Blog Posts Driving the Debate

September 30, 2011

NCF curates a weekly list of blog posts that touch on emerging issues affecting the American business community.

Harold Sirkin asked on the blog of the Harvard Business Review, “Is U.S. Manufacturing Making a Comeback?”  His answer, in short, is yes.  ”Companies have been discovering that the U.S. can sometimes be a competitive place to make things, especially for the U.S. market. With labor costs rising rapidly in China, it will become even more advantageous to make things in America for America, in the years ahead.”

Nick Schulz echoed the CEO of Electronic Arts, who visited the U.S. Chamber last week, by blogging on “The Talent Game”, or the struggle for skilled workers amidst high unemployment.

Ryan Avent discussed his short Kindle ebook, “The Gated City,” in an audio piece posted on The Economist’s Prospero blog.  In Ryan’s book he outlines numerous explanations for today’s economic turmoil, but also offers up one that we really haven’t heard before.  That is, that policies in America’s largest cities are making them far more expensive places to live than they would be normally.  Higher prices discourage new residents and push out current ones.  The gated nature of these cities now mean that individuals are increasingly less likely to be able to take advantage of the sort of productivity and innovation that comes from working in a dynamic, populated urban environment.

Speaking of cities, according to a post by All Things Considered on NPR, some places in North Dakota are veritable boomtowns.  In one such town, a parking spot can fetch you up to $1,200 and there are some 3,000 jobs waiting to be filled.  The reason?  Oil.

When the Federal Reserve announced Operation Twist on September 21, more than a few heads were scratched wondering whether the Fed was referring to a new policy or to a dance last seen in the wild nearly fifty years ago.  Justin Wolfers took it upon himself in the Freakonomics blog to explain, in easy to understand terms, exactly what the Fed plans on doing.  In short, the Fed intends to sell short-term bonds and use the proceeds to buy long-term bonds.  Why is this important?  Since the Fed has already cut short-term rates to next to nothing, it will now have the ability to cut long-term rates (and thus our borrowing costs for things like mortgages) while not having to print more money to do so (unlike with quantitative easing).  Justin concluded by asking, “Will this stimulate the economy?  Answer: It won’t hurt.”

Forbes‘ Capitol Flows blog highlighted the on-going “War for U.S. Capital Markets.”  The U.S. government now controls nearly 60% of the mortgage market and underwrites roughly 90% of new mortgages.  It’s now stepping into a number of other consumer loan markets.  What that means is that private dollars are getting crowded out and prices never get a chance to settle at market rates.

The Voice of Business – Three Takes on America’s Economic Recovery and Job Creation

September 29, 2011

By Rich Cooper, Vice President, Research & Emerging Issues

What do a Fortune 500 CEO, a billionaire called Chuck and a media-mogul-turned-big-city-mayor have in common? In the last week, they’ve shared ideas on what it will take to create jobs and grow America’s economy.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, founder and chairman of Charles Schwab Corporation Charles “Chuck” Schwab, and CEO of Electronic Arts (EA) John Riccitiello have all stepped forward to talk about what we need to do to create jobs and return America to its full economic strength.

These private sector leaders are not running for political office but for higher employment rates. At a time when Americans hear a lot of talk but do not see much action from policy makers in Washington, these influential voices are spreading ideas that will get America moving again. Each of these guys has a significant track record of job creation and knows what they’re talking about when it comes to economic recovery. Here’s a breakdown of what they have to teach us.

Michael Bloomberg, New York City Mayor

Source: Office of the Mayor -

Speaking before an assembly of public and private sector leaders at a National Chamber Foundation Business Horizons program, Mayor Michael Bloomberg (also founder and owner of the $6.9 billion financial news and information giant Bloomberg LP) highlighted a central issue in job creation and economic growth: high-skilled immigration. Growing companies create jobs, and America must have a pool of the world’s best and brightest to fill those positions. Often, those best suited for the complex, challenging jobs in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields are not American, though many are educated in U.S. universities and colleges. Yet, of all U.S. visas handed out each year, only 15 percent are provided with consideration for America’s economic benefit (the remaining 85 percent are given for reuniting families and helping people escape harm in other countries).

