In recent months, there has been increasing support to allow companies to bring home their global earnings — a process called repatriation — at a reduced tax rate. This would encourage capital spending, investment in domestic operations, and contribute critically-needed revenue to the Treasury.
Across sectors ranging from technology to professional services, U.S. corporations lead the world in innovation. But we are hindered by our outdated tax system. The last major corporate tax reform took place 25 years ago, long before many of today’s U.S.-based firms were even in existence.
Other nations, recognizing this complexity, have adjusted their tax codes to incentivize innovation and attract investment within their borders. And now, Congress and the Administration are considering reform of the tax code. However, even with the creation of the new Congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, changes will take time.
Fortunately, we need not wait for comprehensive reform to bring these earnings home immediately. In the House, a bipartisan group of lawmakers has introduced H.R. 1843, the Freedom to Invest Act of 2011, and similar efforts are being discussed in the Senate.
Similar legislation was enacted in 2004, and economists, such as former Clinton Administration official Robert Shapiro, found it provided a significant boost.
According to a 2009 study by Shapiro and Aparna Mathur, investments made by U.S. companies at home included $73 billion to create or retain jobs, $75 billion to finance new capital spending, and $39 billion to pay down domestic debt. That could more than triple today, given amounts currently sitting abroad.
Based on macroeconomic data, 2005 was a very productive year: Real GDP grew substantially, from 3.1% in 2004 to 4.3% in 2005; unemployment dropped from 5.5% in 2004 to 5.0% in 2005, then dropped to 4.5% in 2006. Additionally, analysts at Credit Suisse, Citibank and Goldman Sachs all concluded that the 2005 repatriation period was unambiguously dollar-positive.
The economic impact of repatriation in 2004 was not driven solely by benefits received by larger corporations. Contrary to the rhetoric, hundreds of America’s homegrown companies of all sizes contributed to these gains through the reinvestments made possible by repatriation.
Brocade repatriated approximately $75 million in 2005. These monies were used to support workers’ wages and compensation, growing our businesses and strategic investments. Since 2005, Brocade has increased its U.S. headcount both organically and through acquisitions from nearly 1,000 employees to more than 3,500 at the end of 2010.
Varian repatriated approximately $128 million in 2006, using the funds for acquisitions, R&D initiatives which improved cancer care and made the company more competitive abroad, expansion of manufacturing capabilities in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas, and a workforce that grew from 3,900 people to 5,300 at year-end 2010.
The drumbeat of disappointing reports on industrials, jobs and GDP growth mean we cannot wait any longer to answer this critical question — should we bring upwards of $1 trillion home to invest in our recovery, or should we continue to let it sit overseas, assisting other countries in theirs?
To us, the answer is clear. We only hope our leaders in Washington see it the same way.
Timothy E. Guertin, member of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group Board of Directors, is president and CEO of Varian Medical Systems, the world's leading manufacturer of medical devices and software for treating cancer with radiotherapy, as well as X-ray imaging technology for medical, scientific, industrial, and security applications.
Michael Klayko, vice chairman of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group Board of Directors, is CEO of Brocade, a provider of networking solutions that help the world’s leading organizations transition smoothly to a world where applications and information reside anywhere.