Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Decline of US' Global Swagger

An attribute that has helped make the United States a global technical powerhouse is the cultural diversity of its workforce. Competing views, beliefs and experiences contribute to an environment in which creativity and innovation thrive.

As a result, the brightest and hardest work entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers and medical practitioners tagged the US as their destination of choice. We offered the best schools, access to multiple sources of capital and a support structure designed to nurture emerging growth companies.

They came…they created…and our economy reaped the rewards. The list of companies founded by immigrants to the US is stunning: Intel, Solectron, eBay, Yahoo and (yes) Google.

Then came the horror of 9/11. A protectionist mind-set swept through government and resulted in the clamp down on the number of technologists and students who were allowed to cultivate their craft in the United States. Concurrently, the accelerating globalization of business allowed emerging economies in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, India and China to develop more credible and higher quality education and technical infrastructures.

Today, the US is no longer the destination of choice for many would-be entrepreneurs. There is the perception that a comparable level of success can be achieved in expanding cities like Mumbai, Bangalore, Dubai, Shanghai, Tel Aviv and Belfast.

The inability to attract the world’s most talented entrepreneurs, engineers and technologists is one of the most significant threats facing the United States economy. Simply put, we have lost our global swagger.

We need to act quickly to solidify the US’ global leadership in technology. Immediate steps should include a scaling back on restrictions for H1B visas, as well as an aggressive promotional campaign to encourage enrollment of international students in undergraduate and graduate programs.

Let’s invite the world’s best, and then be gracious, supportive and thankful when they arrive.

I do recognize the arguments against throwing open the door. Foreign-born software developers, engineers, doctors, etc. will take jobs that would have otherwise been filled by domestic workers. True…this will most likely be a near-term outcome. Yet, the resulting company creation and innovation from sporting the most competitive workforce will lead to more opportunities (and wealth) for everyone.

There’s also the issue of homeland security and terrorist threats. This is certainly a risk and not one to be taken lightly. However, the positive economic impact and improvement in quality of life outweighs this potential danger.


Nickname unavailable said...

I agree with Marc's post in some, but not all levels. Yes, we need skilled, talented educated people in this country to fill the void that is a consequence of the fatally flawed education system in this country. Did you know that China conducts annual "Intelligence Olympics?"

The USA had its priorities upside down with making it more and more difficult for students to get an adequate affordable eduction (I wont even go to the student loan fiasco we are currently living with) leaving us with a paucity of educated talent. The anal retentive politicians want to limit H1B visas using the fatally flawed logic that those jobs should go to our citizens.

We no longer have any bragging rights, much less swagger, to fill all the technical jobs that go wanting for a lack of qualified qualified applicants.

The solution is simple. Bring in foreign qualified candidates until we produce native talent.

Thank you Marcfor this thought provoking post!

CJ said...

Given that over half of the silicon valley startups this part decade were started by immigrants including icons like Google, Yahoo, eBay, etc. immigration is essential for keeping the US economy on top.

PS. Great post!!

Kishore Jethanandani said...

American immigration seems immune to reform. False assumptions have been deeply ingrained over many decades and blithely parroted by the large majority of citizens. Employers protest before Congress but have not invested in research and communication with the purpose of presenting the facts which would help to verify the assumptions. Their strategy for dealing with immigration is just so inept. This despite the fact that the urban legends about immigration are just plain silly.

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Mark Reineck said...

International students are very important to the US economy. Many of today's leading technology companies were started by international students who stayed and started businesses here.

While I feel less strongly about H1B visas I do think they are a good idea. If there are not enough qualified workers here eventually those jobs will go overseas, and not just the jobs that can't be filled but also jobs that support the activities that will go overseas. In other words, if a company will outsource IT services to an offshore company because they can not fill the jobs here, then the jobs supporting that department such as payroll, building maintenance, janitorial, repair of equipment, infrastructure will necessarily go with them. And the supplies that all of those people consume will be provided by suppliers that are local to where the work is being done.

I think in general we should allow more immigration, not less. This is particularly true of highly skilled people. What made America great is that this is the one place whee anyone can come study, work, research or start business. We all get benefits what that happens. I hate to see us giving that up.

John F. Dini, CMBA, BCB, CBI said...

Absolutely agree. In the current Economist they recite a story about a US educated Chinese man who tried to develop a portable diagnostic tool, but was stymied by US regulations. He returned to China where he now manufactures and sells millions of dollars' worth. Not an exact parallel, but a similar example of how we are educating the world's smartest, and then sending them away to use their education elsewhere.

As Thomas Friedman has said in the NYTimes- Every foreign national graduating in science or engineering from a US university should find a green card stapled to his diploma.