“Allocating only 15 percent based on economics is holding us back,” said Bloomberg. “We cannot afford to keep turning away people with skills our country needs to grow. We must expand the number of green cards available for best of the best, the high-skilled workers we want to join the U.S. economy permanently.”

In the globalized world, America’s businesses compete directly with those in China, India, and elsewhere. Companies must have access to the skilled experts who can best help them do this, no matter their mother country. U.S. immigration policy can be used to foster a higher-skilled workforce, one that makes companies more competitive, starts new businesses, and generally elevates the level of innovation and job creation in the U.S. private sector.

“Foreign students earning advanced degrees in technical fields should be eligible to work here permanently,” said Bloomberg. “Turning students out of the country is about the dumbest thing we could possibly do. There is no such thing as too many engineers, scientists and technical innovators.”

Charles Schwab, Founder and Chairman of Charles Schwab Corporation

Source: Wikimedia Commons

In a recent Wall Street Journal editorial, Charles Schwab wrote about the importance of facilitating investment and confidence in businesses. Regulation, higher taxes and decreased spending are all important but insufficient to pull America out of its economic woes. Rather, the success of small, medium and large companies will allow us to grow our way out of economic uncertainty and high unemployment. Encouraging and facilitating the efforts of entrepreneurial Americans is a critical part of this growth.

“The simple fact is that every business in America was started by an entrepreneur, whether it is Ford Motor Co., Google or your local dry cleaner,” said Schwab. “Every single job that entrepreneur creates requires an investment. And at its core, investing requires confidence that despite the risks…the basic rules of the game are clear and stable. Today’s uncertainty on these issues—stemming from a barrage of new complex regulations and legislation—is a roadblock to investment.”

Schwab called on Republicans and Democrats alike to review all legislation with a mind towards job creation and growth. Law makers should put a moratorium on regulation and legislation that hinders growth and should stop introducing new laws until the private sector has “had time to digest those in place and regain some certainty about the future.”

John Riccitiello, CEO of Electronic Arts

Photo by Ian Wagreich

At a National Chamber Foundation CEO Leadership Series program last week, John Riccitiello spoke on upheaval in the high-tech industry and shared insight on U.S. job creation. As Bloomberg also noted, companies working in the STEM fields require a high-skilled workforce with the education and intelligence needed to innovate and compete in a tough economic environment.

“For every engineer we hire,” said Riccitiello, “two more support jobs are created.”

Riccitiello highlighted Congressman Jeff Flake’s STAPLE Act, which offers permanent residency to post-secondary education students graduating with a degree in a STEM subject area, and emphasized the importance of encouraging America’s younger generations to master STEM subjects.

Riccitiello also spoke about the need for a more competitive tax structure. Our tax policies should encourage businesses to operate in the United States, offering jobs to qualified Americans.

“Companies move to locations where they find agreeable tax treatment,” he said. “I believe America can better use its tax policies to attract many more jobs.”

The common theme throughout these comments on job creation and economic growth is two-fold: we need a higher-skilled workforce; and legislation that promotes growth and recruits high-skilled workers. Currently, it seems our laws achieve the opposite. For America to remain competitive, we need a change, not more of the same budget cutting, taxing and political showmanship in Washington. Let’s hope our policy makers are listening closely to these and other important voices in the private sector.

Immigration and American Competitiveness

September 29, 2011

Photo by David Bohrer for the U.S. Chamber

By Michael Hendrix, Research Manager

NCF had the pleasure of hosting yesterday an esteemed slate of speakers and panelists to discuss a critical issue: high-skilled immigration reform.  New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg kicked off his keynote address by making the case for modernizing our immigration system as a way to enhance America’s competitiveness and economic growth.  ”In today’s global marketplace, we cannot afford to keep turning away those with the skills our country needs to grow and succeed. It’s sabotaging our own economy.”  The mayor went on to conclude that “these high-skill workers will not only help create thousands of jobs, they’ll also give us knowledge of foreign markets that will help U.S. businesses increase their exports.”  At the heart of the mayor’s remarks were four ideas for reform:

  1. Increase the number of green cards available
  2. Offer green cards specifically to graduate students in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)
  3. Offer visas to immigrant entrepreneurs who have the capital to fund their venture
  4. Lift the caps on HB-1 visas and the country-specific employment green cards.

