Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Thoughts on America’s Ability to Innovate and Compete




" The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith."
                                               Franklin Delano Roosevelt


I have heard a lot of discussion lately about the U.S. losing its competitive edge and falling behind on its ability to stimulate the development of game changing innovations.
I think some look at rapid growth in new technological developments from China, India and South Korea and are concerned that economic power will shift to those countries at the expense of U.S. economic growth.
Some may look at the ranking of education systems and feel that without improvements the U.S. will fall woefully behind other industrialized nations in the ability to produce a workforce for the new technological age.
Still others believe that management focus on short-term profit prevents companies from investing in innovations for the long term.
Clearly, there is truth in all of the above points of view and there is reason to be concerned. But I was once told that half the solution to a problem is recognizing that it exists. That after identifying and defining a problem developing a solution is just a matter of focus by people bent on solving the problem. So I believe we will face and overcome challenges as we identify them.
As far as the U.S. ability to innovate and compete, I happen to be an American Optimist. I believe that the U.S. has a special set of catalysts that spurs innovation and competiveness. These catalysts include:
1)    The opportunity for individuals to create wealth that they can keep. This is under pressure at times as national spending requires heavier taxation but at present there is still a strong incentive for entrepreneurs to create new businesses.
2)    The U.S. system of governance. U.S. citizens love their freedom and they have an enormous amount of national pride. They understand that the rule of law should work for all citizens. This protection of individual freedoms is a powerful draw to people from all over the world who wait for a visa or green card or are willing to risk their lives to come here. After arriving they search for ways to stay and become U.S. citizens.
3)    Diversity. Because our citizens have been successful in creating personal wealth and living in a nation that is ruled by law, the U.S. has attracted immigrants from all over the world to power our engines of ingenuity. These immigrants bring an understanding of how to do business in the countries of their origin.
I personally have friends that are first or second generation Americans who have created personal fortunes.
One came from China and started as a short order cook in San Francisco. After earning his masters degree he and his wife started a Chinese newspaper that has grown to a publishing group serving the Chinese communities in most major U.S. cities. He sponsors a lot of community activities and each time he speaks to a crowd he is passionate about his love for this country. Interestingly, he has strong connections in both Taiwan and the PRC and has helped American and Chinese businesses develop.
Another friend is second generation Japanese. His family was doing well before WWII but lost everything when they were interred. After the war this family of immigrants fought hard to recreate their wealth. They did and today have a very healthy multi establishment restaurant business. They are very proud to be Americans. They also work closely with American and Japanese companies in developing new business programs.
Another Chinese friend started a plastic resin company after receiving his PhD in nuclear physics. He has operations all over the globe and is a very strong believer in the American Democracy.
I am a partner in a medical consulting group that includes a physician that hails from Columbia. He is laying the groundwork to open South American countries to our cancer care consulting practice.
Finally, I am involved in a project that will involve major medical institutions and universities in developing new medical technologies. Key players in the formation of this organization are first generation Americans.
Over the past two and a quarter centuries we have had significant economic crises that threatened the strength of our nation. We have had major challenges to our global leadership role from nations that had the advantage of newer manufacturing infrastructure and lower labor costs. In every instance the U.S. found a way to compete and maintain a leadership in innovation and international competiveness. I would have to say my own personal experiences have strengthened my faith in the U.S. ability to continually innovate and compete.
I think we, as a nation, have challenges but I firmly believe that we have a system that is resilient and thrives on a continual renewal driven by the ability to create personal wealth, a rule of law and a population that is diverse and continually renewing its vitality.

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