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Business, Education Leaders Call for Innovation Action

December 8, 2005
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 Top business executives, presidents of major universities and policy experts gathered in Washington

"We need to refine, refocus, in some cases re-engineer our policies," Richard Templeton, president and CEO of Texas Instruments, said December 6 at the National Summit on Competitiveness at the U.S. Department of Commerce. "These issues must become more of a priority for the leaders of our nation."

More than 50 business, academic and congressional officials called for increasing federal spending on long-term basic research in the physical sciences, engineering and mathematics by 10 percent annually for the next seven years, with an emphasis on high-risk, high-return initiatives.

It also recommended doubling by 2015 the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded annually to U.S. students in science, math and engineering; increasing the number of math and science teachers in grades K-12; allowing more international science and engineering students to study and then work in the United States; and increasing funding for nanotechnology, high-performance computing and energy technologies.

The recommendations echoed those recited in a slew of recent reports by business associations and think tanks. Conference participants stressed that action must be taken soon or global competition will harm the U.S. economy.

"The last thing we need is another report," said Rep. Vernon Ehlers, R-Michigan, a member of the House Science Committee and a driving force behind the conference. "We need lobbying across this country and education across this country to get the word across that the world has changed. The wars of the future are going to be wars of hard work and innovation."

The form of the conference—assembling business, education and government leaders on one stage—reinforced the theme that each area has to contribute to improving U.S. workforce and research capabilities.

As an example, Texas Instruments’ Templeton cited his company’s decision to build an electronic-wafer manufacturing plant in suburban Dallas. Texas Instruments will invest $3 billion to $4 billion in the facility to keep its research and manufacturing close together so its products can get to market faster.

The environment for that operation was enhanced when the state of Texas spent $300 million to strengthen technology programs at the University of Texas at Dallas. The school’s faculty, students and research labs help create a "research ecosystem," Templeton said.

But Templeton and other business officials warned that companies are being forced to look abroad to fill high-tech jobs because of the lack of qualified U.S. candidates.

The fact that foreign-born talent can be had cheaper is not the reason for such searches.

"This is not a cost issue. This is a competitiveness issue," said R. Keith Harrison Jr., global product supply officer for Proctor & Gamble. Addressing the issue will take a chunk of federal money—at least several billion dollars by some estimates—at a time when Washington is trying to rein in spending.

"The budget is very, very large, and, on a grand scale, we’re not asking for a huge amount," Ehlers said.

--Mark Schoeff Jr.

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