If you’re interested in delving deeper into the Mayor’s speech, check out ChamberPost as well as our archived webcast.

Mayor Bloomberg founded the Partnership for a New American Economy last year to bring together mayors and business leaders from across the country and the political spectrum to make just these points.  Since its founding, the Partnership has spearheaded research showing, for instance, that “more than 40% of the 2010 Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children.”  These firms have more than 10 million people under their employ and together generate over $4 trillion in annual revenue.

Mayor Bloomberg’s speech was followed by a panel discussion featuring a diverse array of thought leaders.  Each of them have direct awareness of the imperative for reforming America’s high skilled immigration system.  Dr. Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa, a respected brain surgeon and professor, was at one point an illegal immigrant working the fields of California’s San Joaquin Valley.  He ultimately went on attend Harvard Medical School and be named by Popular Science magazine as one of ten young geniuses influencing scientific study today.  Dr. Pia M. Orrenius has devoted her work as a labor economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas to studying the costs and consequences of America’s current immigration system.

Alongside was a senior legal counsel for Microsoft, Robin Paulino, who directs a team of 10 lawyers focused not just on bringing the best and the brightest to Redmond, Washington, but incorporating them into everyday American life.  Next was Stephen Fleming, a vice president from one of the leading universities in the country, Georgia Tech, who in directing their Enterprise Innovation Institute has worked to educate students from around the world.  All too often, these students choose to return to their country of origin rather than face America’s current immigration system.  Elizabeth Dickson, Manager of Global Immigration Services at Ingersoll Rand, spoke of the manufacturing sector’s need for skilled workers, no matter where they were born.

At the start of our program, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas Donohue put all of what was to follow in perspective.  He said, “There is a misconception that welcoming high-skilled foreign nationals onto our shores will cost American jobs.  In the global economy, investment follows talent, and companies and enterprises that can retain talent will flourish. We face a critical skills gap today, and we’ve got to fill it.”

After all that was discussed at yesterday’s Business Horizon Series event, I will let our very first speaker, Alejandro Mayorkas, Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, have the last word.

“We all acknowledge the need to reform our immigration system, to fully realize the contributions that immigrants can make to the growth and prosperity of our nation’s economy.  We well understand the obstacles of our current laws when we seek to attract and retain a greater share of talent in a world of ever-increasing competition from abroad.  At the same time, however, let us not discount the magnet that America remains.”

“In the shadow of the need for reform of our immigration system, there is a great deal that can be done to realize the current system’s full potential.  By doing so, we advance America’s growth and prosperity and brighten its future.  With a brighter future, shadows dissipate and new horizons are defined.”

A Tale of Two Economies

September 27, 2011

By Nick Schulz, NCF Scholar

Rich Cooper has a nice write-up of Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitello’s fascinating recent speech on technology, innovation, jobs, and disruptive enterprise. Of particular interest were the following remarks:

“I see an unfortunate gap between the economic performance of key parts of the tech sector, and the rest of our economy.  I see two economies on such radically different trajectories that it’s hard to believe they co-exist in the same country.

“In tech — Silicon Valley, North Carolina, Austin and Boston – we are witnessing the most dynamic period of creative destruction and economic construction in history.   And that construction is creating new and very high paying jobs.

“Economic disruption is a constant everywhere….but today in tech, economic cycles turn, not over multiple years, but in months….large companies and fortunes are built, erased, and built again with frightening speed.

“In tech, the most impressive and profitable operations are constantly being destroyed…and replaced with even better businesses.  And these businesses are hiring a rapid pace.  Job openings exceed the number of qualified workers and wages are skyrocketing.  And companies with only a few years in operation are assigned multi-billion dollar valuations.

“Some say that tech is in another bubble.  They might be right.  If so, you can expect another bubble right behind it because tech is resilient.  Bubbles pop but the ideas and the investment dollars and demand for more engineers, quantitative marketers and business managers with a global perspective never stops.

“Over to the rest of the American economy.  Cycles move slower….federal and state governments intervene…. and the disruption creates longer periods of pain across large regions and sectors.  Unemployment is now above nine percent and more Americans than ever before are on government assistance.”

