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Blog: What it Takes to Restore US Competitiveness

Full moon
John Mcconnico
Full moon

In this era of financial instability and governmental austerity, many argue that government and businesses can no longer afford to launch bold new programs aimed at making a big difference in the lives of citizens. They say transformational efforts like the US space program, the Internet and Social Security are impossible. The gridlock in Washington to forge a budget compromise seems to confirm this conclusion.

We, at IBM , disagree. We believe it is still possible to launch bold, world-changing initiatives and investments in our future. They just need to be approached differently, with focus on bridging gaps in political viewpoints and strengthening our nation. Today, government must work collaboratively with businesses, universities and community organizations to tackle our most demanding challenges and improve our global economic competitiveness.

Public-private partnerships, where all of the parties invest and share financial risks and rewards, are an essential element of that different approach. In New York, such partnerships are crucial to initiatives aimed at expanding the high-tech workforce, encouraging new-company formation and fostering innovation.

New York City is in the final stages of choosing among seven competing proposals for its Applied Sciences NYC initiative. The plan is to build a new world-class science and technology campus that will be an engine for economic development for the city, an opportunity to expand for universities and a source of talent for corporations. Universities, including Stanford, NYU, Cornell and Columbia, have teamed with each other and, in some cases, industrial partners, to put together proposals, and the city has pledged to provide free land and up to $100 million in capital spending.

But science and technology education does not start at the university level. We need to create a large talent pool of people with technical skills that businesses need to be competitive. That is why IBM formed a partnership earlier this year with the New York City Department of Education, the City University of New York and NYC College of Technology to create a new public school, called P-TECH (Pathways in Technology Early College High School), which combines high school and the first two years of college. The goal is to prepare students to fill entry-level jobs in technology fields and provide them with foundational knowledge that will allow some to pursue science and math degrees in a four-year college. IBM is providing software and helping to develop the curriculum and coordinate mentoring and internships to build the skills we need to stay globally competitive. P-TECH graduates will get first crack at jobs with IBM.

We’re partnering-up at the state level, as well. Two months ago, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced plans by private industry and the state to invest $4.4 billion to extend America’s leadership in semiconductor technology. IBM’s piece of the initiative, an investment of $3.6 billion, will go toward updating our East Fishkill chip fabrication plant and supporting Albany Nanotech, a strategic collaboration of New York, SUNY Albany, IBM and other technology companies aimed at creating the next generations of breakthrough computer chip technologies. New York is investing $400 million and other corporations are chipping in another $400 million. The investments are expected to preserve or create 6,900 high-tech jobs in the state.

The chip alliance stands out as a model for economic development, talent-pool expansion and job creation in the 21st century. The state, the university and the technology companies involved all have their parochial interests, but they also have interests in common. By combining their efforts and sharing resources they created a tremendous initiative that the individual organizations could not achieve on their own.

In public-private partnerships, government, businesses and academia bring together some of the brightest and most expert people in all of society. When people from diverse backgrounds come together, innovation happens. In this intellectual crucible, we find solutions to problems that no single party would have envisioned.

Innovation is vital for improving America’s competitiveness. But while scientific and technological innovation in the private sector are necessary, they’re not sufficient. We need to develop creative new approaches to solving complex problems and to making our society more productive—and public-private partnerships are one important way to do that. At a time when some of the old tried-and-true solutions don’t seem to be working, it’s time to focus on something that does work.

Bridget van Kralingen is General Manager, IBM, North America