Atlanta Journal Constitution | December 20, 2010
With the election behind them, Congress must now turn its focus to our country’s critical priorities. High on their list should be finding ways to rekindle our nation’s competitive capacity and spirit, and increasing collaboration between the various sectors of our society. One positive step in that direction would be reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act, which will soon be debated on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Reauthorization of this 2007 statute will strengthen the United States’ economy by increasing STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education, creating new technology jobs and reinvigorating the development of environmentally-sound solutions by private enterprise.
When our elected representatives consider this important bill in the weeks ahead, they should reflect on an event that took place more than 53 years ago. On October 4, 1957, Sputnik I was launched, igniting a 20-year race for supremacy in outer space between the Soviet Union and the United States. By the 70s, space exploration became a vivid symbol of a multi-decade competition between two of the world’s superpowers for technological, military, cultural and intellectual supremacy.
While it is a relief that the nuclear brinkmanship associated with this period is behind us, it should also be remembered that the launching of the 184.3 pound satellite sparked an unprecedented era of collaboration between the private sector, universities and research laboratories in the United States. This push to emerge victorious led to the acceleration of scientific advancements and technological innovations and significant improvement in our science and math educational system, while enhancing the nation’s standing in the global economy.
Today, the story has changed. The United States’ competitive edge has significantly declined. We no longer place a premium on research, innovation and education. We see disturbing and clear evidence of this in the World Economic Forum’s recent ranking of the quality of math and science education around the world -- the U.S. stands 48th. We lag behind other countries in the issuance of patents and, even in an era of high unemployment, American companies consistently suffer from a shortage of individuals with critical skills.
Reigniting our nation’s competitive edge will require the implementation of a long-term, comprehensive national strategy that features a renewed emphasis on collaboration and public-private partnerships to harness our considerable business, political, educational and scientific resources. When business acumen and drive are integrated with high quality education and innovative research, it propels both our technology industries and broader national interests forward.
The recently forged Georgia Tech-NCR partnership is a good example of the best kind of collaboration. Working together, we have created new jobs by in-sourcing and on-shoring manufacturing and established innovative training programs that will create a competitive advantage on a global basis. Georgia Tech is also heavily invested in the modern equivalent of the Space Race -- responding to the worldwide need for a smarter energy portfolio.
Clearly, the urgency for renewing the America COMPETES Act is now greater than ever, as the United States faces a much more competitive international business environment, featuring a challenging combination of low cost labor, sharp-edged industrial policies and rapid progress in basic science and technologies. While there will be considerable political discussion and debate as to the extent of government involvement in business and academia, collaboration between private enterprise and education, driven by federal incentives, will help this country expand its share of an ever-expanding global market.
Fundamentally, cooperation must be the foundation of this country’s effort to move forward. It was true when NASA, the private sector, the educational establishment and major research facilities came together to reach the moon, and it is equally true today. We must encourage our elected officials to adopt this mindset and renew our history of leadership. Passage of the America COMPETES Act, will contribute powerfully to our nation’s economic recovery, vitality and growth.
William (Bill) Nuti, chairman and chief executive officer (CEO) of NCR Corporation and G.P. (Bud) Peterson, president of the Georgia Institute of Technology.