Despite all the doom and gloom about the economy these days – the problems in Europe, the high rates of unemployment, the troubled housing market, and so on – Riccitello’s remarks provide a good reason for optimism.  Some of the most dynamic sectors of the American economy are thriving. The key is to unlock disruptive forces in other sectors.  But where?

In a recent essay in the journal National Affairs, my colleague Arnold Kling and I discussed what we call The New Commanding Heights of the economy.  These include health care and education.  These are sectors where demand is increasing rapidly and there is room for robust job creation and innovation – provided dynamic market forces can be brought to bear.

These are two areas where policymakers can focus attention and get real results. If education and health care can become more dynamic, more innovative, and more entrepreneurial, the job market and the broader American economy and will benefit.

It’s useful to think of the American economy not as a single entity, but as multiple economies operating at differing levels of dynamism and efficiency. Some of the sectors, such as tech, energy, and telecom, are experiencing rapid change, innovation, and growth.  Others are so sheltered from dynamic market forces that they are not advancing sufficiently rapidly.  This is where policymakers can make a genuine difference, provided they emphasize competition, technological disruption, and experimentation.

Competition, Innovation Driving Success in Hi-tech Industry – Lessons for U.S. Economic Recovery

September 26, 2011

By Rich Cooper, Vice President, Research & Emerging Issues

There was a time when videogames were relegated to arcades and movie theaters. For 25 cents, a frog hopped through traffic and a giant ape tossed barrels down a ramp. Today’s games look more like Hollywood blockbusters, accessible with a diverse array of hi-tech, wireless devices. Indeed, the videogame industry – currently worth about $25 billion – has changed dramatically, growing five-fold over the last decade, and it is appealing to an audience wider than adolescent boys with a weekly allowance burning a hole in their pocket.

Affordable, broadband-connected computers and wireless devices have upended the gaming industry, spelling challenges for those unable to adapt to the digital world and opportunities for those who can. On September 22, the National Chamber Foundation hosted a program as part of its CEO Leadership Series with a speech from John Riccitiello, Chief Executive Officer of Electronic Arts (EA). Riccitiello offered valuable remarks on what it took for EA – an interactive entertainment software company – to survive and prosper in the tumultuous, dynamic videogame industry.

Congressman Kevin Brady – co-chair of the Congressional Caucus for Competitiveness in Entertainment Technology (E-Tech Caucus) – noted in his introduction to Riccitiello that “Technology is a tough mistress, it can work for you and work against you.”

This is evident, given the upheaval in the newspaper, television and other industries grappling with how to succeed in a changing digital environment. The transformation of the entertainment industry threatens the giants of years past, including major videogame companies. Meanwhile, Riccitiello led EA to nearly $800 million in revenue, and he attributes the company’s success to embracing change and capitalizing on it.

“We put the company back on track by embracing the very thing that threatened us,” said Riccitiello. “We ran straight toward the thing that was threatening our comfortable market share – social networks, smart phones and tablets.”

The tech industry is in a continual cycle of construction, destruction, and reconstruction. With new capabilities and demands, some companies go under, only to be replaced with new companies better able to act and respond to the hi-tech environment. Riccitiello noted that this is not only healthy, it’s fundamental for survival.

“We embrace disruption,” he said, “because with disruption comes the opportunity to be bigger and better.”

Building a Skilled Labor Force

Lessons learned from these experiences offer insight for America’s wider challenge of rebuilding its economy. Companies can prosper by aggressively engaging economic threats, meeting the challenge head on. This kind of success, however, is only achievable if companies have access to the high-skilled workforce needed on challenging projects. With a 9.1 percent unemployment rate in August, much of the country is thinking one thing: jobs, jobs, jobs. The challenge is not simply to put America back to work but to ensure the available workforce holds the skills and knowledge needed to work and compete in emerging and technical industries.

Riccitiello noted three primary points for improving American competitiveness in the global economy:

  1. Give American businesses access to the world’s best talent by offering residency to graduates from U.S. colleges and universities;
  2. Help America’s younger generations acquire the quantitative and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) skills that will allow them to compete for the best jobs and satisfy our domestic need for skilled labor; and,
  3. Use U.S. tax policies to attract and create jobs in America.

