Strong leadership needed for uncertain times



President Obama is unlikely to use these terms, but the state of our union is decidedly uncertain.  What we need most at this time of uncertainty and unease is the President’s strong leadership.  Fortunately, President Obama has the opportunity in his national address not only to convey the current state of the union, but also to outline a clear plan for moving the nation forward.  That plan should be centered on using our strength in innovation to power economic growth and job creation.    

Technological innovation created here has already reshaped our lives in significant ways and promises to be even more transcendent in the future.  Think about it: At the beginning of this decade, the idea of skyping a friend or work colleague on the other side of the globe was a mere sci-fi dream.  Wikis were a figment of someone’s imagination, social networking was pre-nascent, Google was still a start-up, the cloud had no relationship to computing, mobile devices were not quite mobile, and the world was a slightly larger place than it is today.  Today these innovations have improved lives, made us more efficient, and helped to sustain our economy.

Over the next decade, the world promises to be a smaller, faster, more connected place.  This nation’s standing in that new world will be determined by the decisions we make today.

President Obama, through his policies, has the ability to embrace the reality that powerful always-on mobile technologies have blurred geographic distances and time zones. Actions taken in Bangor are almost immediately known in the U.S. with ripple effects in Beijing, Brussels, and around the world.  
 
No industry understands this better than high-tech companies in the business of connecting ideas, money, and people from around the world.  Although territorial boundaries continue to exist, ideas, money, and people increasing flow seamlessly, rapidly and productively across our world in a spectacular multi-dimensional concert of movement.  

The President, starting with the state of the Union, has the ability to set us on a course to compete in this new global environment.  We can and should be the world leader in innovation for decades to come, as long as we embrace the future, and take common-sense steps to make our nation more competitive, our workforce more educated, our tax laws more rational, our trade policies more positive, and our immigrations laws more welcoming of international talent.

Investing and innovating with an eye toward benefiting from global markets will directly result in more dollars for jobs today and tomorrow.  The tech sector has proven it.  Through adopting a global outlook, while making real and significant investments here at home, the tech sector has buttressed the economic downturn better than the broader economy, and actually saw positive job growth in December. 


The President should adopt that same framework for the nation by outlining a concrete plan for becoming the global leader in innovation.  We can get there while reducing the deficit by shifting resources to areas key to economic growth, and by creating an environment for businesses to grow and generate jobs.  We can freeze discretionary spending, while still prioritizing making real investments in education and create a 21st century workforce that is proficient in science, technology, engineering, and math.  The government need not do it all and education is an area where the tech sector has proven that businesses can be beneficial partners with the public sector.  Our higher education system remains the most innovative in the world.  We should work to ensure this is same for our pre-university system.  
 
We must also adopt trade, tax, and talent policies that embrace the current global realities we confront.  With 95 percent of the world’s population outside of our borders, we cannot rationally claim to want to revive the manufacturing sector yet create obstacles to selling goods to the rest of the world.

Our punitive corporate tax system and lackluster trade polices pre-dated this President, but he has the opportunity to set us on a new course.  The same is true for investing in smart systems, renewables, and energy efficient technologies.  The private sector desire to be global leaders is there, what is necessary is federal investment and regulatory framework that creates the glide path to success.  

In many respects the major policies we have in the place in the areas that matter most to jobs - - education, immigration, trade, taxes - - are the same policies we had in place for the last fifty years.  As a result, over that time we have experienced double digit declines in the manufacturing sector and complete stagnation in real wages. What we need now are smart policies that will serve us well for the next fifty years.  By advancing such polices, President Obama has the opportunity to utilize the same technologies that have “flattened the world” to ensure that America remains a global leader in innovation and moves from uncertainty to unbounded optimism. 

Dean C. Garfield is President and CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council