Job creation in the digital economy needs a jumpstart
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Silicon Valley and Washington have not always seen eye to eye.

When we founded TechNet 20 years ago, in 1997, many in our industry wanted to keep politics as far away as possible. The thought was then that if government couldn’t keep up with the pace of technology, working together would only slow us down.

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Our approach was decidedly different. Despite initial resistance, our bipartisan network of technology business leaders has worked together with elected officials in Washington and state capitals to enhance the economic opportunities that technology brings.

 

From the R&D tax credit, to the U.S. National Broadband Plan, to policies alleviating burdens for entrepreneurs and startups, we have built a firm foundation of support for innovation. And our country has benefited tremendously: The tech industry now employs nearly 7 million Americans and contributes $1.3 trillion to the U.S. economy. 

The world is a changed place from 20 years ago.

In 1997, Google did not exist; Facebook would not launch for another seven years; the iPhone was ten years off; and advancements in precision agriculture, remote health care; and next-generation manufacturing were scarcely even imagined. Today we are on the cusp of a new wave of innovation that will digitize companies and countries alike and has the potential to create unprecedented opportunities for Americans.

However, we’re also facing new challenges. Economic inequality continues to grow, and we must find new ways to ensure that more Americans can participate in and benefit from this economy.

The question from 20 years ago applies to this new economy — what does the United States need to do to create jobs and share the benefits of technology across our country?

First, we need to stop teaching like it's 1950. While some progress has been made, American students are still being taught the same subjects in the same way they were decades ago, and only 20 percent of graduating high school seniors are ready for the rigor of first-year college courses in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

We need to invest heavily in STEM education, beginning with teaching computer science in every school in the nation. But our commitment must go beyond this. It should also include technical training programs for those in high school and community college. And we have to make retraining programs available for mid-career workers. This will open new doors of opportunities for jobs in manufacturing, advanced energy, and other industrial sectors, so it’s critical that we get this right.

Simultaneously, we must prioritize a national plan to promote innovation, entrepreneurship and the creation of startups. We are the only major developed economy without one. According to the 2017 Bloomberg Innovation Index, the U.S. is now the world’s ninth most innovative country, falling three spots since 2015. While the U.S. might have initially led the Internet Age, there is no guarantee that we’ll lead the digital era in the future.

The good news is that we’re seeing the startup culture move from traditional technology hubs to cities across the nation — in places like Provo and Portland, Nashville and New Orleans. To stay ahead, we need to reduce the burden on young companies, increase access to talent and capital, support continued federal investments in research and development, and encourage startup incubators around our nation’s universities. If done thoughtfully, this could add one million good jobs to our economy every year.

The White House and Congress should also work together to reform the tax code. Today our corporate tax rates are the highest in the developed world, putting our nation at a significant competitive disadvantage to other countries. As a result, there is $3 trillion in earnings overseas that should be invested here at home and help put more Americans to work.

Just as important, it’s critical that the U.S. remains a hub for the best and brightest tech minds globally. Immigrants or the children of immigrants have founded more than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies, employing more than 10 million people. Our nation must ensure that entrepreneurs are welcome to create jobs here in America.

Technology is vital in nearly every facet of our lives and propels every sector of our economy. The time is now for tech and public policy leaders to build on the important work of the past 20 years so we can envision and create jobs for the next 20 and beyond.

John Chambers is the executive chairman of Cisco. John Doerr is the chairman of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. They are co-founders of TechNet, a bipartisan network of innovation economy CEOs and senior executives, which marks its 20th anniversary this year.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.