sufficient capital to grow their businesses, which is limiting overall economic growth. Smaller businesses also find it more difficult to access global markets, overcome barriers to entry into new countries, and address counterfeiting and piracy abroad.
Many companies, big and small, worry about the ability of U.S. companies and workers to compete globally on an uneven playing field. Foreign governments continue to take aim at American jobs through a range of protectionist practices that block American sales to their markets, such as non-transparent standards, price controls, censorship of American content and massive subsidies for local firms.
How Washington Can Encourage U.S. Innovation
Happily, these are all issues that can be addressed through smart public policy. Based on the feedback from our conference, Congress should focus on five critical areas to create an enabling environment for America’s innovative businesses and workers in the global marketplace:
2. Ensure that value is being delivered back home for U.S. innovation. In particular, lack of protection in foreign markets for U.S. innovation chills investment, reduces opportunities for transnational technology and knowledge collaboration and removes opportunities for exports of American products and services.
3. Continue to improve access to capital, particularly for innovative small businesses and entrepreneurs, through federal incentive programs designed to expand access to credit markets, attract investment in research and development and lower barriers to entry for businesses seeking to export abroad.
4. Improve incentives for American students to pursue careers in engineering, mathematics and science and highlight the importance of those careers to the nation.
5. Overhaul U.S. immigration and visa policies to enable the United States to attract and retain the brightest entrepreneurs, educators and workers from around the world. There was near-universal agreement that Congress ought to staple a green card to the diplomas of highly-skilled foreign graduates of American universities so that they can pursue careers and lives in the United States.
Jake Colvin is the vice president for the National Foreign Trade Council. John Stubbs is the executive director of the Global Innovation Forum.