In the 21st century, U.S. companies compete directly with foreign companies. Our private sector must have access to a workforce armed with the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in a globalized economy. Teaching America’s young people is a priority, but while they study, we also need to build a high-skilled American workforce, part of which includes attracting and retaining talent from abroad.

Riccitiello highlighted Congressman Jeff Flake’s STAPLE Act, a bill that would offer permanent residency to foreign citizens who earn a Ph.D. in science, technology, engineering or mathematics from a U.S. school. In our current economic struggles, this idea and others deserve immediate attention. America’s ability to compete internationally necessitates action.

Immigration and America’s Economic Recovery

To foster the ongoing immigration debate, the National Chamber Foundation will host a half-day Business Horizon Series symposium on September 28, “Immigration & American Competitiveness: The Challenge Ahead.” New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg will deliver the keynote address, and American business community leaders and public figures will discuss the economic imperative for reforming America’s high-skilled immigration system.

Panelists include:

The program will begin at 8:45 a.m., Wednesday, September 28. You can register in advance online to attend or watch the live feed on the U.S. Chamber website. Please join us for this important discussion as we seek answers and insight to the United States’ immigration challenges.

The Best and the Brightest

September 23, 2011

By Michael Hendrix, Research Manager

With fears of renewed recession across the world and jobs ever-scarcer, immigration can often be a touchy subject to bring up.  Many fear that immigrants take jobs from native workers, depress overall wages, and count as a burden on the social safety net.  Such fears may be overdone, if The Economist is right.  For one thing, “immigration is counter-cyclical”:

“Recession in rich countries has discouraged some would-be incomers from trying their luck. America, for instance, has seen a sharp decline in Mexicans trying to cross its southern border. Immigration to Europe has slowed. Some studies also suggest that increased inflows of migrants are a leading indicator of a pickup in growth.”

What’s more, skilled migrants are more flexible in their work choices and are often better educated.  They also create start-ups at a greater pace than natives, of which the large number of  Silicon Valley firms started by immigrants can attest.

Right now, a sensible discussion on skilled immigration is needed.  That’s something that NCF is excited to have on September 28th when it hosts New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a distinguished panel to discuss the economic imperative for reforming the system that brings in and keeps the best and the brightest from around the world.  Many other countries are searching for the types of workers America needs to retain its competitiveness for the future. As The Economist puts it,

“Immigration is, on the whole, good for economies; and right now, rich countries can do with all the economic help they can get. Rather than sending immigrants home, with their skills, energy, ideas and willingness to work, governments should be encouraging them to come. If they don’t, governments elsewhere will.”

Want to continue the discussion?  Join us on September 28 to hear Mayor Michael Bloomberg speak on this topic.
Click here to register and view event details.

Working Hard at Work Worth Doing

September 21, 2011

By Michael Hendrix, Research Manager

The Economist kicked off this week’s edition with a special report on jobs.  The lead article, titled “The Great Mismatch,” looks at how developed economies are changing across the world.  Businesses are in need for more skilled labor than ever before, meaning that many workers may be locked out of the jobs market if they can’t scale up in skills.

“Globalisation and technological innovation are bringing about long-term changes in the world economy that are altering the structure of the labour market. As a result, unemployment is likely to remain high in the rich economies even as it falls in the poorer ones. Edmund Phelps, a Nobel prize-winning economist, thinks that in America the ‘natural rate’ of unemployment (below which higher demand would push up inflation) in the medium term is now around 7.5%, significantly higher than only a few years ago.”

This means that policymakers will have to push key structural reforms that encourage greater innovation and education.  There is much to be hopeful for, with profound increases in wealth possible across the world due to growth in emerging economies and better technologies (especially in public goods) in the developed world.

Where Did the IPO’s Go?

September 20, 2011

By Nick Schulz, NCF Scholar

As someone who conducts analysis on public policy I spend a lot of time looking at academic research.  Few pieces of research have bothered me more than a recent paper by Craig Doidge, G. Andrew Karolyi, and René M. Stulz called “The U.S. Left Behind:  The Rise of IPO Activity Around the World.”

