Anheuser-Busch Briefing Center, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
1615 H St NW, Washington, D.C.
Registration and Breakfast: 8:00 a.m.-8:30 a.m.
“In a dynamic world, there is no single way to approach an issue, and we must learn from one another in the process of trying to move the debate forward.” – Margaret Spellings, President, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation
The Business Horizon Quarterly (BHQ) is the Forum for Innovation's signature publication. Its purpose is to share informed insights on emerging issues facing the American business community. By asking questions like “what is growth?” and “what is innovation?”, the Forum aims to inform and to spur debate.
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There is a small framed black and white photograph hanging in IBM’s Israel headquarters, an impressive complex of modern buildings in the Tel Aviv suburb of Petach Tikvah, which shows a group of half-a-dozen bespectacled, smiling young men and women standing arm-in-arm. This was IBM’s Israel team in 1950, during the first year of the company’s operations in a country that was not yet two years old.
Meir Nissensohn, Chairman of IBM Israel, said that even he can’t quite understand why IBM entered Israel back then, but he knew that it was a “pure business decision” not driven by nationalism or religion.
Israel had just won a bloody war of independence against six Arab countries, in which nearly 10% of its population was killed just a few years after World War II. This was a country roughly the size of New Jersey, half covered in desert, surrounded by hostile neighbors, with no natural resources, and still in the midst of absorbing hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from European and Arab countries. These refugees lived in primitive shelters while the country faced chronic food shortages and a nearly nonexistent economic infrastructure.
“What are we losing by not having a more aggressive space program?”
That question and others like it have been at the center of a number of debates lately about America’s role in space. Since the dawn of the space age more than 50 years ago, Americans and Russians have been breaking earthly barriers in ways that have inspired and thrilled people around the world. Investments by NASA, the US Air Force and other federal government institutions into the aerospace industry have also created new technologies and applications that have also revolutionized the way people live and see the world around them. We’re not just talking about Tang or Teflon either.
Computers, communications, medicine, materials processing and more have all developed in revolutionary ways since America jumped head first into the space race following the first beeps of Russia’s Sputnik in 1957.
Private Sector Opportunity
The United States military keeps the nation safe and protects American interests around the world. It also plays an important role in driving technological innovation, with enormously beneficial spillover effects for American consumers.
Perhaps the best illustration of this dynamic is the Internet. What started as a research project funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the ARPANET was the world’s first fully functioning packet switching network. Its advent laid the foundation for the World Wide Web and the commercial Internet that is revolutionizing commerce, media, business, and social life.
Nevertheless, other examples are worth studying for the serendipitous and advantageous innovations they enable and create.
Consider the growing market for satellite imagery. Images of the Earth taken from high in the sky are now widely available on the Internet.
For example, when a tsunami strikes the Pacific Ocean coastline, media outlets can now publish “before” and “after” images of a devastated region to let people grasp the extent of the damage and to let aid agencies know where they should concentrate their relief efforts.
Or consider how different it is for house hunters to look for a home today. They can check out neighborhoods via Bing or Google map platforms where they can access a treasure trove of high-resolution photos taken from the sky.
Bustling Britain during the Industrial Revolution. Mid-century Detroit during the automobile boom. These were the enterprising places of the past. Today, we think of technology clusters like Silicon Valley or the mammoth manufacturing supply-chain of Guangdong province in the south of China.
In his book The Triumph of Cities, Harvard economist Edward Glaeser showed how concentrations of people lower transactions costs, expand markets, increase specialization, and promote cross-fertilization of ideas. The modern city thus became the template of the “enterprising place,” an arena where diverse people, resources, talents, and ideas combine to produce new products and services, new value and wealth.
As a platform for innovation and entrepreneurship, the early city accelerated modern economic, technological, and cultural development. The city was both a new communication system and a hub of commerce, using physical proximity to speed the transfer and lower the costs of information and trade. It allowed for more links between more people – furthering commerce, increasing efficiency, boosting creativity, and encouraging the survival of innovations and best-practices, much as Glaeser found.
The most important element of U.S. economic competitiveness in the 21st Century is a properly skilled workforce. In a trade-centered, knowledge-based global economy, human talent is the indispensable factor – the engine of innovation, productivity, and, ultimately, national prosperity. As Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke observed, “no economy can succeed without a high-quality workforce, particularly in an age of globalization and technical change.” This is the hallmark of an enterprising place.
Sustaining the finest workforce preparedness system in the world will empower America to sell the world’s finest products and services to growing international markets—to attract investment, create jobs, and keep America strong. To succeed, we must correct the abysmal performance of our education system, modernize our job training programs, enact public policies that enhance the mobility and agility of the workforce, and constrain costs, including those imposed by government on employment that discourage hiring and damage our ability to compete in highly contested overseas markets.