Entrepreneurship: One issue both parties can agree on

In an era defined by political polarization, there's one issue that unites most Democrats and Republicans: the importance of entrepreneurship to the long-term health and vitality of the U.S. economy. We know from experience how bipartisan agreement can spur growth and we remain hopeful that in the year ahead, federal and state policymakers from both parties will approve measures that can spark an entrepreneurial renaissance.

We both approach this issue with first-hand knowledge about the power of entrepreneurship. One of us comes from a family that owned and operated a full-service scrap metal business for more than 85 years. The other was the CEO of a company that grew to become a publicly traded entity on the New York Stock Exchange. We saw how entrepreneurship created attractive new opportunities for the people who worked at these companies – putting money in their pockets and strengthening the broader economic climate.

President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union speech before a joint session of Congress on Feb. 12, 2013, in Washington.
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President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union speech before a joint session of Congress on Feb. 12, 2013, in Washington.

While innovative new companies seem to be popping up daily, the reality is that entrepreneurship is in decline. As the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation has pointed out recently, the rate of new business creation in the United States today is much lower than it was in the 1980s. This long-term slowdown can be self-reinforcing – the lack of experience with working in a start-up environment makes it less likely people decide to strike out on their own.

We have a few ideas for what can be done to reverse the disturbing decline in entrepreneurship. And we're confident these common-sense reforms can win broad bipartisan support.

Reform the licensing regime. Since the 1950s, there's been a five-fold increase at the state level in the share of the workforce that needs a license to do their jobs. While some of this licensing is clearly needed to protect health and safety, some of it is excessive.

As a comprehensive Obama Administration report on the topic said last year, the current licensing regime "creates substantial costs, and often the requirements for obtaining a license is not in sync with the skills needed for the job." And the report found that entrepreneurs tend to be disproportionately impacted. Streamlining licensing at the state and federal levels will help create a more hospitable environment for people to launch and grow companies.

Invest in infrastructure and innovation. Entrepreneurs and society as a whole need a robust national infrastructure – spanning from transportation to telecommunications – if they are going to survive and thrive. Modernizing the antiquated state of U.S. infrastructure, by increasing investment in it, will drive productivity gains and help entrepreneurs create new opportunities.

Similarly, there's a need for more research and development spending by the federal government. In the past, such spending has helped give rise to a range of products and technologies – including GPS, the Internet and horizontal drilling for oil and natural gas – that were the foundation for entrepreneurial companies. In an era of modest growth and declining entrepreneurship, it's time to ramp up spending on research and development, as small investments can pay big dividends.

Award green cards to educated and entrepreneurial immigrants. It's well-documented that immigrants are among the most entrepreneurial groups in the United States, and they've helped launch some of the country's most successful companies: Google, Tesla, eBay and many others.

Today, many foreign students studying at U.S. universities are forced to leave the country once they graduate, which removes from the economy a talented, enterprising collection of young people. There's a simple way to solve that problem: Give a green card to every student who earns an undergraduate or graduate degree in STEM. We should also follow the lead of the many other countries that give visas to immigrant entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurship is an essential ingredient in the recipe for national prosperity. In the United States, it's entrepreneurs who have traditionally generated so many of the jobs that have made our economy the envy of the world. The country needs to be doing more to encourage the risk-taking that underlies our long-term economic growth and the bipartisan reforms we've outlined are just the place to start.

Commentary by Robert Bennett, a Republican and former U.S. senator from Utah, and Dan Glickman, a Democrat and former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. They are both senior fellows with the Bipartisan Policy Center.

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