When I first heard of this paper I thought that the finding wasn’t that surprising.  After all, the U.S. has a relatively mature economy, while much of the rest of the world is playing catch up.  As parts of Asia, Latin America and Africa grow rapidly, their share of new public companies should be rising.

As the researchers note, “In the early 1990s, the declining U.S. IPO share was due to the extraordinary growth of IPOs in foreign countries.” So at first blush, this trend is a positive development because it means the rest of the world is growing, too, which is good for everyone.

But there’s more to the story. The researchers also note “that in the 2000s, however, [the declining U.S. IPO share] is due to higher IPO activity abroad combined with lower IPO activity in the U.S.” [emphasis added].

This is the kind of thing that should keep Republicans and Democrats up at night. Clearly we need policymakers to ask why it is the U.S. IPO activity might be declining.  Is it because of excessive regulations in laws such as Sarbanes-Oxley?

And what about immigration? Skilled immigrants are often a good source of new business activity in the United States, including new firm formation.  Later this month the National Chamber Foundation is hosting a forum on skilled immigration. The role skilled immigrants play in driving innovation and helping create new companies will be on the agenda.

Want to continue the discussion?  Join us on September 28 to hear Mayor Michael Bloomberg speak on this topic.
Click here to register and view event details.

What Should Be in America’s Growth Agenda?

September 19, 2011

By Michael Hendrix, Research Manager

When The Wall Street Journal surveyed its panel of 100 of America’s top CEOs to get their views on what should be in a growth agenda, they came back with a couple of key answers: rebuild America’s aging infrastructure and free up our immigration system for skilled workers.

This fits very well with what NCF has tagged as emerging issues for the American business community.  Infrastructure was NCF’s focus in July, looking at how to bring the investment and resilience crowds together to build better, safer systems.  Later this month, we’ll take a look at the economic imperative for immigration reform for skilled workers.

Here’s what the CEOs had to say, first on infrastructure:

“‘I travel the world on a regular basis, and U.S. infrastructure is simply not competitive,’ says Tom Albanese, CEO of Rio TintoGroup, the global mining company. ‘We are living off the capital of 50 years ago. If the government can’t fix our infrastructure crisis, [it should] allow private capital to be employed.’”

Bob Greifeld of Nasdaq-OMX then had this to say on immigration:

“To be the best, U.S. companies need the ability to recruit the best workers. Global competition means global access to human capital. NASDAQ supports comprehensive highly skilled immigration reform. We must increase the number of H-1B visas available and reform the employment-based green card process.”

The rest of the article is well worth reading.  ChamberPost helpfully summarized it here.

The Nature of Genius

September 15, 2011

By Michael Hendrix, Research Manager

In a classic article from 2006, Daniel Pink at Wired Magazine took a step back to look at what genius actually looks like.  How does innovation come about?  Is it instantaneous?  A flash of brilliance, burning bright in some young prodigy.  Or is innovation found through trial and error?  The deliberate accumulation of life experience that blossoms to brilliance in later years.

To David Galenson, an economist, both types of genius exist and foster innovation.  Galenson calls the first type of genius the “conceptual innovator”:

“‘Conceptual innovators,’ as Galenson calls them, make bold, dramatic leaps in their disciplines. They do their breakthrough work when they are young. Think Edvard Munch, Herman Melville, and Orson Welles. They make the rest of us feel like also-rans.”

Then there are the “experimental innovators”:

“Geniuses like Auguste Rodin, Mark Twain, and Alfred Hitchcock proceed by a lifetime of trial and error and thus do their important work much later in their careers.”

As Galenson argues, both types are central to innovation and the creative process.  Though he found these two types by analyzing painters and artists throughout history, Galenson’s insights hold true across the disciplines.

Why look at this article today, some 5-plus years after it was written?  As growth stalls throughout the Western world, we are looking for the skilled worker, even the genius, to bring about the innovation that will foster growth today and especially in the future.  We are victims of our own success, wealthy beyond the means of most other countries in the world, and yet struggling to find the next big thing that will drive us further into the future.  By knowing what sort of innovation to look for, we know that this growth may come as much through the next Steve Jobs as it may from a Sam Walton.  Both types of genius are to be fostered through our policies, educational system, and in our workplaces.