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The Drunk, the Street Light, and the President (and Jobs, Innovation, and Competitiveness)

Try a quick (perhaps not so quick) experiment.   Build a list of all the major companies that have been recognized as technology leaders in their use of “IT” over the past 5 years.  Create a “technology leaders index” like a Dow Jones or  Standard and Poor’s and look at the behavior of these technology leaders as whole.  You will find that together they outperform any of our traditional market indices and the US Fortune 500 as a group.

Perhaps your reaction will be a big “so what” – conventional wisdom says that technology and technology innovation is a major driver of productivity and business performance, so what is the “big deal”?

Now try something else.  Look at the employment figures for these same technology leaders over the same multi-year period.   On the news every day we hear the financial network commentators and their interviewees talk about the “jobless recovery” and how the key economic indices can climb along with national productivity as a consequence of automation.  But this second experiment reveals a new phenomena – these technology leaders with their superior market performance and above-the-norm investment in technology increased their workforces (read this as job creation) 14% between 2006 and 2010 and the Fortune 500 average is 6%!

Technology investment and innovation  doesn’t displace jobs, it drives job creation!

Well what does this have to do with a drunk and a streetlight?  Here we go…

Dear President Obama,

Have you ever heard the parable about the drunk and the streetlight?   It goes like this.

A man is walking down the street one dark evening and sees a drunk stumbling around in the glow of a streetlight.  He asks, “Can I help you? What are you doing?”  The drunk replies, “I am looking for my house keys.  I dropped them and can’t find them.  But there is no way you can help me out here”  In dismay the man then asked the drunk, “Why can’t I help you?  You look to troubled.”  Then drunk then turns around, looks squarely at the man and says, “Well I dropped them in that alley back there but it is so dark we’ll never find them”

Mr. President it seems that you are looking for job creation “under the streetlight”.  Your Council on Jobs and Competitiveness and other such programs appear to be focused on creating jobs from the past and not for the future.   We have a new economy, a technology economy and the old rules and old infrastructure just do not apply.  We need a vision of global demand today for goods and services.. we need a view for the future.  It is always great to hear your words about innovation, technology, alternative energy, and more.  But the workforce of the future is not a 130,000,000 Steve Jobs clones.  The “goods” of the future are not 13,000,000 Teslas a year.  In today’s economy innovation is not just “the product”.

We need to create a new streetlight for our needs and new economy — probably two.  One to shine a light on making new jobs where we need them and where we have no growth today.  The other “light” to illuminate our path to creating a competitive workforce to ensure the success of our nation in the evolving global economy.

Jobs and Innovation: “Double Coupon Days for Job Creation, Innovation, and Growth”

Now that we have observed that companies that are technology leaders (innovation + leading edge use of technology) outperform their peers and also grow at a rate the fuels job creation we need to create incentives for all businesses to follow this model.  The idea of tax credits or incentives for investment in technology, innovation, and R&D is not new.  However,  consider doubling that incentive for companies that will take 50% of the value of that incentive to create jobs.  Also consider making this incentive a 3 year program to “seed” this behavior…but also consider extending the incentive model as long as the company can demonstrate simultaneous business growth and job creation.  Some may argue that this would decrease the national tax base at a time when we face extreme deficit issues.  However this would be offset by an increase in employment, a rise in consumer spending, and a multiplier effect in all market areas.   Framing such legislation would be a superb focus for the Council.

Competitiveness: The “Made in America” Worker

Quite simply “It’s not the chachka, it’s the worker, stupid”.  Our future as a nation will never be defined as being the sole source of iPad-type products.  Our future competitiveness will be defined by our workforce competitiveness, economics of the workforce, ability to harness innovation forces,  and the products we produce.  When Secretary of State Clinton was a New York Senator she put the focus on “Bestshoring” as a national competitive strategy — we need to revive and  build on that view.

The Council should focus on defining the U.S. “workforce of the future”.  What capabilities and skills must we develop as a nation through 2050 or so?  What does this mean to our educational system from elementary school through high school to technical schools and institutions of higher education?  How do we “market” the American worker in a global economy — what is our image?; what needs to change? what should it be?  How should we set a national agenda to open up every city, town, village to be a center of commerce using technology in the same way that historically the nation expanded via harbor, rail, air transport, and highways? — this is the new infrastructure.

In closing, President Obama, my message is simple — We are in a new economy.  We need a vision. We need goals.  We need to be cognizant of the dynamics of the technology economy – encouraging the right investments, right education, right way to encourage innovation, and right positioning to make America a competitive force.

Yours truly,


Howard Rubin

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